“Mustard Gas Legacy”  by Celia Berrell with Teacher Notes

1 Comment



Soldiers smelled garlic;

horseradish; sulphur.

A kind of fusty

mustardy odour.

Then twelve hours later

they’d start to go blind,

get pus-filled blisters

and possibly died.


Chemist Fritz Haber

in World War One,

made mustard gas poison

worse than a gun.

This silently sneaky

chemical tool

spread crippling pain

that was very cruel.


Survivors were checked.

When blood tests were done,

most of their body’s

immune cells had gone.

They’d lost the white cells that

could turn into cancer.

Was mustard gas poison

a possible answer?


From a weapon of war

to helping the sick

this chemical cocktail

became our first pick

to fight against cancer.

A new remedy!




What I regards as an appropriate link and 4min video for this topic 



The Right Chemistry: Mustard gas and the beginnings of chemotherapy


The Bari bombing was not the key to the development of chemotherapy. That dubious “credit” goes to the 1917 mustard gas attack at Ypres.


Updated: September 13, 2019

Dr. Joe Schwarcz: Mustard gas and chemotherapy4:03


It makes for a compelling story. The Second World War is being furiously fought across Europe. The Allies finally gain a foothold in Italy and the port city of Bari becomes a critical point of entry for troops and supplies to the Mediterranean theatre. The harbour is filled with ships on Dec. 2, 1943 when Nazi airplanes drop from the clouds, their bombs raining destruction.

The SS John Harvey, an American ship carrying a cargo of 2,000 mustard gas bombs in spite of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 that banned the use of chemical weapons, explodes, killing all of its crew and spreading the gas across the harbour and town. But the clouds from which the Nazi planes emerged have a silver lining. Researchers note that the victims of mustard gas exposure have a very low rate of white blood cell multiplication, suggesting that mustard gas could also interfere with the characteristically rapid multiplication of cancer cells. And so it is that the Bari attack serendipitously leads to the development of mustard gas as an anti-cancer drug and launches the concept of “chemotherapy.” At least that is the way the story is told in numerous text books and articles.

A nice romanticized account, but the fact is that the first use of a modified version of mustard gas to treat cancer in a human was in the United States in 1942, more than a year before the Bari attack! The seminal event that gave rise to the treatment was indeed a mustard gas attack, but one that the Germans unleashed on Allied troops at Ypres in Belgium in 1917.


One thought on ““Mustard Gas Legacy”  by Celia Berrell with Teacher Notes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s