Gas at the Front
Huntingdon Gleaner, Huntingdon, Quebec published Thursday, October 10, 1918
Thursday, October 10, 1918
Transcribed by: marc
In writing to his mother from the large military hospital in England in which he is employed, Dr. Howard Clouston gives these interesting details regarding that horrid invention of the Germans -- poison gas.
There have been two chief ways of using gas. In the early days of the war it was always “cloud gas”. This was a cloud liberated from compressed gas cylinders, and could only be used when the weather conditions were just right, with the wind in the right direction and blowing with the correct velocity. It was a suffocating gas, could be seen coming, had a strong smell, and immediately irritated eyes, nose and throat, with choking. It was quite deadly. This form has not been used for two years, on account of its disadvantages. A variation of the same gas is to shoot over cylinders full of the gas. These break when they strike. These do not need good weather conditions, and the wind is not nearly as important a factor. This is still used.
The more common method now is to fill shells with compressed gas or liquid, with just enough explosive to smash them open. They may be fired right along with other shells and need no special transportation facilities to bring them up to the guns, and of course can be sent to just where they want to fire them. They may use only a “tear gas”, which makes the eyes water, or a “sneezing gas”. Both these make the soldier unable to carry on for a time.
The real devilish gas is “Mustard Gas”. This is a heavy liquid, which evaporates slowly and may lie on the ground or on clothes a long time, and so be tracked in on boots or carried into dugouts. Of course when a shell of it breaks a certain amount is sprayed around and part evaporates at once. The mischief of it is, that it has only a faint smell, that of course could be easily missed, and it does not develop its deadly work for some time after it has attacked the man. In about three hours, his eyes become sore, some hours later vomiting sets in, with sore throat and chest. In from perhaps 24 to 48 hours blisters appear wherever the gas struck him, especially in the armpits or between the thighs. These blisters become very sore burns, which are hard to heal and are liable to make boils. The skin is stained deeply around them. If he got a good dose (which is very small) he may die in a few hours from the way the gas has eaten into and inflamed the linings of the throat and lungs, or may die in a few days from a pneumonia, which starts on the chest inflamed, or he may die from the extensive burns received by the stuff being spattered over him, although he had his gas mask on all the time and his chest and throat are all right.
It is quite common for those afflicted to have a sore throat, and lose their voices for 2 or 3 weeks, others have severe vomiting as their worst feature. A certain number have nervous conditions in some of these are hard to get rid of; many are quite easy. A simple one is to have a man think his voice is gone and he may recover it in a few minutes when he is talked to and reasoned with.
Of course, means are being devised all the time to meet this infernal gas. For example, they have chemicals at the door of dugouts in powdered form and they wipe their feet in this. The sentry will not let a man in with its spattered on his clothes, and all means are used to recognize the shells and warn and treat the soldiers immediately. The respirator, which is a wonder, put protects the face and lungs if it is worn. The one disadvantage is, that such shells are not as good as cloud was (before respirators were made) for a rush attack. About the only satisfaction is, that while the Germans started this gas business, it is being done now more effectively by our side and they suffer worse.