'A Light Sniff Might Mean Death’ : Soldiers’ Responses to Poisonous Gas Throughout the First World War

Author: Annesley, Ellis Jayne

Date: 2015

Publisher: University of Canterbury

Type: Theses / Dissertations

Link to this item using this URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10092/11417


This research paper examines soldiers’ responses to poisonous gas throughout the First World War. Accounts from British and Dominion, American and German soldiers who fought along the Western Front have been collected to analyse the psychological impact gas had upon a variety of men throughout the conflict. Contemporary letters and diaries as well as post-war oral testimonies and memoirs form the basis of the evidence used. The topic encompasses three strands of historical scholarship and engages with each to explore more thoroughly the responses obtained. Emphasis is placed on the psychological impact of gas upon the individuals assessed. Ultimately, this dissertation demonstrates that upon its introduction, poison gas was capable of instilling fear into men whether previously exposed to its consequences or not. However, this psychological power was to significantly diminish following the production and distribution of anti-gas protective measures in late 1916. Despite decreasing anxiety, gas retained its title as a ‘terror weapon’ from effectively inspiring fear into men who were unprotected, ill-prepared, and subsequently vulnerable, in the face of the poison.

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