Surviving ‘friendly fire’ from Flit gun

Jim Carnell of Waiuku was lucky to survive not only internment by the Japanese during World War II but also “friendly-fire” from an American armed with a sprayer similar to the one featured as last month’s Coast & Country mystery item.

“The mystery item is what we called a ‘Flit Sprayer’. It was used to spray insecticides. I can remember during the war my family was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai, China,” writes Jim.

“Just after an American GI was detailed to spray around the camp with one of these things, as I was on a bed behind a mosquito net I still can remember him saying “There’s a big one in here” and giving me an extra burst. On thinking back it must have been pure DDT. However I’m still kicking at 73.”

For his letter, Jim has won admission for two to the Morrinsville Heritage Centre, where the sprayer is on display.

The photo also brought back memories for Viv Naylor. “I think the mixture used had a certain amount of kerosene in it, as the smell was awful. It had a pumping action to it, hence the wooden handle. My grandfather was an ace with it, when requested to "see to the flies" by grandma.”

Isobel Nicol of Opotiki remembers the “Flit Gun” well. “My father had one he kept at the cowshed. He put kerosene in his one and would spray the boards in the cowshed and the pig pen to stop the borer from getting into the timber. This was in the 1940s.”

Emmie ten Houten says her father used this sprayer to spray bedrooms to kill the mosquitoes at dusk.  “I don’t remember what chemical was used, it was like an oily liquid.”

David Parker writes: “I used one up in the tropics to spray small ponds of water to stop mosquito larvae from hatching. No hydro carbon propellant but I hate to think what the toxic spray would have contained in those days. The Americans called it a Flit gun (Flit is the brand name for an insecticide). The gun was invented by Dr Franklin C. Nelson in 1923 I believe.”

Trevor Mitchell of Tokoroa gave a very clear description of how the sprayer work.

“We would fill the tanks at the head of the gadget. The insecticide “Flit” - was the brand name – came from the grocer. When the handle on the sprayer was pumped firmly, air blasted from a small hole across the top of the thin tube rising up from the reservoir, drawing the liquid up and spraying it as directed. Then the room was left for a time, overnight for us, and the flies and other insects would be swept off the lino and disposed of in the kitchen range (no vacuums cleaners for us humble cockies).”

Robin Moore of Waihi says the sprayer was the fore-runner of today’s pressurised aerosol insect sprayers.
This month’s mystery item comes from the Te Aroha and District Museum and really is a mystery. Museum administrator Jan Emerton says researchers have been unable to find out what it is, but would appreciate suggestions from Coast & Country readers.

If you think you know what it is or have a story to tell about using such a device, or seeing one used we love to hear from you – and you could be in to win a visit for two to the Te Aroha and District Museum.

Send your entry to: or post to: Mystery Item, Coast & Country, PO Box 240, Tauranga 3110, to arrive no later than October 17.

The winner will be announced in Coast & Country’s November issue.

The Te Aroha and District Museum is in the domain in the town’s main street, Whitaker Street.  It is open seven days a week from midday to 3pm in winter and 11am to 4pm from Labour Weekend until Easter, and other times by appointment.


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