21 October 2020
Gas masks were issued to all soldiers in the trenches in WW1. Make your own miniature version with this DIY project...
Poison gas was used by all sides in the Great War against opposing enemy soldiers, despite the fact that at this time the use of poison or poisoned weapons was a war crime. This is because the use of such warfare violated the laws set down by the 1899 Hague Declaration and the 1907 Hague convention on Land Warfare.
Up to this point in history, soldiers had worn brightly coloured uniforms and openly charged at one another on exposed ground in a gentlemanly fashion. The First World War changed all of this, with uniforms to match the colour of the earth, powerful long-distance weapons, and deadly clouds of chemicals. As a result of these poison gas attacks, gas masks were issued to all soldiers, horses and even dogs.
At first the early gas masks were crude as would be expected. No one could believe that poison gas would ever be used in warfare, as the mere thought of this underhand and devious method of killing the enemy seemed too shocking to Edwardian society.
How poison gas worked
Poison gas worked by killing indiscriminately as the general slow-moving or static gas clouds smothered the trenches. The main gases used were tear gas, mustard gas, phosgene and chlorine.
The killing capacity of gas was limited, however, and only 4% of combat deaths were caused by gas. It quickly became clear that the men who stayed in their places suffered less than those who ran away from the gas, as any movement worsened the gasses effects. Standing up you often escaped any serious effects, whereas, lying down at the bottom of the trench was more lethal as the gas was denser near the ground. The worst sufferers were the wounded lying on the ground, or on stretchers, and the men who ran away with the cloud.
The development of the gas mask
One of the early designs of the gas mask is shown below. This crude non-rubberised mask gave some protection by being dipped in the anti-gas chemicals sodium hyposulphite, washing soda, glycerine and water.
As the months passed and the use of poison gas occured more frequently, more sophisticated masks were developed and introduced. The British small box respirator was first introduced to British soldiers in April 1916, a few months before the Battle of the Somme, and its value can be measured in the reduction of fatalities suffered as a result of poison gas. Gas attacks didn't happen on the battlefields during WWII.
Love exploring history in miniature form? Dolls House & Miniature Scene magazine is packed with projects to inspire from a wide range of eras – there's something for all tastes and interests!
How to make your own WW1 gas mask and helmet
There were a lot of different kinds of mask used in WW1, so you can be fairly adventurous with your design.
You will need
- A picture of a real WW1 gas mask for reference
- A 12th scale doll head, doll or hat stand
- Cling film
- Fine leather or suede
- Green/ khaki paint/marker pens (if required)
- Single hole punch
- PVA tacky glue
- Small sharp scissors
- A piece of acetate/Perspex
- Drinking straws with bendy bits
- Jewellery findings – various
- Thread of thin leather for straps
1. Cover the doll head or wig/hat stand with cling film to protect it from any glue, etc. If you don't have a doll head or hat stand, a suitably sized bead with a cocktail stick through it works equally well.
2. If you don't have the right colour leather, use a lighter piece and paint or stain it. Leather is very forgiving and will take colouring and stretching very well. Cut out a rectangular piece of leather approximately 2in x 1-1.5in and mark out the position of eyes and mouth. Carefully cut these out with a hole punch.
3. Spread the reverese or suede side of the leather with PVA tacky glue. Stretch the gluey leather over the head shape pinching it together at either side of the head and towards the chin as shown. Allow the glue to dry.
4. While the glue is drying make the eyes. Using the same hole punch, cut out two Perspex circles for the eye pieces. Edge each circular lens with wire or thread (you can use a small piece of black wire around the lens then a small brass jump ring around this to create the look). Using PVA tacky glue to secure the lenses inside their frames.
Top tip! Working on cling film ensures you can peel the eyes off once they're dry.
5. To make the mouth piece and hose, take the drinking straw and extend the bendy bit by pulling the straw gently until it is at maximum extension. Clip away all but 0.25in from each end. Flatten one end of the straw and bend it realistically to one side. Glue suitable circular jewellery findings to the flattened top end, suitably sized to cover the mouth hole you punched in the mask leather earlier. Then glue a bead or jewellery finding at the base of the tube too – it can be made to go into the box if you prefer. You may need a more serious glue for this bit – a contact glue like UHU or tow-part epoxy resin both work fine. Now paint to unify the colour of the assembly as/if required.
6. Now the glue on the mask should be dry, so carefully remove the leather mask from the cling film. Use sharp scissors to trim away the seams where the leather was pressed togther at the top of the head and round off under the chin so it resembles a head shaped gas mask.
7. Glue the eyes and nose/mouth in place on the mask.
8. While the glue is drying on the eye and mouthpieces, cut thin leather straps from brown leather or use waxed thread or fine ribbon. Glue in place to the back of the mask.
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Need more inspiration - check out our WW1 Pinterest board.