During the First World War the German army used poison gas for the first time, against Allied troops at Ypres, Belgium in 1915. A soldier"s only protection was to breathe through a handkerchief or other small piece of fabric soaked in urine. Out of necessity, Doctor Cluny Macpherson quickly came up with the idea of a gas mask made of fabric and metal.
Using a helmet taken from a captured German prisoner, he added a canvas hood with eyepieces and a breathing tube.
The helmet was treated with chemicals that would absorb the chlorine used in the gas attacks. After a few improvements, Cluny Macpherson"s helmet became the first gas mask to be used by the British army.
This Newfoundlander"s invention was the most important protective device of the First World War, protecting countless soldiers from blindness, disfigurement or injury to their throats and lungs. Macpherson received his medical education from Methodist College and McGill University.
MacPherson started the first Saint John Ambulance Brigade in Newfoundland after working with the Saint John Ambulance Association.
Macpherson served as the principal medical officer for the Saint John Ambulance Brigade of the first Newfoundland Regiment during World War I. Macpherson began researching methods of protection against the poison gas and invented the Macpherson respirator (gas mask) in 1915, which was the first general issue gas countermeasure to be used by the British Army. After suffering a war injury, Macpherson returned to Newfoundland to serve as the director of the military medical service and later served as the president of the Saint John"s Clinical Society and the Newfoundland Medical Association. Macpherson was awarded many honours for his contributions to medical science.
Cluny Macpherson Married Eleanora Thompson in 1902.
His home at 65 Rennie’s Mill Road, where he served as secretary, treasurer and registrar for the Newfoundland Medical Society now has historic designation.