One of the objects in the Heritage Centre is this WW2 gas mask.
In 1938, the British government was particularly afraid of an aerial gas attack by the Germans, predicting that 600,000 people could be killed within 6 months. Therefore, by the time the war began in September 1939, an individual gas mask had been issued to every member of the population. People were advised to carry it with them at all times but this wasn't enforced and there were no fines for failing to do so.
Rather like today, the masks were contentious, provoking a fierce political and social debate between those who advocated making them compulsory and those who, like George Orwell, saw them as unnecessary, undemocratic and “the first step towards wearing a uniform.”
The masks came in a simple cardboard carrying box but the fashion houses quickly spotted an opportunity and began producing gas mask ‘handbags’. There were terrible bombing campaigns during the war, the expected aerial gas attacks fortunately never materialised. The gas mask you can see is a small size so may possibly have belonged to one of the children at the school.
Headlamp Mask from WW2
It wasn’t only people who were issued with masks during WW2.
The importance of removing ground light sources as navigation clues for enemy aircraft had been recognised in WW1 during the Zeppelin raids.
Therefore, in 1939, when a new conflict appeared to be inevitable, plans were made for a total nationwide nightly blackout . The RAF flew over selected towns at night whilst they attempted to try to maintain a blackout. One of the major risks identified was light from vehicle headlights.
Two days before war was declared on 3rd September 1939, the blackout was introduced. At the end of September, the Government released the design for a three slot mask that could cover a headlight and reduce the amount of light it emitted.
Any company could make these masks which were to be compulsory from 21st October, but problems with materials and manufacturing meant that the date kept being pushed back.
You could only mask and use one headlight. Initially, this was supposed to be the offside headlight but it sparked lots of debate in the press about which side was best to mask. Those driving in town favoured the nearside to illuminate the kerb whilst those driving in the country preferred the offside so the light fell in the centre of the road. At the end of November, the rule was amended to allow the mask to be fitted to either headlight.