Collecting Home Front Gas Masks

One of the most widely recognised objects of Britain’s Home Front was the civilian gas mask. Austin J Ruddy looks at the surprisingly wide range of wartime gas masks and gas mask paraphernalia and their associated history.

The famous striking ‘Hitler Will Send No Warning’ poster was not, as many believe, pre-war, but actually dated from October 1941, when many Britons had stopped carrying their respirators. The General Civilian Respirator in the image has an additional Contex filter taped to its front.
This early General Civilian Respirator, dated 1937, does not have the Contex filter, which was added in 1940. It retains its original cardboard container, issued by Lancashire County Council.

Gas masks – or, officially, respirators – are one of the most enduring and iconic items of Britain’s Second World War Home Front. Fortunately, they were never actually used for their intended purpose, but, nonetheless, government foresight enabled every British citizen to have some protection against the potential horror of chemical warfare. They were produced in their millions, although the civilian respirator is best-known and most commonly encountered. Several different types were provided on the Home Front and occasionally surface today.

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