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Gas Masks

Heroes Remember

We were never in a gas that came over in clouds. It was always shells, shell gas. We got quite used to them. They make a different sound when they’re coming over, and they make a different sound when they land on the ground. And we knew if they were close enough, whether to use our gas masks. We could not go anywhere when we were up at the front, never, never anywhere without gas masks. That was a very important thing. And we wore the gas masks when it was necessary, but a lot of the time it wasn’t necessary. And we had the latest type of gas mask. We had the two types of gas marks. The first one we had was like a flannel, a terrible thing, a wet piece of flannel with eyeglasses on it. We used to put it over our head. That was a messy thing. Now that was gone out and then we got a box one. And it was a box one, and inside was charcoal and there was a tube up through that you put over your face. And that was the better one. And that was the one we always, we carried it on our chest. When we went to sleep, we had it right beside us. And we always have, if we missed our gas, we immediately tried to find it, because it was very important if you got into gas. Now, we were often in gas that wasn't bad enough. We didn’t put on our, yeah, but we often did put it on. Just … but we never had to use it during any of our … when we did the attacking. We never used our gas masks. I don’t remember using any of them, once we went into the open warfare.

Mr. Pitcairn discusses the risk of gas attacks and compares the original flannel gas mask to the newer, more effective charcoal box filtered mask.

James Pitcairn

James Pitcairn was born in Kirkintilloch, Scotland on May 3, 1897. The second of four children, he moved to Vancouver with his widowed mother in 1911. At the age of thirteen, he was working as an elevator boy when a truancy officer sent him back to school, which he attended for five years. In Vancouver, Mr. Pitcairn was twice denied enlistment because of his small size; however, he joined friends in Kingston, Ontario and was accepted there as a member of the 50th Battery, Queens Artillery on March 7, 1916. He trained as a horse artilleryman at Petawawa. Mr. Pitcairn sailed for England aboard the SS Olympia in August, 1916. He had further training at Camp Whitley and was finally sent to France as a member of the 52nd Field Artillery, 5th Division. Mr. Pitcairn’s service saw him in action at Lens, Vimy, Hill 70, Amiens, Drocourt-Queant and Valenciennes as the layer on an 18-Pound artillery gun. One hundred and two at the time of his interview, Mr. Pitcairn’s clear voice and photographic memory offer some very informative descriptions of the Artillery’s role in the First World War.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
James Pitcairn
War, Conflict or Mission:
First World War
50th Battery

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