A glimpse into the history of the gas mask

In places such as shops and buses we are obliged to wear masks to protect others from COVID-19. During WWII, our forefathers also had to wear masks at the time because of the fear that there would be a gas attack. If today’s masks are made of lightweight material –  back then it was a different story.

At the entrance to the War Museum in Vittoriosa, a window has been opened onto history  – with the first exhibition of these wartime gas masks. The Chairman of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, Mario Farrugia said that 75 years ago, our forefathers used to have to carry these masks with them and there was a fine for those who did not wear them.

“These are gas masks which were mostly used by civilians, I would say probably 95% of them were used by ordinary people not those in the military and they come from 25 different countries,” he said.

Also on display are masks which used to be worn in Malta, manufactured in England. Mr. Farrugia said that although Malta was never attacked by gas, the Maltese were among the first people in the British Empire who had gas masks issued to them in 1935 when there was the Abyssinian war.

“There was the fear that the Italians would use gas against Malta even though there had not been a declaration of war. The Maltese were among the first who experienced this discomfort because the gas mask was not pleasant to wear,” Mr Farrugia said.

The gas masks were made of rubber and used to be sealed tightly to the face so that gas could not enter inside one’s nostrils or mouth.

“We have items which are rare, for example we have a mask for American babies which is very rare, in fact an American museum asked for it when they learned we had one,” he added.

Mr Farrugia said that “A window on history” is a new concept inspired by the situation we live in where one needs to maintain social distance. He said that the public can still learn about history without entering the museum.

This project was made possible through financial aid from the Cottonera Foundation. The Chairman of the Foundation, Glenn Bedingfield said that in a few weeks, the Foundation will issue a call for NGOs from Cottonera to help them in their projects and initiatives.

This exhibit ends at the end of October when the window will open onto another aspect of our history.

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