These masks looks like deep-sea diving helmets but are in fact gas masks for babies, dating from World War II. In 1938, the British Government gave everyone, including babies, gas masks to protect them in case the Germans dropped poison gas bombs on Britain.
These gas masks were for children up to two years old. Parents placed their baby inside the mask so that the head was inside the steel helmet and the baby could see through the visor. Then they wrapped the canvas part around the baby’s body with the straps fastened under its bottom like a nappy, and its legs dangling free below. The canvas had a rubber coating to stop gas seeping through the material, and the straps were tied securely so that the mask was airtight.
There is would have been asbestos filter on the side of the mask, and this absorbed poisonous gases. Attached to this is a rubber tube shaped like a concertina with a handle. This was pushed back and forth to pump air into the mask. With the baby inside the mask, an adult could start to use the hand pump.
Health Visitors and Child Welfare Centres gave lessons on how to use the mask. Despite instruction courses, few parents were totally happy with encasing their child in an airtight chamber. In fact there was some question over its safety. During demonstrations there were reports that babies fell asleep and became unnaturally still inside the masks! It is likely that the pump didn’t push enough air into the mask and the babies came close to suffocating. Luckily, they were never put to the test in a real situation.
As well as the infant gas mask, there was a gas-proof pram that could be used to protect babies from poisonous gas attacks.