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Baldwin, R. E. and Thomas Wm. McGarry. Last Hope: The Blood Chit Story. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997.
Preface; Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; Glossary; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
I'm always amazed at how much I have to learn about aspects of the Second World War. Frankly, before I read this book I'd never heard the term "blood chit", although I was familiar with the concept. For those of you who may be as much in the dark as I was, a blood chit is a document carried by an aviator promising -- in the language of the natives among whom the aviator might be downed -- rewards for delivering the flyer safely back to his own people.
The earliest chits were carried by RAF flyers over Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan. This large, lavishly illustrated volume minutely describes the evolution of those crude documents during the First World War, the inter-war years, and especially the Second World War. Along the way they became vastly more sophisticated and blossomed into "Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape" kits of considerable ingenuity.
The pattern with which many people are most familiar may be that of the American Volunteer Group (and its antecedents and its descendents) in China during the Sino-Japanese War: the patch with Nationalist flag and Chinese characters, overstamped with a red "chop", often seen sewn to the back of the flying jackets of Claire Chennault and his "Flying Tigers" (and thus often referred to as "back flags"). The Chinese text translates roughly to: "This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him medical care." While some flyers had these sewn to their jackets or flight suits, others folded the patches and carried them in their pockets in case they happened not to be wearing their patch-adorned outfits on the day they went down.
Documents with similar sentiments were issued to Allied flyers in the Near East, East Africa, and North Africa during the war. Among the many variations, one in Arabic read: "Greetings and peace of Allah be upon you. The bearer of this letter is an officer of the United States of America, and a faithful friend to all Arab Nations. We beg of you to treat him well, guard his life from every harm and supply his needs of food and drinks, and guide him to the nearest habitation and communicate with the nearest American officials. Your help will be regarded as an act of friendship. Peace and mercy of Allah be upon you." (This one, by the way, was issued by the USAAF in 1944 and would not have been used by RAF aircrew during the Iraqi revolt and the siege of Habbanyia.)
Of course, it was not always possible to tell who a pilot might come down among. One particular chit used by British and American flyers in southeast Asia was large enough to contain, under the Union Jack or Stars and Stripes, messages in seventeen languages: Annamite, Haka, Kachin, Laizo, Karen, Burmese, Malay, Sumatra, Tamil, Chinese, French, Jawi, Thai, W. Shan, E. Shan and N. Thai, Bengali, and English.
The "chits" gradually assumed more substantial proportions as they were augmented by maps, compasses, phrase books, local currency and American dollars, and so on. Still, the message in the local language remained critically important: "Dear Thai Friend, I am an Allied Fighter, I did not come here to do any harm to the Thai who are my friends, I only want to do harm to the Japanese and chase them away from Thailand as quickly as possible. If you lead me to the nearest Allied Military Post, my Government will give you a good reward."
The authors go to great lengths to illustrate and describe dozens if not hundreds of kits, chits, and variations. Many of the excellent photos are credited to the International Blood Chit Museum. (A museum, I might add, with which I was also unfamiliar, but might have to be visited on my next trip down the road to Berkeley.) I especially enjoyed the array of secret button compasses and belt buckle compasses. One of the more interesting paper chits, intended for the Netherlands East Indies and Portuguese Timor, features a rather serious portrait of an unsmiling Queen Wilhelmina (perfect for eliciting assistance?) on one side and the flags of Australia, the US, and the Netherlands (but nothing about Portugal) on the other.
A variety of appendices are included. Among them are an account of the actual printing and production of blood chits in the US, a list of payment rates for rescues, and an inventory of blood chit serial numbers issued in China. For the collector, there is a comprehensive table of blood chits and variants, complete with ID codes (as established by the International Blood Chit Museum?), comments, and "relative scarcity" values.
A very colorful and informative book, certain to appeal to every blood chit collector.
Available from mail order booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Schiffer Military Press.
Thanks to Schiffer for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 8 June 1997
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