For sailors torpedoed in the Atlantic at night, there was a very real problem of being found before they were overcome by exposure. At night it is almost impossible to spot a human in the vastness of the oceans in the dark. A pin prick of light can be seen for great distances however, so it was quickly realised that it would be a good idea to equip lifejackets with a small light that could be turned on by the sailor if he thought rescue was nearby to help guide them to him.
A company called Easco Electrical Service of London came up with a small battery powered lamp, with a red bulb, that could be clipped to lifejackets and was a simple but very effective safety device. Their publicity boasted that in the first six weeks of the lights’ service they helped save 400 men. The lights were cheap to make and were issued to Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and RAF personnel alike throughout World War II. A number of different designs of these lights exist, but one of the most common is this one made of black tin:
There are two main sections, the battery box and the light itself. The light has a powerful spring clip to attach it to the lifejacket and a bulb housed in a red transparent plastic dome:
This is connected to the battery box by a piece of wire. The box itself is a pressed metal cylindar:
This is threaded at the centre and can be unscrewed to allow the battery to be fitted:
The base of the light has the manufacturer’s name stamped into the metal:
This simple device would run for twelve hours and was cheap enough to be mass produced and issued to all sailors and airmen who might need it. Today the lights are incredibly common as full boxes have been discovered in warehouses and released onto the collector’s market. Just because they are common, does not mean they are uninteresting however and this simple device saved many lives.
Finally, here is the original leaflet issued with these lights that sets out their credentials and how to maintain these little devices: