Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Writers Escape Kit

Original Escape Kit
Silk Map
‘He was in plain clothes, his instinct was to escape. Here was the risk; as he appeared on top of the wall shots might ring out. He heaved himself up…his waistcoat hooked on to something…he freed it…a sentry lighting a cigarette…He dropped into the garden and crept into some bushes. To his horror he realised he had left his food tablets, map and compass on the wrong side of the wall, as a result of which he later suffered considerably.’
(Report about Winston Churchill on his escape during the Boer War.)

This self explanatory message appeared at the beginning of an Escape and Evasion Instruction Bulletin for British and Commonwealth aircrews in World War Two. It carried an extra punch because of the person involved and its continuing relevance over the years.

Various aids were given to RAF and US airmen before they left on a mission, to help them survive and evade capture if they landed in enemy territory (by parachute or crash landing). Most of these were packed into an ‘Escape Kit.’

Contents of the 14 x 12 x 2.5 cm packs were expertly put together with no space being wasted. Looking down the list of items, I decided by using tenuous connections to make up my own Writer’s Escape Kit:

The 14 x 12 x 2.5 cm Pack  -  Imagination. Essential for any story teller.

Escaper’s Compass – Airmen needed to check their compass before they started walking. The direction for most in Western Europe was south to Spain. Crucial I decide the direction of my writing before beginning a new project.

Silk Maps – Contained in a pouch that fitted into a uniform pocket and often stored near to the escape kit. Detailed information on the maps helped the planning of routes.  Important I detail the sources of factual reference, plan meticulously and know the stages and specifics of the story’s journey.   

Fishing Line and HookVital I trail out a decent line and draw the reader in with good hooks to keep the pages turning.

Sewing Needle and ThreadFundamental that the story is sewn together chapter by chapter and I can stitch it back later with a seamless join if unpicked to make changes.   

Two Small Rolls of Sticking PlasterUse to hold together rough drafts, experimental changes and for stretching writing boundaries. Also for sticking over wounds picked up on the journey.

2 Packets of Chewing GumMuch needed when agonising over all of the above. Unlikely to last long.

2 Bars of Chocolate, Horlicks Tablets, and Condensed Milk -. For consumption sparingly, as the story will be a long, unpredictable and tense journey. Use when adrenaline and creativity feel at their lowest.

Anti Fatigue TabletsI don’t do drugs so no Benzedrine or ‘wakey wakey’ pills as the RAF airmen called them.  Will try to ‘coffee myself out’ and rely on adrenaline.
Rubber Water Bag and Water Purification Tablets - Essential for the airman. The rubber bag could be useful if I’m ‘coffeed out’ on a long public journey, but unless the writing has reached an inhospitable and barren place the purification tablets must be saved for another day. There is no need to cleanse the life out of a manuscript with them.  

Safety MatchesUse for heating up the sag in the middle of a story or lighting a bonfire of my old rejected manuscripts.

There is no physical comparison between an evader/escaper’s fight to stay free and the writer’s struggle for survival on their journey. But a Writer’s Escape Kit has kept me going and I continue to draw from it. The pure writing comparisons are as relevant today as when Winston Churchill escaped during the Boer War.

© Keith Morley


  1. This is a true account of a soldier who didn't make it back-told by Alf who tried but couldn't save him. Even more haunting when heard with the music that Roger Waters put to it called 'The Ballad of Bill Hubbard'........
    [Alf Razzell:]
    "Two things that have haunted me most are the days when I had to collect the paybooks; and when I left Bill Hubbard in no-man's-land."
    "I was picked up and taken into their trench. And I'd no sooner taken two or three steps down the trench when I heard a call,
    'Hello Razz, I'm glad to see you. This is my second night here,' and he said
    'I'm feeling bad,' and it was Bill Hubbard, one of the men we'd trained in England, one of the original battalion. I had a look at his wound, rolled him over; I could see it was probably a fatal wound. You could imagine what pain he was in, he was dripping with sweat; and after I'd gone about three shellholes, traversed that, had it been...had there been a path or a road I could have done better.
    He pummeled me, 'Put me down, put me down, I'd rather die, I'd rather die, put me down.' I was hoping he would faint. He said 'I can't go any further, let me die.' I said 'If I leave you here Bill you won't be found, let's have another go.' He said 'All right then.' And the same thing happened; he couldn't stand it any more, and I had to leave him there, in no-man's-land."

    Rest In Peace, Bill and Alf please don't reproach yourself.......
    Your blog is about escape and evasion, of the people who DID make it back,in conjunction with the writer's journey.....will follow with interest and enjoyed this weeks blog.

  2. Hi Keith,

    This is great...I sometimes feel I need the matches!

  3. I see what you did there (but I'd have eaten both bars of chocolate before I'd finished sharpening my pencil!).

    Enjoyed the blog. Looking forward to the book!!!!!

  4. Thanks for that Mark. Book completion close now

  5. My husband has his Dad's silk map. You'd need bloody good eyesight to read it!

  6. Thanks for your comment Kathy. I think one of the main problems with some of the escape maps was the amount of detail crammed on them. Some of the airmen that managed to evade capture after being brought down in enemy territory reported this. There's no doubt that the maps that reached POW camps hidden in prisoners parcels/everyday items etc (see my posts on this) helped escapes as they were often more focused geographically on where the prisoners were. I have no doubt that accurate maps were a key factor in the 4 escapers reaching Switzerland having been part of the Biberach tunnel breakout (see Long Tunnel Schemes Part Two)