"What Gassing Meant"

In the "Centennial History of Missouri, by Walter B. Stevens (1921), Maj. Norman B. Comfort described a German  gas attack: "The German is cunning. He knew of our last relief and gassed us terribly. Our present sector is especially adapted to mustard gas, named 'ypenite' because this species was first used at Ypres, pronounced "ep" with a broad 'e'.  It is a nasty insidious gas and the most difficult to combat."

"They pepper our paths with these mustard shells. A white powder lies all around the bursted shell.  The odor can easily be detected, but at first seems harmless and smells like so much lime.  The atmosphere becomes permeated and, so much heavier than air, it stays in volume close to the ground."

"Our particular sector is more or less wooded and shrubbed.  It is damp, moist country, and when the sun shines, which is really the exception in 'Sunny France', or has been in the eight months I have been here, a vaporous steam rises.  One by one our eyes become red as fire.  Men commence vomiting and soon the respiratory organs become affected.  The rubbed portions of the body which are tender become raw by friction and the torture grows excruciating."

"We, of course, wore our gas masks in the alert position constantly, donning the masks at frequent times, depending on the wind.  The mask, itself, is an infernal device, however; and many a time I've argued with myself as to which death would be more agreeable, the gas or the mask itself.  It is heavy. The eye glasses become clouded so you can't see.  There's a plug in your mouth that chokes you and pincers that crush your nose to smithereens.  Sometimes you sleep this way and awake strangling to death because the plug has slipped out of your mouth.  For eight months now, except in the back area, my pistol and tin hat have been near my head, and the mask has hung around my neck.  We never move an inch without those three articles."

FACT: One out of every German shells in World War I were chemical, carrying poison gas.

Even horses and mules had to be equipped with gas masks.

FACT: While poison gas was first used by the Germans, the allies, including Americans retaliated by using gas in return.


"Gas! Gas! Quick Boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning."

--Poem by Wilfred Owen, a British soldier killed on the Western Front


Common Types of Poison Gas Used During WWI:

1) Chlorine Gas, this gas formed a greenish cloud that hugged the ground. This was the first gas used by the Germans (22 April 1915) at Ypres, Belgium. It caused 10,000 allied casualties, many dying within ten minutes.

2) Phosgene Gas, gave the initial aroma of "new-mown gas". One deep breath, the gas entered one's lungs, changing to hydrochloric acid.

3) Chlorpicrin Gas, "vomiting gas" This gas penetrated most gas masks, causing those wearing one to tear it off and vomit. Although this gas was not very deadly, it exposed the soldier to more harmful gas after removing his mask.

4) Mustard Gas, in low concentrations some claim this gas had the aroma of  blooming lilacs. In moderate to strong concentrations it caused chemical burns on the skin, mouth, eyes. If it was inhaled the throat and lungs were affected leading to death.

Fact: Poison Gas caused approximately 500,000 casualties, but only 30,000 deaths. The wearing of gas masks greatly reduced the affects of gas, but it remained a powerful instrument of terror on the battlefield.

Missourians in the First World War