Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gas Mask

I recently found the WWI service record for Aaron Parx Bell, a cousin from Cortez, Florida.

He was the husband of Jessie Blanche Fulford.

Aaron enlisted in the Army on April 3, 1918 at age 22 and after basic training was assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service. This was a branch of the military that was created in July 1918.

The CWS had a defense unit and an offensive detachment. Aaron served in the defense unit. They designed, created and tested gas masks and protective clothing for the US troops.They used the actual chemicals to do the testing.

When the US entered WWI it had no gas masks. The first troops went to Europe without any protection from the mustard gas and other chemicals being used by the Germans and British troops.

The US started making gas masks based on the British model but later developed their own. The Chemical Warfare Service was also supposed to train US troops on how to protect themselves from the gas.

The spring of 1918 saw the highest use of chemicals in the war and US troops had very high casualty rates.

Aaron Bell was in the Chemical Warfare Service until February 1919, three months after the end of the war. He was fortunate the war ended before he was sent overseas so he never had to wear the mask in combat.


Brooks Bell said...

That's my grandfather - I found the card online, too. None of us knew that he had been in a chemical warfare group - not even my father (his son).

I did a little looking into the US Chemical War effort after finding that out. The US developed their own variant of poison gas known as Lewisite. I would not want to be in the defensive group involved in testing this. More info on it can be found here:

Sherry Ballard said...

Aaron Parx Bell was my husband's Great Uncle. I'll be forwarding this blog post to him.

Mark Green said...

Nice to hear from you Sherry. How is he related?