This red and blue mask was for a two to five year old child. It dates from World War II
when the British government gave everyone in Britain a gas mask as protection against possible poison gas
attacks by the Germans. This mask was known as the 'Mickey Mouse' mask even though it doesn't look anything like the cartoon mouse! Because many small children were frightened of gas masks, bright colours and the friendly name were used.
The mask is made of red rubber with round plastic eyepieces. There are straps to hold the mask on the head and the rubber fits snugly round the child's face. Children were taught to hold the mask in front of their face, with thumbs inside the straps, then put their chin well into the mask and pull the straps over their head. The Government advised parents:
Toddlers soon learn to put on their own masks. Let them make a game of it and they will wear their gas masks happily.
The lower part of the gas mask is the filter
. This is a blue tin can with perforated
holes. The can holds a block of asbestos
, a chemical substance that absorbs poisonous gases. Children would breathe the clean air into their mouths, and then breathe out through the rubber flap. Children learned to annoy their parents by making a 'raspberry' noise every time they breathed out.
As asbestos ages it breaks down. We now know that there is a link between asbestos and lung disease so it is very important that all asbestos is professionally removed from old gas masks.