CHAPTER 5 PROTECTION AGAINST POISON GAS

Publicity

In the early days of A.R.P. the Government placed so great an emphasis on the possibility of poison-gas attacks and stressed so much the need for taking precautionary measures in advance that the subject justifies a separate Chapter in this record. Many (and loud!) were the discussions in the House of Commons as to the practical value of cellophane for windows, the obstruction or lack of obstruction which nine-inch brick walls would offer to undreamed-of concentrations of different types of gas and the possibility of neutralising liquid mustard-gas which might contaminate hospital entrances in the middle of the night.

The argument waxed fast and furious, some regarding the whole business as an endeavour to work up a war mentality; the ordinary man and woman feeling "there must be something in it" and preferring to do something, if only guidance were of a practical nature. Generally, the proposal to set aside a room and gas-proof it was regarded as a "counsel of perfection" and the majority of Walthamstow citizens, looking round their crowded accommodation, decided that the idea of sparing a room was quite impracticable. One consolatory feature, however, was the announcement by the Government that respirators would be issued free for the whole population, these respirators being guaranteed proof against all known forms of poison gas. The controversy had, moreover, one good result: people were wakened-if only slightly-from their mental lethargy and even the usually unthinking began to take an interest in the war which, to most thoughtful people, was so obviously looming ahead. Recruitment for A.R.P. Services began in early 1938 and we also organised an Exhibition at the Old Monoux School which it was estimated was visited by 25,000 people during September 1938.

Respirators for Civilians

With the Czecho-Slovakia crisis and the capitulation at Munich, the Government became alarmed and at noon on Saturday, 24th September, we were suddenly told to measure the public for respirators forthwith. On the Sunday following, loud-speaker vans called people to go to the Fitting Centres, notices were read from the pulpits to similar effect and in Walthamstow on that Sunday was one of the amazing sights of the pre-war period. All day the streets echoed to the shuffle and tramp of feet passing interminably to the Respirator Measuring Stations.

Men and women at these points became hoarse with explaining and instructing, fingers became raw or numb with fitting respirators, helpers became faint with hunger: still they did their job until when we closed the stations at 8 p.m. over 85,000 had been measured and had been issued with the card for which they could obtain a respirator when the res-pirators became available. A few days later came instruction to issue (at short notice, of course!), and on Thursday, 29th September, we opened every available church and school hall in the town to give the public an opportunity to be fitted or exchange their measurement card for a respirator and on that day we issued 102,000 respirators!

The repair and replacement of respirators produced many problems, and some idea of the size of the problem may be gained from the fact that during five successive censuses the number of new respirators issued or old ones repaired totalled 10,178. In addition, there were at all times facilities for the public to obtain repairs and exchanges at our ten District Centres. School-children were specially catered for and Local Instructors were sent to the different schools at regular intervals to inspect the children's respirators and to make such repairs as were necessary.

Cleansing

The prospective cleansing of the public from conČtamination by poison gas provided one of the most difficult problems in connection with this aspect of warfare. Our ten First Aid Posts had combined with them Cleansing Centres and, in addition, three Public Gas Cleansing Stations were provided during 1941/2, one at the London Hospital Rugby Ground, Wadham Road, one at shops in Whitehall Parade, High Street, and one at the rear of the Public Baths in High Street. A Mobile Gas Cleansing Unit was also provided in the summer of 1941 and stationed at different District Centres from time to time.

Decontamination

The decontamination of the protective clothing of Civil Defence and N.F.S. personnel was provided for by means of a Decontamination Laundry with tanks, etc., specially constructed at the Cleansing Department, Low Hall Farm. The provision of a Decontamination Laundry for civilian clothing was a difficult matter, and ultimately a special laundry had to be built with tanks, etc., in close proximity to one of the local commercial laundries. The decontamination of buildings and roads was to be undertaken by part-time personnel recruited from the Cleansing Department but, to supplement this, arrangements were made locally for the training of Heavy and Light Rescue personnel and such Wardens as were suitable.

Fortunately poison gas was one of the few things not used against Walthamstow by the enemy.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen