1800-1859 | 1920-1939 | Burning villages | Chemical weapons | Iraq | Sri Lanka

29 AUGUST

CHURCHILL URGES THE R.A.F. TO CONSIDER USING MUSTARD GAS IN IRAQ

A Canadian soldier (via Wikimedia) and a US soldier (via Wikimedia) suffering from mustard gas burns. c. 1917-1918.

[ 29 August 1920 ]

On 29 August 1920, Secretary of State for Air Winston Churchill wrote to Hugh Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff, urging that the RAF consider the use of ‘mustard gas’ bombs against ‘recalcitrant natives’ in Iraq.1  Mustard gas had been the most feared of the poison gas weapons used during the First World War, as it permeated uniforms and even gas masks and leather shoes, attacking the skin, eyes and lungs and causing appalling suffering and injuries. The author Vera Brittain, who worked as a volunteer nurse on the Western Front, described how those exposed to the gas were ‘burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suparating blisters,’ and that they were ‘always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying their throats are closing and they know they will choke.’2  Fortunately for Iraq’s civilian population, although the RAF conducted some experiments with porcelain gas bombs, there were no operational versions for aerial bombing available for deployment.3

HAROLD WILSON ORDERS MINISTERS NOT TO BE FRIENDLY WITH PLO DELEGATES

[ 29 August 1975 ]

Today in 1975,  Tony Benn, the secretary of state for industry, noted in his diary that he had received ‘special instructions from Harold Wilson about tomorrow’s IPU (Inter Parliamentary Union) Conference.

CEYLONESE VILLAGES AND BOATS BURNED BY BRITISH TROOPS

[ 29 August 1803 ]

According to a report published in several British newspapers, the Ceylon Gazette of 31 August 1803 had detailed ‘the successful operation of our troops at different stations against the enemy (Ceylonese rebels). In Cogel, a detachment under the command of Lieutenant Fullerton, on the 29th, burned about 50 of their (fishing) boats, and all their houses in their villages, hanged the principal rioter, and gave 1000 lashes to each of five others.’

FOOTNOTES

  1. Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, CHAR 16/52 Churchill to Trenchard, 29 August 1920 cited in James Barr, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East, Simon and Schuster, London, 2012,  p. 113.
  2. Michael Freemantle, Gas ! Gas ! Quick, Boys ! How Chemistry Changed the First World War, The History Press, Stroud, 2013, p. 115.
  3. Barry Renfrew, Wings of Empire: The Forgotten Wars of the Royal Air Force, The History Press, Stroud, 2019, p. 75.
  4. ‘Ceylon,’ Royal Cornwall Gazette, 7 April 1804, p. 2.

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