Once in my own collection this Royal Flying Corps Officer's Cuff Rank Tunic is without doubt the finest example I have ever owned, greatly enhanced by its provenance to 2nd Lieutenant Frederick William Chester with a transcript of his war reminiscences. (Chester’s 1917 Issue RFC Flying Undercoat is listed elsewhere on this site).
2nd Lt.Chester joined the RFC as a direct entry in 1917. Initially training as an Observer, he then went on to complete his Pilot certification whilst on Squadron in France. He flew with 206 and 27 Squadrons on the Western Front until he was wounded in 1918. Chester flew both the DH4 and DH9 in action, ostensibly shooting down three enemy aircraft and then being awarded the Croix de Guerre.
In November 1980 Chester took part in a school project during which some of his reminiscences were recorded. Included in this sale is a photo of the transcript of that 1980 recording. In it, amongst other things, he mentions his wounding in 1918, the three shot down aircraft, and his Croix de Guerre. Included in the sale will be copies of Chester’s corroborating service record.
The Tunic itself is in near excellent condition, completely free from moth or other damage. Of particular note are the superb and rare pair of French made RFC wings, these no doubt obtained in Paris upon the completion of his Pilot training and then beautifully hand stitched in place there.
Tailored by Pope and Bradley in Bond Street the Tunic tailor’s label shows Chester’s name and the date, 23.1.18. The lapels bear a good quality pair of bronze RFC collar badges, plus all pleated pockets are nicely closed by RFC buttons, as is the four button front closure along with the shoulder straps. This is significant as in my experience it is considerably more difficult to find Cuff Rank Tunics properly badged and buttoned to the RFC than it is RFC Maternity tunics, this because if one does encounter an RFC Pilot’s Cuff Rank Tunic it is usually badged and buttoned to the Pilot’s parent regiment as the great majority of RFC Pilots in WW1 were transferred to the Corps. RFC Cuff Rank Tunics are also typically found in poor condition as Pilots very often preferred to fly in these over the Maternity as being pocketed they were a more practical garment, especially the case in the summer months when frequently no leather coat was worn when flying.
On the left sleeve is a single golden wound stripe, evidence of which is reflected in his service record, and on the right sleeve is a blue one year overseas chevron which ties in nicely with Chester’s 1917 RFC entry and his subsequent wounding and discharge in 1918.
The final images of RFC aviators in cuff rank Tunics do not show Chester and are shown with credit to Mark Hillier and his excellent refrence work "Royal Flying Corps Kitbag" published by Pen and Sword which also featers Chester's sheepskin under coat.
A superb tunic and provenance combination that would prove difficult to upgrade.