Life preserver vest Type B-3 : Squadron Leader B A Grace, 82 Squadron, RAAF

Accession Number REL40978
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Personal Equipment
Physical description Aluminium, Cotton, Cotton webbing, Latex rubber, Leather, Wood
Maker Air Cruisers Company, Inc
Place made United States of America: New Jersey
Date made December 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Yellow B3 model 'Mae West' life preserver vest made from yellow cotton enclosing two latex rubber bladders (front and rear), now perished. A small toggle-activated CO2 cylinder is mounted behind each lower front panel for inflating the vest, and a pair of rubber tipped aluminium inflation tubes are fitted to the upper right section, allowing the wearer to inflate the bladders if the cylinders fail. A cotton webbing loop is attached close to these and is designed to locate the tubes close to the wearer's mouth. A pair of yellow cotton webbing straps with adjusting buckles are located at the base of the vest for securing around the wearer's waist and under the crutch. A leather panel, designed to stop wearing and rubbing of the vest by the parachute straps, is sewn to the front of the vest. This panel has 'MICK GRACE.' written in black ink. The lower left panel is printed with the maker's and model details and states: 'VEST, LIFE PRESERVER / TYPE B-3 / SPEC. NO. 94-3065-B / DATE OF MFR. DEC. 1941 / CONTRACT W 535 AC 18157 / AIR CRUISERS, INC.'

History / Summary

Bert Augustus 'Mick' Grace was born was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1912. He was employed as a company director when he enlisted in the RAAF on 29 April 1940. He had learned to fly before the war, and after training at Mascot, New South Wales and Archerfield, Queensland he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in November 1940.

Grace embarked for England in December 1940, and after further operational training was posted to 258 Squadron RAF in March 1941, flying Hurricane fighter aircraft. He was promoted to Flying Officer in May.

In September 1941 Grace was posted to 453 Squadron RAAF at Singapore, flying Brewster Buffalo aircraft. The squadron moved to Ipoh in northern Malaya in mid-December to meet the Japanese invasion. During this move the Australian pilots engaged the Japanese in combat for the first time, and Grace claimed his first aerial victory. The squadron was withdrawn to Singapore Island ten days later in the face of the swift Japanese advance. Operations against a numerically superior Japanese force continued from Singapore, and on 17 January, Grace and another Australian pilot claimed three aerial victories near Malacca. By February the squadron's position on the island became untenable. The unit was withdrawn to Sumatra ten days before the fall of Singapore, returning to Australia in March.

Grace was posted to the newly formed 76 Squadron in March 1942, one of the first Australian squadrons to be equipped with the P-40 Kittyhawk. After several months training with their new aircraft, the squadron deployed to Port Moresby in July 1942, and moved to Gurney Field at Milne Bay in August, where they and 75 Squadron played a critical role in halting the Japanese amphibious assault.

Grace's squadron was relieved in September 1942 and returned to Australia. The following month he was posted to 9 Operational Group as a staff officer in charge of training. During this period he received notification of his being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, mainly for his skill in the Milne Bay operations.

Grace was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in April 1943, and was posted to 2 Operational Training Unit as a flying instructor in the same month.

In March 1944 he was given command of 82 Squadron. Initially destined for Hughes Airfield in the Northern Territory, the squadron were instead based at Townsville, Queensland. After a period of training, Grace and his squadron deployed to Port Moresby in August 1944, moving to Noemfoor Island in September. 82 Squadron were engaged in patrolling and strafing flights against enemy installations, airfields and shipping. Grace was promoted to Squadron Leader in January 1945.

In March 1945 the unit was moved to the island of Morotai, and operations continued. 82 Squadron then moved to the island of Labuan off Borneo in June 1945. Grace led the first aircraft to arrive on the island on 25 June. 82 Squadron were then engaged in close support of army operations on the island of Borneo until the cessation of hostilities on 15 August.

Bert Grace was discharged from the air force in September 1945.