Lone Star State Visitors

Cementing Texas’ reputation as ‘the friendly state’, Paige Henderson and Karen Preece paid us a visit last Saturday. Old hands at sightseeing in the UK and veteran antique market enthusiasts, they were delighted to find Charing Cross Collectors Market in the heart of London. Both left with special souvenirs of their visit: Paige, on the left, found a Victorian silver spoon while Karen picked up its Georgian vintage counterpart. “We’ll definitely be coming back and we’ll bring our husbands next time – they’ll love it!”

WWII ‘blood chit’

WWII blood chit

Today’s new phrase comes courtesy of this RAF ‘blood chit’. Issued to airmen during the Burma campaign, this 29 x 45 cm piece of silk could be the difference between life and death if you were brought down over enemy-held territory. In seventeen different languages, it states “Dear Friend, I am an Allied fighter. I did not come here to do any harm to you who are my friends. I only want to do harm to the Japanese and chase them away from this country as quickly as possible. If you assist me, my Government will sufficiently reward you when the Japanese are driven away.”

Blood chits were first issued systematically by the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1842 but have since become standard issue for certain personnel deemed to be at risk of becoming isolated in hostile territory. They were widely used by US aircrew during the Korean and Vietnam conflict and are still issued today. However, because there were cases of hostile governments torturing and killing anyone – and even their families – involved in offering such assistance, successful examples of their use are now classified.

Hidden Treasure

Originally covered in bitumen, this large alloy plaque has been cleaned up and restored to show U421 on active service. Such plaques were originally made or bought for someone in the Kriegsmarine and many have a piece of iron wire on the reverse for hanging. U421 was part of the 9th flotilla known as the Laughing Swordfish which included U96, featured in TV series Das Boot.

It was commissioned on 13th January 1943 under Leutnant zur See Hans Kolbus and took part in six group attacks on convoys in Dec of that year. The freighter with its back broken on the horizon may refer to one of these events. U421 ended its days in the French port of Toulon on 29 April 1944 when it was sunk during a USAF air raid.

A Gloriously Flamboyant Breach of Protocol

UK collectors will be familiar with this 1999 stamp issued as part of the Royal Mail’s Milennium series featuring Great Britons form all walks of life but not everyone remembers the controversy it caused. Convention dictates that the only living people who may be depicted on British stamps are members of the Royal Family (although Sir Francis Chichester is shown as a tiny silhouette on his yacht in 1967).  Freddie had died in 1991 so this wasn’t a problem.  His drummer Roger Taylor was and is very much alive though and he can be dimly made out in the background.  In its defence, the Royal Mail cited the Queen’s personal approval of every stamp before it is issued so presumably Her Majesty appreciated the nice parallel with the band’s name.

Less well known still is the fact that the Queen frontman was himself a keen stamp collector in his childhood. Born in what was then Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania), he specialised in stamps of his homeland as well as issues from Britain, Aden and Monaco.  Following his death, the collection was bought by the UK Postal Museum where it remains today.