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RAF LUXOR '12' BATTLE OF BRITAIN FLYING GOGGLES BY E.B. MEYROWITZ

A recent purchase of mine is this rare boxed pair of Luxor ‘12’ Flying Goggles, complete with prescription lenses and their certificate dated 1938. The set is named to ‘J. A. Keep Esq.’ As the photos show, the goggles are still in superb condition with the rubbers fully intact, the nickel plated frames still fully chromed and moderate elasticity still present in the strap.


 

THE HISTORY


When the RAF entered the Second World War they had a number of ‘official’, Air Ministry designed goggles in circulation, but it is perhaps a private purchase pair that are the most synonymous with the early-war years; most notably the Battle of Britain.


The Luxor ‘12’ goggles were the most prestigious pair of goggles available to pilots throughout the 1930s leading into WW2. Designed by E. B. Meyrowitz (EBM) of London Bond Street, the goggles were either French or English made, and favoured by fighter pilots for a myriad of reasons. The flat, laminated glass lenses offered exceptional visibility and clarity, especially compared to the Air Ministry Mark III series goggles which utilised curved, celluloid lenses that not only distorted vision but proved to be highly flammable. The polished, nickel frames were well ventilated, and completed by the sorbo rubber cushions were found to not only look good, but proved extremely comfortable to wear. The cushions are usually found in the salmon pink iteration shown above, but can also be found in a cream colour. The adjustable nose bridge allowed pilots to ensure a perfectly fitting pair of goggles.


These really were the ‘Rolls Royce’ of goggles available to pilots, and proved so popular that the Air Ministry acquiesced and approved them for operational use, provided two provisos were met: the lenses were laminated safety glass, and the strap was “secure”; in other words, the plain, elasticated strap needed to be replaced with that from a pair of Mark II or Mark III goggles. Photographic evidence would indicate the latter proviso was rarely met.


A number of iterations of Luxor goggles appear in period photos, but the iconic status of the Luxor ‘12’, and its affinity to the Battle of Britain, owes to a poignant series of photographs of 32 Squadron's 'B-Flight' pilots taken at the height of the Battle in August, 1940. One picture in particular was selected as embodying the spirit, courage and frivolity of ‘The Few’: Pilot Officer Keith Gillman, kitted up, gazing skywards:


RAF Luxor 12 Goggles, Keith Gillman Picture Post 1940

The picture was used on the front cover of Picture Post’s August 31 edition, sadly published a week after Gillman’s tragic loss. Gillman can be seen wearing the standard B Type Flying Helmet, with D Type Oxygen Mask and Type 19 Microphone assembly, but the stand out item are the Luxor ‘12’ goggles, nonchalantly settled on his brow. This image has since become synonymous of the Battle of Britain, and perhaps has exaggerated the true extent of the 12’s operational use. Though a number of period photos show the 12’s being worn, it must be accepted that they were purchased by a minority (a wealthy minority) and certainly not by the majority of aircrew. Interestingly the headgear Gillman can be seen wearing is not his own, but was shared between him and his fellow 32 Squadron pilots for that specific photo shoot.


'Grubby' Grice of 32 Squadron donning the same headgear as Gillman from The Illustrated London News:



 

References: Special thanks to David Farnsworth and Mick Prodger. See also: Mark Hillier, The RAF Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot's Kitbag, (Fontline Books, 2018)

Mick Prodger, Vintage Flying Helmets: Aviation Headgear Before the Jet Age, (Schiffer, 1995)

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