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British made, Portuguese issued Phenate-Hexamine (PH) Helmet

Article about: From May 1915 until the summer of the following year the primary means of protection used by the British against gas were the Helmet Respirators. During this period of just over a year, the

  1. #1

    Default British made, Portuguese issued Phenate-Hexamine (PH) Helmet

    From May 1915 until the summer of the following year the primary means of protection used by the British against gas were the Helmet Respirators. During this period of just over a year, the helmet respirators evolved from the very simple Hypo Hood which comprised of a single layer of fabric with a single mica eyepiece to the more advanced, although still rather crude Phenate-Hexamine Goggles (PHG) Helmet which featured two layers of fabric, an exhale valve and integrated goggles which sealed against the wearers face.

    In between these two very different types of Helmet were the Phenate (P), and Phenate-Hexamine (PH) Helmets. These improved upon the earlier Hypo Hoods by being made out of two layers of fabric impregnated with sodium phenate which offered a good degree of protection against phosgene and hydrogen cyanide. These helmets also featured screw on coated glass eyepieces which were less prone to damage compared to the mica eyepiece of the Hypo Hood, and an exhale valve meant that exhaled air didn't have to pass back through the fabric. This resulted in reducing the build of carbon dioxide inside the helmet considerably, and it also helped reduce the dimming of the eyepieces. With regards to appearance, the P and PH Helmets are more or less identical, the main difference between the two was in the chemical solution they were dipped in. The P Helmets were discovered to provide very little protection against higher concentrations of phosgene, experiments in order to improve their protective capabilities eventually led to the P Helmets being treated with a new chemical solution which now contained hexamine. In January 1916, the P Helmets began to be re-impregnated with this new chemical solution. Thus, the P Helmets became PH Helmets. More often than not to denote the impregnation with the new solution, PH Helmets featured the marking "PH" followed by a lot number, this also makes differentiating the two much easier. Upon the introduction of the Small Box Respirator (SBR) the PH Helmet continued to be produced and issued right up until the end of the war, but they were to be used only as a secondary line of defence. There are some discrepancies with regards to the numbers of the P and PH Helmets manufactured, but the generally accepted figures are around nine million P Helmets, and around fourteen million PH Helmets were manufactured by the close of the war. These are both absolutely staggering numbers to say the least.

    Unfortunately though, the vest majority of these Helmet Respirators were disposed of. This coupled with their somewhat iconic status makes them one of the most valuable and sought after pieces of British First World War equipment, many examples can be found in museums all over the world.

    This particular hood, which was manufactured in 1917, possibly by Smith and Nephew (which I'm still trying to clarify) was actually sent from Britain to allied Portugal during the First World War, and there it remained until last week when it finally came back to the UK. According to the collector from whom I bought it, this is one of six currently known to exist that were used by the Portuguese Army, the remaining five are in museums and private collections in Portugal. What's really nice about this piece is that the details of the soldier whom it belonged to were recorded, so there's a real personal element to it. I'll be sure to post them upon recieving them and the results of any research I conduct on him. Having the story behind something like this really brings the history to life.

    The photographs below show rear and front views of the PH Helmet both inside and out. As well as the page regarding the PH Helmet in in the British 1918 Defence Against Gas manual.

    Information sourced from "British Military Respirators and Anti-Gas Equipment" by Thomas Mayer-Maguire and Brian Baker, and from the many fantastic posts on the subject by Joe Sweeney. Both Brian and Joe have since sadly passed away.



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  2. #2


    Just a little update on this piece, I heard back from Smith and Nephew earlier on today. Unfortunately, only references to the manufacture of gauze and dressings for use during WW1 were found in their archives. Also, at the time the company's logo was "T J Smith & Nephew Ltd". It wasn't until the 1940s that the "S&N" logo was used by Smith and Nephew. So, it looks like their is still a bit more digging to do!

    I have however got a little bit of information on the soldier whom this PH Helmet was issued, which I will be publishing in due course.



  3. #3


    There is something equally terrifying and fascinating about both the "P" family of helmets and the HYPO-hood.

    I've recently discovered that Denmark bought 5.000 HYPO-hoods from Great Britain in the autumn of 1915.
    But an inquiry to the National Museum of Denmark turned up negative - they did not have a single hood left.

    Looking forward to the additional information.

  4. #4


    These always terrified me when I was a kid they've definitely got a menacing look to them. I look forward to what you have on the soldier himself, it's great when pieces have a personal touch!

  5. #5


    They would make superb Halloween masks!

    "Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."

  6. #6


    If only there were more of them to go around!

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