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World War 2: Gas mask drill for primary school children

Context

Gas masks were issued to all children as a precaution against attack by gas bombs.

The masks came in cardboard boxes, with a strap for carrying them on the shoulder.

Children were instructed to keep their masks with them at all times and were the key item of luggage for evacuees.

Gas mask drill was a daily feature of life at school.

The routine for the drill was: i) remove mask from box; ii) put mask on face; iii) check the mask is fitting correctly; iv) breathe normally.

Many wartime children have subsequently admitted that they struggled to take the drill seriously and that their masks were frequently the source of games and much fun.

This recording dates from 1941 and features a teacher instructing her infants to put their gas masks on (...prior to getting their knitting out and listening to a story..!)

Transcript

Now put your books down...and get your gasmasks out. Quietly. Now take them carefully out of their boxes - no, no, Isobel, don't drag at it...you show her how to do it, Margaret, will you. Now they're all out, are they? I want you to put them on...and let's see if everyone can get it right this time. Wait a minute. Remember, chin in, right in first, before you begin to pull the straps over your head. No don't rush at it Rosalie, take your time. There you are you see, you'll have to begin all over again. Come here and I'll help you. Now, now put your chin in...no, no, no...put your chin right in. Push! There you are...that's more comfortable, isn't it? Now, is everybody ready? I'll tell you what I want you to do. I want you to get your knitting out and settle down comfortably at your desks, then I want to see just how long you can sit there with your gasmasks on. And when you're quite quiet, I'm going to read you a story. Settle down, everybody. Ready? Well, 'Once upon a time, there was a king...'

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