New Zealand Air Force – Uniforms, Clothing, Badges and Personal Equipment 1923-1948 by Barry O’Sullivan

From boots, badges, and buttons to gloves, goggles and gas masks, this tome is richly illustrated and an essential reference for researching the uniforms of New Zealand’s air force.

New Zealand Air Force – Uniforms, Clothing, Badges and Personal Equipment 1923-1948 by Barry O’Sullivan. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

Our collection is continuously researched by the staff and volunteers here at the Museum, but it is also used by external researchers working on an array of projects. One such project was a book on RNZAF uniforms being prepared by militaria researcher and author Barry O’Sullivan, who can be seen below, during a research visit accessing our textile collection. The resulting book has come full circle, having joined our reference library as a collection item in its own right!

Barry O’Sullivan examines a World War Two-era canvas navigator’s bag in the textile collection at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. Photo: AFMNZ, 2020.

New Zealand Air Force – Uniforms, Clothing, Badges and Personal Equipment 1923-1948 was published in 2021 and produced by the Defence of NZ Study Group. Noting the centenary in 2023 of the formation of the first air force in New Zealand, O’Sullivan writes ‘a number of family members, collectors and museums will be looking back on this event and what the air force has contributed to society over the last 100 years’, and that ‘the air force is more than planes, pilots and the colour blue.’ To this end, the book surveys the uniforms, equipment, and badges worn and carried by New Zealand airmen and women when serving in the air force and is the first book to do so.

Across 540 pages, more than 1,000 artefacts have been photographed, identified, and described, with large colour images and relevant historical images providing additional context to these material objects in use. There are chapters on various uniform items, including knitwear, flying clothing, and flying equipment, ephemera, personal equipment, badges, edged weapons and firearms.

Page layout from book depicting various flying helmets, pp.194-195.

O’Sullivan has not only included the items essential to flyers, but also the uniforms and personal equipment of the often-overlooked ground trades and women in the service. Although the book has a special focus on air force service in the Pacific and Aotearoa, it surveys items manufactured in Canada, Britain, and the United States as well as locally.

The items featured were sourced from public and private collections, and as such, many of the images have never been published before. As part of his research for the book, O’Sullivan accessed our textile and archives collections here at the Museum, with assistance from collections staff. Additionally, much use of our online photograph database has been made in this book, with readers able to refer to the reference numbers cited and access these images for themselves.

Page layout from book depicting various service dress jackets, pp.22-23.

This book is of use to museums, historians, collectors, genealogists, re-enactors, and costume departments – and us collections staff refer to it often too. For example, earlier this year I answered a research enquiry about the Hussif (sometimes spelt “Hussuf”, or any contraction of the word housewife) using the excellent description given in this book.

In case you were wondering, a Hussif is a fabric case for carrying sewing implements: ‘Housewives are issued so that personnel could make minor repairs to their uniforms and clothing in the field.’ One such example from our collection can be seen in the image below.

Hussif – NZ Patriotic Fund Type. Contents include needle bed stocked with buttons, needles and pins, leather pouch containing a razor blade, a skein of khaki green wool, and a reel of black cotton. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, 1986/299.

To complement the book’s main contents, five appendices contain information on items issued in the various theatres, the service’s aircraft and bases, and detailed lists; a chronology, glossary, biographies, bibliography, and a full index conclude this reference work.

You can purchase your very own copy of this fantastic book in the Air Force Museum Store here.

Air Force Museum of New Zealand
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