By 1940, 38 million gas-masks had been issued, in Britain, despite the use of gas being prohibited under the Geneva Protocol.
Today in 1985 the St.Helen’s [Lancashire] Star front page lead with an article which revealed that they had been inundated with evidence regarding the previous existence of poison gas works in the area.
Many complained about the ‘high proportion of the workers whom had since died suffering from lung and skin problems.’ (1)
The article had responded to a BBC Timewatch Programme of the previous week. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) denied the existence of the Sutton Oak Plant at St. Helens, which had supposedly produced phosgene gas up to the 1950s.
Between the World-Wars the UK was a major centre for the research, development and manufacture of chemical warfare agents and early in WWII Sutton Oak Plant (Chemical Defence Research Establishment (CDRE), was making mustard gas. It also pioneered research into sarin and other nerve agents.
In 1954 the St. Helens Plant had closed and work transferred to the Chemical Defence Establishment (CDE), Nancekuke, in Cornwall, where production and testing took place as well as work involving material and equipment removed from conquered Germany.
When this site closed in 1980 all the equipment was buried in an old mine shaft. The site was then reinstated as RAF Portreath.
We had been prepared for the possibility of chemical warfare for on 27th August 1939, the Treasury had applied for £546,000 to develop a top secret chemical weapons plant at Rhydymwyn near Mold, Flint, North Wales.
At the site atomic bomb and mustard gas research was undertaken after Churchill had called on ICI to find a secret location to produce chemical weapons.By 1943 it was employing 2,000.
Documents later reveal our determination to us gas for when invasion seemed imminent, after Dunkirk, General Brook in charge of anti-invasion preparations, ‘had every intention of using sprayed mustard-gas on the beaches.(2)
In April 1941 Churchill sent letter to his Secretary of State for War: ‘I remain far from satisfied with the state of our preparations for offensive chemical warfare, should this be forced upon us by the actions of the enemy..’
Later in the war Churchill is quoted: ‘I should be prepared to anything that would hit the enemy.’ However he was dissuaded from action owing to the probability of reprisals.(3)
By 1942-3 Britain had built up its stockpiles of chemical weapons, looking forward to D-Day.(4)
After the war countries were obliged to declare their chemical facilities and agree to inspections, by the Chemical Warfare Convention.
Today the site where the poison gas was manufactured in St.Helens is now a ‘clean’ Industrial Estate, called Abbotsfield Park.
It was John Davy, brother of the famous chemist Humphrey, in 1812, who synthesized phosgene when he exposed Carbonic Oxide (Carbon Monoxide), and Chlorine ( COCl2) to sunlight. It was widely used in the 19thc in the dyeing industry.
(1) The locals referred to the factory as Magnum, a former occupier of the factory.
(2) Alanbrooke Diaries (22.9.1940), 2001.
(3) Paxman, J.&Harris R. 1982, The war that never was.
(4) There were four main sites including apart from the three mention there was Randle in Cheshire. There were also four forward Filling depots, along with according to the Independent article 60 other sites where the safety policy was haphazard.
Ref: Independent.co.uk/60-secret-gas- sites-uncovered. Christopher Bellamy Tuesday, 4.6.1996.
Ref: wikipedia.org/chemical_warfare_and_uk/Britain’s plan to use gas and phosgene to repel invaders.References to many publications.
Ref: Churchill-Most -Secret PM Personal Minute to Chief of Staff, 6th July 1944.
Ref:Google phosgene gas plant in Britain.
When it was thought Rockall was sitting on top of natural gas, the Danes, Irish and the Icelanders became very interested as to ownership of the Rock. It resulted in the 1972 Rockall Act which made it part of Inverness-shire, Scotland, thus constituting the final land-grab of Empire.
With the Cold War against the Soviets, well established in the 1950.s, there was such a fear of Russian espionage that Harold Macmillan, later Prime Minister, but then British Defence Secretary, ordered the possession of the Island of Rockall, which lies in the Atlantic 200 miles west of North Uist. The cliffs rise sheer to 70 feet and though only measuring less than 100 feet square, the Island was conveniently near to the South Uist firing range.
The task of lowering a party onto the rock was left to Commander ‘Tubby’ Leonard RN from the survey ship HMS Vidal, who had to land from a Westland Dragonfly helicopter, on to the only flat ledge, 10 feet from the summit.(1)
A Union Flag was then lowered along with Lt. Commander Desmond Scott, Marines, Sgt. Brian Peel and Corporal Fraser and naturalist, James Fisher. The final job was to secure a brass plaque dated Today, The 14th of September 1955.
Three years’ before these activities, another island off Scotland, was selected for something more serious, when the The Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides was used in 1952 for germ warfare tests, in Operation Cauldron.
However Fishermen said that they had never been warned and consequently went about their daily business completely oblivious to anything which might have been in the atmosphere. As usual there was a blanket cover-up by all concerned, though local trawler crews were later secretly monitored for contamination.
The 1950.s was a decade of highly secret activities involving germ warfare, when many National Servicemen were duped into being guinea pigs for germ warfare tests at Porton Down,Wiltshire, being told it was for research into the common cold, but later turned out to be tests involving the deadly germ Sarin.(2)
In January 1994 it was revealed in Parliament that biological warfare tests had taken place in the North Minches from May from December 1952 under Operation Cauldron, and also in August 1953 under Operation Hesperus, to consolidate the data.
On 21st February 1994, in response to a letter from an MP, Dr Graham Pearson, Head of Porton Down, revealed that brucellosis and plague had been used in 1952, and tularaemia in 1953. Secrecy at the time, had been essential, so as not to have let the research fall into enemy hands.(3)
On 12th April 1994, Jeremy Hanley MP, in the Commons said: ‘Both Operations used biological agents which were fragile and would die quickly in the environment’. [He would say that wouldn’t he. Author]
(1) Hall’s Ledge was named after Capt. Basil Hall a Naval hydrographer, who had been the first to land on the Island in 1811.
(2) In fact Leading Aircraftman, Ron Maddison, aged 20, died in 1953, when Sarin was dripped into his arm.
(3) Porton Down, Wiltshire MOD Chemical and Biological Test Establishment.
Ref: BBC News: 15.11.2004;13.2.2006;24.2.2006.
Ref: Calum MacDonald MP account 9.7.2003 of Scottish tests..