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One British Thing: The Babies’ Anti-Gas Protective Helmet

  • Susan R. Grayzel

Abstract

This one British thing, the baby gas mask, helps us understand the normalization of total war in modern Britain.

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1 There are no records in the Labour Party archives about why this image was selected, but it is far from the only example of visual imagery using babies or very young children in gas masks to convey an antiwar message. See Grayzel, Susan R., “The Baby in the Gas Mask: Motherhood, Wartime Technology, and the Gendered Division between the Fronts during and after the First World War,” in Gender and the First World War, ed. Hämmerle, Christa, Überegger, Oswald, and Bader-Zaar, Birgitta (New York, 2014), 127–43; Grayzel, Susan R., At Home and under Fire: Air Raids and Culture in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz (Cambridge, 2012). For a brief discussion of the intentions behind the poster, see Beers, Laura, Your Britain: Media and the Making of the Labour Party (Cambridge, MA: 2010), 188.

2 The National Archive (hereafter TNA), CAB 46/3, Maurice Hankey, Air Raids Precautions Memo No. 11 (1925) (emphasis added).

3 On these challenges, see the discussions among air raid precaution planners, TNA, HO 45/17620, especially E. J. Hodsoll, Report on Conference, 3 October 1935; see also the discussion in Grayzel, At Home and under Fire, especially chap. 9.

4 A fuller discussion of this can be found in Grayzel, At Home and under Fire, especially chaps. 9 and 10.

5 “Families Queue to Fit Gas Masks,” Daily Herald, 26 September 1938; “Britain Queues Up in Millions on Gas Mask Sunday,” Daily Mirror, 26 September 1938. The quotation is from a caption for a photo accompanying the Daily Mirror article.

6 TNA, HO 45/17620, Memorandum on Trials at Holborn Town Hall, 17–18 August 1938.

7 “Anti-Gas Protection of Babies and Young Children, July 1939,” ARP Department (London: HMSO, 1939), 1.

8 Ibid., 4.

9 See TNA, HO 186/980, Memorandum from E. J. Hodsoll, December 1938 (capitalization in the original), and Letter from G. H. Findlay to Chemical Defence Research Department, Porton Down, 6 January 1939.

10 TNA HO 45/17620, Appendix, John MacMillan, Report on Trials, 20 July 1938.

11 James Agate, “Lullaby for a Baby Wearing a Gas Mask,” Daily Express, 18 March 1939.

12 Typescript memoir, 1939–1943, Private Papers of Mrs H[ilda née Woodington] Casey, Department of Documents 11688 (Former ref. 02/1/1), Imperial War Museum, London.

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