The looming threat of war in the late 1930s sent the British Government and the general public into panic. Many UK newspapers speculated that war was imminent but the British Government was simply not prepared for that kind of event.
The threat of chemical warfare in the form of poisonous gas attacks was also on the minds of British servicemen, many of whom had seen the effects first hand during the trench warfare of WW1. The Luftwaffe could have dropped gas bombs onto British towns and cities, and the results would have been catastrophic.
As a solution, the government ordered the manufacturing and issuing of gas masks to every man, woman and child across the country. Everyone was given a mask and was told to keep it with them at all times. Children would wear them to school, often even during lessons. Mothers were taught how to protect their babies with them, and members of the British Armed Forces would train with them on every day.
As a result, there are a lot of gas masks still in circulation and you can generally find them at sensible prices. So they are an interesting yet inexpensive area of collecting. Below is a selection of British-issued WW2 gas masks for sale today.
Civil Defence Gas Mask
This set comprises a Civil Defence Warden’s, Fire Service or Police-issue gas mask, the carrying bag and shoulder straps. It is in good condition and a typical example. The filter box is finished in bright red paint; for some reason this was a colour which was regularly used.
This example is for sale from Relic Militaria in the UK. £95.
British Army Gas Mask
This British Army gas mask comes with a bag and some accessories. All of the individual pieces, including the filter tin and dust goggles, are well dated 1941. The set also includes a small tin of 8 unopened tubes of anti-gas ointment. All of the items are carried in the correct haversack, which is maker-marked “H & Sons Ltd” along with a 1941 date.
Available from Battleflag Militaria in the UK. £165.
Airborne Gas Mask
WW2 British Airborne forces were given a variation of the standard issue Army gas mask. It was known as the lightweight assault gas mask and this example is for sale in the Netherlands. It has a 1944 date and comes complete with its carrying bag and eye shields. Although this model is of WW2 issue, many of these assault masks were re-issued to the Danish army after WW2. These ones look the same as the wartime ones, but they carry the addition of a Danish Crown mark.
This mask and bag are available from Clements Militaria in Holland €50.
Civilian Gas Mask
This standard civilian-pattern gas mask was distributed in a cardboard box. The mask had a basic construction to save money and the box was not only the storage container, but also the carrying case. A piece of string was used as a shoulder strap and the instructions for use were written on the underside of the lid. This example is in very clean condition and it also has the owner’s name written on the front of the box.
As basic as this gas mask may have been, it was the reassurance that the general public needed to feel safe. It is interesting that the army personnel were issued with a much more robust gas mask and filter system. So it does make you wonder if the civilian-pattern mask would have actually been good enough to save a life…
This example is for sale from The Militaria Shop in the UK. £35.
Police Officer’s Gas Mask
Finding a British Army gas mask and front pack issued to a police officer is unusual. This officer was stationed at the Bury Police Station in Lancashire during WW2. Named items from the war are hard to find and this one comes with a 1943-dated membership card for the Transport & General Workers Union. The gas mask itself has a 1938 date and it also has a manufacturer’s name of L & B R Co. Ltd along with a War Department Broad Arrow stamp. The mask head size is marked L for Large and the back of the head strap is also dated 1938.
Further verification of the owner’s name is seen on the inside of the pack cover. That is marked ‘LA / Bury Divn / Police S. C. Sgt 686” which offers a lot of scope for further research.
This group is for sale from JC Militaria priced at £175.
Gas Mask Bag
Surprisingly, there are not as many WW2 Army gas mask bags around as you might think. The reason is that lots of them were used as sandwich and work bags for many years after the war, until they were completely worn out. This Army gas mask bag is in nearly mint condition; with the exception of a small fray on the strap, it is perfect. It has a 1943 date and a maker’s stamp of H & S V.
It is for sale from Oliver’s Army Militaria in the UK. £35.
Are you interested in WW2 Royal Air Force headgear? CLICK HERE
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