At the start of World War Two, preperations were made for enemy action. As well as the fear of bombing and invasion, there was a fear of gas or chemical weapons being used. The fear of gas attacks on the civilian population would have been a particularly harrowing thought, as memories of WW1 gas attacks against troops would have still been fresh in the minds of many people.
Therefore, Gas Cleansing Centres were set up around the country. Today, most have been forgotten. Probably as the gas attacks never happened. After a while people even stopped carrying gas masks during the war, as the threat seemed to have subsided. But in 1939 plans were put into place and we have found some of the places that were prepared for use in the event of an attack.
"After showering (which can just be seen in the background), gas casualties collect new clothes and gas masks from a Civil Defence worker at the Gas Cleansing Centre in Wandsworth. Their decontamination is now complete. They will be able to collect their old clothes once they have also gone through a decontamination process".
(Courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
"A view of the equipment needed to safely decontaminate gas casualties at this Gas Cleansing Centre in Wandsworth, London. Included are large metal bins in which casualties deposit their contaminated heavy clothing, gas masks and valuables, medical supplies, such as distilled water for rinsing casualties' eyes, a bucket for soiled dressings, bleach powder and a gas detector board."
(Courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
"Civil Defence workers in full anti-gas protective suits, steel helmets and gas masks assist gas casualties upon arrival at this Gas Cleansing Centre in Wandsworth, London. The casualties must remove their outer clothes and deposit them in the special bins visible in the foreground before being escorted through to the next stage of decontamination. Their clothes will undergo a separate decontamination process. The sign in the background reads: 'Gas Casualties Entrance Men': women would be taken to another entrance. In addition, before the clothes are removed, anti-gas cream is applied to any gas splashes on the skin. The casualty would rub this cream in, leave it for one minute, then wipe it off." (Courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
BELOW: Three photos from the Imperial War Museum archives and to the RIGHT their relevant text.
ABOVE: The Ghost sign for a Gas Cleansing Centre at Black Lane Mill / Constellation Mill, Radcliffe.
BELOW: The Mill, ghost sign bottom right.
In Bury Archives is a plan of a "Temporary Cleaning Station" at Egerton Baths, Bolton (RIGHT).
The plan, was drawn in September 1939, by an engineer & surveyor for the Council Offices at Bromley Cross. It shows the route to be taken by those effected. The arrows show the way in (while "dirty") and the way out (when "clean") (see image BOTTOM RIGHT) having used the showers. It also shows where things such as respirators, boots, clothes etc should be placed
Does anyone know where this building was?
Please contact us if you do.
According to Ken Inman & Michael H. Helm in their book 'Bury and the Second World War', Seedfield Methodist Church off Walmersley Road, Bury was a decontamination centre (they refer to it as Limefield Methodist Church) and according to Aircrashsites.co.uk, it was a gas mask distribution centre for the area as well.
The building still stands (RIGHT) but there are no clues about its wartime useage, no ghost signs here.
Fortunately, these Decontamination Centres were never used. Neither side used gas or chemical weapons on the enemy during WW2. But Britain did manufacture such weapons and made no secret of doing so, even making propaganda films about it - probably so that Hitler knew if he used such terrible weapons we would retaliate in kind.
It is a sobering thought, what might have been.
Please Note: These images of the decontamination centre plan are used by kind permission of Bury Archive Service.
BELOW: Two photographs courtesy of Ramsbottom Heritage Society .
Both photos are entitled "War Weapons Week – April 26th to May 3rd 1941 - Gas Decontamination Squad".
Our huge thanks to Ramsbottom Heritage Society and John Leyland in particular for their support and help.
It would be interesting to know both where these photos were taken and what exactly they were showing - if anyone knows, please get in touch.
LEFT: Anti-Gas Eyeshields from the Second World War.
This packet was found in a relative's loft recently. It contains two unused eyeshields still sealed in their packaging. Most probably it belonged to a member of the RAF.