Gas masks and my Grandfather

I found it really interesting in Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” how he describes one of the soldiers who failed to get their gas mask on time and the effects of that.

This made an impact on me because of a story my Grandfather told me many times about when he was in the army in WWII.  One of the stories he told was that when he was training to fight he had to do many things he did not like, such as raming a hanging sandbag with a bayonet and learning how to get it unstuck, such as placing your foot on the sandbag (person) and shoving them away.  He said that while he did not like doing that even in practice, it was drilled into them that it was nessasary becuase of they lost their weapon they were dead.

One day while training, my grandfather was put into a gas chamber with several other people.  Everyone had their gas masks strapped onto them and they began to let the gas into the chamber.  My grandfather tells me that he remembers starting to get very dizzy and that he could not think straight.  After he collapsed they turned the gas off and rushed him to the medical unit, realizing that his gas mask had had a fatal flaw in it.  After that my Grandfather was not allowed to fight in the war anymore.  He was still in the military, just not allowed to actually fight.  My Grandfather is a gentle soul, and no doubt is glad that he never had to test that sandbag technique out on a real person.

I was wondering, how much worse would it have been if this particular soldier had gotten his mask on and yet still been killed?  Is what he felt similar to what my grandfather felt?  Or were the types of gas much different?  I also wish I knew if that mask was destroyed or repaired and given to another soldier.  It would be so cool to know; since that would mean that my grandfathers fate in that incident would have helped to save another’s life on the front lines.


184 thoughts on “Gas masks and my Grandfather

  1. I don’t know what rules governed gas masks when your grandfather used his. But a flawed mask will be decommissioned and destroyed as it must be a complete working unit in today’s air force. From personal experience, the AF uses a very light dose of what we call tear gas. It has strong enough affects that a person will have teary eyes, burning sensations in the lungs, and crystalize on the skin in a way that must be washed off so it doesn’t rerelease on the host. It may have also pegged a fatal issue in a series of masks made in the same batch.

  2. I think that if the soldier had gotten his mask on and still been killed, it would’ve been detrimental to all soldiers. Think about it. The one, and sometimes only thing, you can count on didn’t work.

    That would’ve driven me to the point of desertion.

    You can’t depend on anything. What a terrible terrible feeling.

  3. This completely terrifies me! I cannot believe that that happened to your grandfather! Wow. So scary.
    I agree with what Jordan said. That would be absolutely mortifying! Seeing something that is supposed to be the one thing protecting you, is failing you. I mean, they can justify the death of the soldier because he never got the mask on, but if he had a flawed one, got it on in time, and STILL DIED I think that would dismantle any trust the men had in the war at that point. Like, I would be thinking “what is the point in even putting this thing on if there is still a chance I will die?” Terrifying!

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