Thursday, October 23, 2014

No Gas Mask=No Zoo trip

No Gas Mask=No Zoo trip

As most will know, during the second world war, it was compulsory to carry a gas mask with you everywhere you went.

As a child, my memory for things unimportant was about the same as it is now. Constantly needing reminding about jobs, including taking the gas mask. The gas mask itself was not a problem I knew how to put it on and off, but it was the carrying that was a nuisance. It was in a cardboard box with a loop of string which was supposed to be carried over the shoulder, and it just got in the way of everything that you wanted to do. If you slung it round behind and then sat down, the box got squashed, under your arm it got in the way and so on.

Whilst in Guildford as an evacuee in about 1942 or 1943 a school trip to Chessington Zoo and Circus was organised, which of course was a cause of a great deal of excitement. We had to take a packed lunch and drinks, so my Mum gave me a packed lunch of sandwiches and apples from the garden, sufficient for half the class, and some left over for the animals.

So off we went from home on the bus from Westborough into Guildford to school where the coach was already waiting. Just as I was about to get on it was spotted that I had no gas mask.
Miss Hanley was one of those teachers who could freeze you to the ground with one look, without even saying anything, but she spoke.

“Where's your gas mask ?”

“Forgot it Miss”

“Well you know that you cant go without a gas mask, and you don’t have time to go home again. You will have to stay in school.”
I didn't cry but I must have looked as though I was going to. “It's your own fault, you never pay attention”

Joe Gaffney, the only male teacher in the school apart from Mr. Ridge , the head, then came up and inquired what the problem was, as we were holding up all the others from getting on the coach.

“You're an idiot, you know that? But you are lucky because there is a gas mask hanging up in the downstairs toilets, run in and get it and you will be able to go.”

I was in and back with that gas mask in no time flat, grinning all over my face. On the coach, though I noticed the name on the gas mask box was of one of the boys who was away from school with measles, so I thought that if there was a gas scare whilst we were away I would have the choice of getting gassed or getting measles. I had seen kids with measles so would probably have chosen being gassed.

I don’t remember a great deal about the actual visit to Chessington Zoo, except the surplus of sandwiches and the fact that we were told that most of the larger animals had been evacuated to Devon. Still there was plenty to see and I had no idea where Devon was anyway.

Did I learn a lesson from the fright of not being able to go? Probably not.