RAF Opthalmascope

Good eyesight is a requirement for pilots today as it was during the Second World War. Therefore all prospective recruits to the RAF during the war were subjected to eye tests to ensure that pilots had 20/20 vision. These were performed by RAF doctors, using eyesight charts. If they needed to take a closer look at a patients eyes however they could use an opthalmascope, a small instrument to look into the back of a person’s eyes to see if there are any defects. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to come across one of these instruments, in an elegant leatherette covered box:19250547_10154637772618045_2002613271174023683_oAs can be seen this has an embossed crown and AM indicating Air Ministry ownership. Opening the case we can see it is fully lined and holds the opthalmascope in a purpose made fitting:imageA maker’s mark is printed on the silk on the underside of the lid:imageThe contents themselves are the body of the opthalmascope, the head, and three spare bulbs:imageThe body would hold several large cell batteries, the head attaches to the body, with a small screw to hold it tight:imageThe head consists of two overlapping discs, one of which can be rotated to change the size of an aperture used to look through into the patient’s eye:imageOn the rear can be seen where the small bulb fits, giving illumination straight into the retina to check for damage:imageThis is clearly a high quality medical instrument and was almost certainly bought off the shelf by the RAF, as the only ownership markings are on the case. For instruments such as this it was not worth the Air Ministry putting in their own specialist contracts considering that comparatively few were required, therefore only the case is marked as this was easily done by the manufacturer.

As might be expected some men were desperate to fly and a way around an eyesight test could be found, Martin Lunn describes how his father Sergeant Denis Lunn managed to get through:

My father, in his early twenties, was desperate to join the RAF, but was very much afraid that he would fail the eye test as he was considerably short-sighted. He therefore asked someone to copy out the eye chart for him so that he could learn it off by heart. He passed the eye test and went on to be awarded the Defence Flying Medal for rescuing nine Allied airmen in the Messina Straits in the first air-sea rescue operation from Sicily since the day of the invasion.

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