Chapter and verse on air raid poison gas

Members of St John Beverley nursing division in 1941, ready for war duty.
Members of St John Beverley nursing division in 1941, ready for war duty.

The idea of health and safety and first aid is something that we take for granted nowadays.

It is part and parcel of our everyday lives; there to protect us from harm or give us instant, on-the-spot treatment should the worst happen.

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the foundation of the St John Ambulance Association, way back in 1877.

Reminded by this anniversary, staff at the East Riding Archives have been looking at what historical records from the East Yorkshire region can offer us by way of an insight into the work of the St John Ambulance in our area.

One of the collections in the archives is that of Muriel Johnson, who was in the Nursing Division of the Beverley St John Ambulance Brigade during the Second World War.

Muriel collected photographs, certificates, a register of first aid post duties, hospital attendances at Beverley Base, and lists of members.

One of the more unusual items in her collection is a sheet of poems about the different poisonous gases that may be used in air raids, which were a constant threat to civilian life.

At first, the association of light-hearted poetry with such atrocious chemical weapons seems rather odd, but on closer inspection you can see that the nurses used these poems to help them remember the different types of gas, their symptoms and how to treat them.

Given that they would’ve needed to recall this information under emergency situations, the rhymes must have been a simple and effective method of quickly recalling information that was needed to treat their patients.