Summary

Sheep skin vest associated with Norman Henry James, a Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, service no. A419592.

Part of a large trunk full of items relating to Norman's military service.

Norman Henry James joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in September 1942 and became an air crew member. In January 1943 he was sent to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) - also known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Under the EATS he was stationed in both Alberta and Saskatchewan (which both border Montana). He was later assigned to the Royal Air Force (RAF, Great Britain) and was last stationed at an air base in Ballykelly, Ireland. Following the war he closed the contents in his trunk and hid it under his house, where it remained unopened for the rest of his life. It is an extraordinary insight into the experience of a member of a World War II air crew. His wife, Mrs Mary James, is the donor.

In 1940 the Country Women's Association of Victoria arranged for the procurement of sheepskins to be made into vests for Australian servicemen. The pelts were sent to the Vary Brothers who used their subsidiary factory, Barlam Pty Ltd, to tan and make the vests which were then sent overseas. In July 1941 it was requested that vests be sent to all members of the Royal Australian Air Force who were serving overseas. This particular vest has a label for Barlam Pty. Ltd. sewn into the collar and it is likely that this is one of the vests sent to overseas members of the Air Force after 1941.

14,000 sheep skin vests were forwarded through the Australian forces through this scheme. The off-cuts from the sheepskins were made into gloves, slippers and other small items. 6,000 of these slippers were children's sizes and sent to children in Britain who had been victims of the bomb raids.

It is unclear whether the blue leather stripes on the vest were part of the original design or a later addition. The written inscription on the left breast refers to Norman's nickname 'Jesse James' after the famous American outlaw (see: HT 34040) whilst the '120' most likely refers to his squadron.

Physical Description

White sheep skin vest, fleece inside, with cotton ties and blue leather stripes. The vest has a label for 'Barlam Pty. Ltd.' sewn into the collar and the name 'Jesse James' hand-written on the front left breast.

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