A “blood chit” is a piece of paper or cloth issued to soldiers and (especially) airmen operating in areas where the local population speaks a language other than the serviceman’s own. The chit usually states, in the local language, that the soldier or pilot is working on their behalf, and to please give him food, water, shelter and\or medical attention, then give him any assistance in getting back to his or her military base. So if an airman was shot down in a strange land, he or she could simply find a local and hand them the chit. The civilian would then (hopefully) take care of the pilot and get him back an an American base. As an incentive for the local, rewards were usually offered for the safe return of the serviceman.
Here’s an example of a chit from the early days of World War II:
This was particular chit was issued to the Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots who volunteered to fly missions against the Japanese in China. This chit says: “[t]his 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“. Another Flying Tiger chit read: “I am an American airman. My plane is destroyed. I cannot speak your language. I am an enemy of the Japanese. Please give me food and take me to the nearest Allied military post. You will be rewarded.”
Chits were later used in Korea, Vietnam and are still used even today. Modern chits include a piece of paper with pleas for help written in many languages, and most chits also include a small amount of local currency.
The most interesting thing about blood chits is their history, as they were invented by none other than… George Washington!
Jean-Pierre Blanchard was a French inventor, known mostly for his work with balloon aircraft. Blanchard’s first flight took off from Paris on March 2, 1784, barely three months after the first ever balloon flight was made by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes. Although most folks think of the Montgolfier brothers when it comes to “hot air” balloons (many early balloons used hydrogen, not hot air), Blanchard is actually the one that popularized the “sport” all around Europe. To this end, Blanchard moved to London in August of 1784, and by October of that year, he was taking flights in England as well. Blanchard was the first to cross the English Channel in a balloon, which he did on January 7, 1785 with the company of Dr John Jeffries, a Boston doctor… who was also a star witness for the defense in the trial of British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre… and who were defended by future American president John Adams.
At any rate, Blanchard would later travel to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland to demonstrate the new balloon technology. And in January, 1793, he came to Philadelphia to demonstrate the marvelous new technology for President George Washington, with future presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe also in attendance. He became the first person to take a balloon flight in North America when took off from Philadelphia on January 7, 1793. He landed that same day in Deptford Township, New Jersey.
Because Blanchard spoke no English, and because (for whatever reason) no English speaker accompanied him on his flight, Washington gave Blanchard a letter to hand to anyone he found on the ground to assist him in getting back to Philadelphia. The letter read, in part: “to all citizens of the United States, and others, that in his passage, descent, return, or journeying elsewhere, they oppose no hindrance to the said Mr. Blanchard; and that on the contrary, they receive and aid him with…humility and goodwill“.
Blanchard ended up needing the letter. The farmers in the area fled when they saw a strange object falling gently out of the sky… and a man emerged from it speaking some strange language. It must have been like something out of the X-Files for those poor farmers! Blanchard was eventually able to get a couple of farmers to calm down enough to read the chit, and afterward the farmers did, in fact, assist Blanchard in getting back to Philadelphia.
The first blood chit was something of an isolated incident. They wouldn’t become something issued to airmen on a regular basis until World War I, when members of the British Royal Flying Corps were issued “goolie chits” when flying over India and Mesopotamia. “Goolies” is a British slang term for “testicles”, while “chit” is a slangy word for “note”. The term came into use because in many areas where the British pilots operated, hostile tribesmen would capture the pilots and give them to their wives, who would castrate the pilots and use them as household servants (eeeeek!). Whereas later chits would appeal to the local’s altruistic sense, these early chits were all about reward money offered for the return of the British pilots. Amusingly, the term “goolie chit” is still used by the Royal Air Force today.
Read everything you could ever want to know about blood chits here.