University of Oxford
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Me versus The Fuhrer (Gas mask drill)

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:11 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

The Second World War almost coincided with my junior school career. I don't think the Fuhrer did it on purpose; that's just how it turned out. Of course, I was aware of it, but I never remember any particular feeling of danger. Our village suffered no enemy action and I recall only a few occasions when, at the sound of the air-raid siren, my sister and I were put to sleep on a tiny camp-bed in the coal cwtch attached to the back kitchen. However, my main contribution to the overthrow of the Third Reich was sitting with my sister and two cousins under the stairs in Gran's house singing 'Roll out the Barrel' and 'She'll be Coming round the Mountain'. The aim was to keep the enemy bombers away. I'm delighted to report it worked; we came out of it unscathed.

We were expected to take our gas masks to school and obviously we needed instruction in their use:
1 Gas mask on desk!
2 By your desk, stand!
3 Hook thumbs through straps!
4 Place straps over head!
5 Pull mask over face!

But I had a problem; I was very small for my age and even with the straps adjusted as tightly as possible, it still needed two safety pins to tighten them further. Still not tight enough!

Once or twice, this drill was conducted on a whole-school basis and, masked up, we were marched in a never-ending line round and round the playground, like convicts on exercise. I remember my face becoming incredibly hot and sweaty and the celluloid eye piece became so misted up that I could see nothing through it. To add to my woes, my mask was so ill-fitting that air was expelled through the sides, causing the rubber to vibrate against my cheeks. This produced a rhythmic farting noise which delighted those around me - pupils and, I suspect, teachers too!

At least, I had boosted morale!


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John Enos and classmates.

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John Enos

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Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

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