AN UNANSWERED question on a family holiday to Belgium sparked a former Basingstoke chemistry teacher’s journey of discovery that led him to pen a new book.

Dr Michael Freemantle, 70, of Plover Close, Kempshott, has published a non-fiction book detailing the chemistry used during the First World War.

Far from being a dull textbook filled with complicated equations, the 240-page hardback details the history and impact of well-known chemicals used in the 1914 to 1918 war such as morphine, mustard gas, and khaki dye, as well as lesser known substances such as phosgene, lyddite, and guncotton.

“The First World War was the first example of how chemistry was used for industrial-scale slaughter,” said Dr Freemantle, a former chemistry teacher at Cranbourne Business and Enterprise College.

“But chemistry was also used for immense benefit to help relieve suffering. Chemicals have a very bad name from their use in the war, but they can be, and were, used beneficially.”

The father-of-four said he had only a passing interest in the history of the Great War until a visit to the battlefields of Ypres, in Belgium, where the tour guide was unable to tell him what chemicals soldiers used to defend themselves against chlorine gas attacks, which inspired him to find out more.

And after three years of research into that and more unanswered puzzles, the final book Gas! Gas! Quick, Boys! – How Chemistry Changed the First World War, published by The History Press, has gone on sale for £18.99 “You don’t need to be a chemist to understand it,” said Dr Freemantle. “There is a lot of interest in the First World War, especially as we are coming up to the centenary in 2014.”

The book has been well received on Amazon and has notched up an average review of five stars out of five.

“I loved researching the book,” added Dr Free-mantle, “I liked finding out the things that are not familiar. What I wrote was only about five per cent of information that I collected. I am very happy with it.”