Mustard Gas in WW2?

Discussion in 'General' started by SteveDee, Feb 27, 2019.

  1. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    A family story relates to a lady born in 1911, which says "...Mary drove an ambulance in the war and her lungs were badly damaged by mustard gas..."

    Given that she was too young for WW1 and mustard gas was not used in WW2, I wonder if anyone can think of an explanation.

    Are there any reports of people being injured by the effects of (say) domestic coal gas during the London bombings?
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  2. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    Only incident I know of is the SS John Harvey which was carrying a secret cargo of mustard gas which was unintentionally released when she was bombed in Bari, Italy.
    SS John Harvey - Wikipedia
    Britain certainly produced mustard gas during WW2 - perhaps there was an accident or leak at a production factory or holding depot, in which case I would expect it to be well hushed up.

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  3. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

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  4. Trackfrower

    Trackfrower Member

    Gas stocks had priority before Dunkirk.
    None to be left behind.
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  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Well-Known Member


    Did the lady ever serve abroad? I ask as the UK deployed mustard gas stocks to India. These two passages are from one account cited on the linked thread:

    Link: Chemical Warfare Establishment NE India WW2
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  6. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Lincolnshire mustard gas storage.

    There was storage of mustard gas at RAF Norton Disney,a site well removed from Norton Disney.The unit,opened in late August 1939, being No 93 MU,a munitions storage unit for No 5 Group.Not close to RAF Swinderby but but on the west side of the A46 adjacent to Swinderby railway station on the Lincoln...Newark rail line.The unit was renamed Norton Disney when RAF Swinderby opened,the village of Norton Disney being quite a few miles to the south east.

    In addition, as was the practice, the unit had a number of sub sites scattered around the area in country lanes at Fox Covert in Norton Disney and also Tumby Woodside,near Boston adjacent to the railway station.

    Recently there was the discovery of mustard gas munitions deteriorating in the vicinity of RAF Woodhall Spa which took a considerable amount of time to clear and decontaminate the area.

    Mustard gas was banned - but here's why cannisters were found
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  7. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Many thanks for all your input. I doubt we will ever know.

    This is really just a side-issue in my effort to piece together the life of Ernest Watts.
    See Ernest John Watts, born 30/5/1920, RAF service no. 1272094

    But hey! who can resist a good mystery.

    It seems that there was a lot of mustard gas being moved around the world during WW2 (including Australia, India, Italy). While neither Churchill, Roosevelt or Hitler were keen to use it, they all ordered its manufacture, just in case!

    If/whenever the gas was accidentally released, the medics probably didn't know what they were dealing with because it was 'hush-hush' (I think this was the case in Italy: Chemical warfare - Wikipedia).

    So it seems unlikely that Mary would have known what type of substance had affected her. Maybe she said she was "gassed" and some other family member added the word "mustard" during the retelling of the story. I was just wondering if she may have ingested something hasty while retrieving casualties during the London Blitz. I doubt she traveled more than 50 miles from London during the war. I don't think Town (coal) Gas produces long-term affects in survivors.

    Whatever happened, she was disabled for the rest of her life with breathing/lung related problems. When my wife visited her around 1972 she was bed-ridden.

    Mary Agnes Watts
    was born in the summer of 1910 and died in 1983. Maybe some medical expert could suggest what sort of substance could produce such long-term disability, while allowing Mary to survive into her 70s. However, its rarely as easy as it is in the movies. My dad's death certificate states the cause of death as: Cryptogenic Fibrosing Alveolitis which is a lung disease, the cause of which is unknown.
  8. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007
    Name: Mary Agnes Watts
    Death Age: 72
    Birth Date: 16 Aug 1910
    Registration Date: Mar 1983
    Registration district: Islington
    Inferred County: Greater London
    Volume: 13
    Page: 1699

    1939 England and Wales Register
    Name: Mary A Watts
    Gender: Female
    Marital status: Single
    Birth Date: 16 Aug 1910
    Residence Year: 1939
    Address: 55
    Residence Place: Lambeth, London, England
    Occupation: Tobaccos Machine Las
    Schedule Number: 171
    Sub Schedule Number: 3
    Enumeration District: ANAZ
    Registration district: 22/1
    Inferred Father: Edward E Watts
    Inferred Mother: Rose E Watts
    Household Members:
    Edward E Watts
    Rose E Watts
    Mary A Watts

    Wonder if she has a service record somewhere which might indicate where she used to drive/work and hence a source to her medical condition - the death cert might make interesting reading

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  9. SteveDee

    SteveDee Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the info TD.

    I have been using the excellent FreeBMD (FreeBMD Home Page) but this does not include the 1939 'mini census'.

    I don't know who Edward E Watts is, as Mary's father appears to be John "Jack" Ernest Watts. I didn't realise that Watts was/is such a common name, which has made tracing the family very interesting so far.

    I'm just waiting for the GRO to send me the marriage cert for John Ernest Watts + Elizabeth Rosina Hands to triple check I have the correct family, but these certs can be quite expensive. They do PDF birth certs which were £6 but have just gone up to £7. Unfortunately the Marriage Certs still seem to be paper, and cost £11 (delivery is also slower).

    As an ambulance crew/driver I assume Mary would have joined the ARP. Is that right?
  10. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    I saw this SRY war diary ref. too, to a mustard gas hazard, this time off the Libyan coast, during WW2:

    26th June 1943 (Libya): Some stretches of the coast are out of bounds for bathing on account of mustard gas dropped in the sea. The ruins at Leptis Magna lie between us and Homs and are very interesting. The old harbour is now silted up, but the moles and quays remain and the approaches to it, built by Septimus Severus, who was built* here [sic - * born], are magnificent. The town was later buried in sand dunes..
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  11. Osborne2

    Osborne2 Well-Known Member

    Mustard Gas manufactured in Runcorn WW2 by ICI at Wigg Island works, now a nature park between the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey estuary near Astmoor. By the relative size of the military guard (given the need to prevent invasion), it was heavily defended during the war, by home defence battalions. Off the top of my head 6th Bn South Lancashires had the job 1940. Place being demolished during the 80's as I recall, or planning going on for it, 1982-5.

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