A rare opportunity to add one of the most iconic and sought-after pieces of RAF flying clothing from the Second World War to your collection. The 1932 Pattern Mae West life jacket is a focal point of any Battle of Britain collection and none can be complete without one.
Officially designated 'Waistcoat, Life-Saving, Inflatable Stole Type - Temperate Pattern' (22c/55), this pattern of life jacket was introduced into service in the early part of the 1930s and saw extensive issue throughout the Battle for France and the Battle of Britain. It was replaced with the 1941 pattern not long after the Battle of Britain in 1941 and their limited lifespan twinned with the fact they only saw use at the very beginning of the war makes them an extremely rare thing to find today.
This completely original 1940 dated example was found in France and I believe it is new to the market. It is a typical issue example which is made from a linen fabric with the horseshoe section being rubber backed as is illustrated in pictures 17 and 20. The front of the jacket fastens with three hand sewn corzo buttons and there are two tapes above and below this section which feature a buckle at one end. These are designed to pull the jacket in tightly around the wearer's chest and waist and were usually fastened in a knot rather than through the metal buckle. All of the original stamps are still present to the front of the Mae West including the large 'Front' stamps which are one of the most notable parts of this pattern of life jacket.
Inside the jacket the original label is affixed to the interior of the waistcoat and is still bright and legible. It bears the Air Ministry AM and crown marking to the top below which is the 1939 contract number of B22551/39. The size is also marked as 'Medium' and there are patent and registered design numbers below this. At the bottom of the label is the 1940 date which has been partly obscured by the original owner when he has added his name and initials. The original owner appears to have been a sergeant Massoulard as this has been marked on the label. It is possible that this may offer scope for further research. Below the label is a black ink stamp which bears the Air Ministry crown and AM marking.
To the rear of the horseshoe is a 'Lightning' branded zipper which is typical of those found on 32 Pattern Mae Wests. It functions well and when opened reveals the rubber backing of the material as well as the original stole which appears to be in excellent condition. It is a salmon coloured example and features the 1939 contract, AID stamp and most importantly the issue stamp which bears the date of 15th August 1940 - The height of the Battle of Britain! The rubber hose and mouthpiece are also still present and in good condition with the hose still being totally flexible. The rubber sleeve which fits over the metal mouthpiece shows some signs of age but is stable. The stole is still partly inflated which helps give the jacket shape, especially as there are no kapoks fitted.
The overall condition is very good as can be seen in the pictures. There are signs of wear and use as well as some staining but crucially, both the life jacket and the stole are soft and pliable with no dryness, stiffness or flaking. It is in fact a remarkably well preserved example which displays very well. The only small flaw is a small hole to one layer of the waistcoat as illustrated in picture 13. This is not visible when the jacket is displayed either flat or on a mannequin. Please study the pictures and bear in mind that this is a vintage item which may have small flaws commensurate with age.
This is a rare opportunity to purchase one of the most sought-after pieces of Battle of Britain flying clothing. This is in excellent condition and is undoubtedly a brilliant investment piece.
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