‘Complexion here was an ashed blueish grey, the expression most anxious and distressed with the eye-balls staring, and the lids half closed. Respiration was extremely laboured and noisy with frequent efforts to expel copious amounts of tenacious yellowish green frothy fluid which threatened to drown them, and through which they inhaled and exhaled air into and out of their lungs with a gurgling noise.’ 1
This distressing statement comes from Captain Edward L Reid of the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving with No. 7 Field Ambulance in May 1916. Reid is describing just some of the horrific sufferings experienced by soldiers with gas poisoning during the First World War. As part of our ongoing medical technology series of blogs, todayâ€™s post will examine some of the earliest developments made by the British Army in 1915 to try and combat the dangers posed byÂ this new weapon.
Within the Chemical Warfare Department series in WO 142, you can findÂ a subseries of papers titled Anti-Gas files. Within file 4, there’s a report titled â€˜The Use of Poisonous Gases in Warâ€™ from June 1915. The report describes five essential requirements of any gas protection device for troops:
‘1. Protect the respiratory passages from incapacitating amounts of gas inhaled in moderate concentration for moderate length periods.
2. Protect the eyes from disabling irritation.
3. Be capable of rapid and secure adjustment by unintelligent men.
4. Afford minimum interference with fighting capacity by obstruction of respiration, vision or hearing.
5. Be of a type sufficiently simple to be made cheaply, rapidly and in large numbers by unskilled labour.’