'Mae West' pattern life jacket : Royal Australian Air Force

Place Europe: United Kingdom
Accession Number REL31571
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Personal Equipment
Physical description Brass, Cotton tape, Cotton twill, Cotton webbing, Plastic
Maker Air Ministry
Place made United Kingdom
Date made c 1944-1955
Conflict Korea, 1950-1953
Second World War, 1939-1945

Inflatable 1941 Pattern 'Mae West' life jacket ('Waistcoat, life-saving, stole-inflated pattern'). The internal inflatable bladder (or 'stole'), kapok pads and other fittings are not present. The sleeveless jacket is made from yellow cotton twill, and has a front closure via three khaki plastic buttons and a pair of cotton tape ties. There are also four cotton leg ties, and a pair of cotton webbing grab handles sewn to the front of the vest, intended to assist a rescuer in pulling the waterlogged wearer from the ocean. Across the back are stitched two khaki cotton reinforcing tapes. On the lower right front panel of the inflatable vest section is a small flap secured by three press studs. This would have covered the chromed handle used to automatically inflate the jacket. The right hand side panel has a pair of tubular cotton pockets with a single flap covering secured by a press stud. These pockets held a floating lamp and battery pack. The left panel has a split near the centre front which is covered by a fabric flap. The rubber tube for manual inflation of the vest would have emerged through this slit, and then passed into a narrow pocket which continues to the top of the collar. Next to the slit is a pouch with a press-stud fastening, designed to hold a high visibility yellow skullcap. The left hand side panel has a rubberised pocket to hold a fluorescine dye package (not present). Below this is a wooden toggle attached to a length of cord, intended to retain the dinghy pack. Inside the back of the jacket is a white cotton label marked with a black Broad Arrow and the words 'Stores/9351 Size - MEDIUM'. The name 'S E WHITE' is also written in pencil on this label. A black rubber stamp on the vest below the label reads 'MEDIUM' and (within a circle) 'H.F.L.L. 8'. The outer back of the vest also has a stencilled number '65' in black paint. Behind the collar is a zipper to allow access to the internal bladder.

History / Summary

The 1941 Pattern 'Mae West' life jacket (officially known as the 'Waistcoat, life-saving, stole-inflated pattern') was introduced in July 1941 and was the first RAF jacket inflated by an internal carbon dioxide bottle, rather than manually by the wearer, as had previously been the case. It was progressively modified and improved during the war, the toggle and lifeline for the dinghy pack which are present on this vest indicating that it was made after December 1943. This pattern of life jacket remained in service until after the Korean War.