Liverpool Blitz: Gas masks and preparing for attack

Some houses with their windows tapped
You can see that several houses on Janet Street have tapped their windows as advised - but not all
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The Government handed out a lot of useful information telling people how to prepare their houses for an aerial attack, and what to do in case of an attack. Here are some of the main points:

Windows: House windows were covered with tape and sticky paper to prevent flying glass. Bus and tram windows had mesh netting to prevent the same.

Light: Houses had to have every chink of light hidden, as did public transport. Cars masked their headlights, causing lots of accidents.

Gas masks: Everyone was issued with a gas mask that had to be carried at all times (many left theirs at home or used the boxes to carry other items). Baby's versions had to be filled with air using bellows. The masks smelt of rubber and disinfectant, and helped people imagine what an attack would be like. In fact there were many false alarms, with people smelling a chemical, eg cleaning fluid, and thinking they were under attack. Some employers ran mock attack drills to prepare their staff. Britain never experienced a gas attack.

Advice on using gas masks
The Ministry of Home Security issued advice on using gas masks. © Her Majesty's Stationery Office
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Clearing your house: Homeowners were told to clear junk from their lofts - less to burn if you are hit. All rooms were cleared of unnecessary clutter, especially glass - even glass clock faces.

Preparing your house: It was advised that buckets of water or sand be put on each floor and used to put out fires. A 'Shelter at Home' booklet was provided with information on things like building timber frameworks to help support the floor above.

During a raid: People needed to know what the sirens meant. The warning signal was either a wailing siren that rose and fell or a police whistle. When heard people were told to make their way to their shelter. The 'all clear' was the same siren but in a long, steady tone. A hand rattle meant a gas attack, a bell the 'all clear'. It was important not to remove gas masks until the bell was heard.

Those who stayed in their houses were advised to hide in a back room as bombs sink deeper into soil and so reduce the force of the blast.

A booklet of air raid precautions
A booklet of air raid precautions
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Incendiaries (firebombs): People were encouraged to tackle them. If outdoors you approached the bomb using a sand bag for protection. The whole sandbag could be put on the bomb and smothered within two minutes. Indoors bombs needed water. Three people operated the pump - one directed the jet while lying on the floor (fresher air), one pumped the water from the bucket and another kept the bucket full. Once the fire was out a torch and hatchet were used to look for smouldering bits in corners and under floorboards.

Listen to government advice: A pen and paper should be kept next to the wireless and all official instructions written down.


Find out more about a typical 1940s house.

Or explore the Imperial War Museum's wartime house.




Marion Browne talks about gasmasks for babies.
(windows media | mp3 | read transcript)