22 hours ago
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
More Escape Maps
Once upon a time I wrote about escape maps, maps on cloth used by the military to assist flight crews escape in the event of an unscheduled landing or aid POW's find their way to safety. I have a small collection of them, occasionally using one as lining inside a sport coat.
A buddy gave me a very odd magazine. If you live in or around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan you may be familiar with UP Magazine Monthly Humor Tabloid. An acquired taste, filled with local humor and horror stories, a must read if you plan on visiting the area. The issue in my hands told Paul Harvey style the "rest of the story" of escape maps.
Beginning in 1941 the Royal Air Force, needed a means to help fliers locate safe houses or, if captured to facillitate their escape. A map was the best solution, but paper wore out rapidly, is useless when wet, and makes noise when handled. MI-5 had the brilliant idea of printed silk.
At the time, only John Waddington, Ltd. had the technology to make such maps. Waddington was also the UK licensee for the game Monopoly, and as luck would have it, games and pastimes qualified as items included in "care packages" delivered by the International Red Cross to POW's.
Under incredible secrecy, Waddington mass produced escape maps keyed to each region where POW camps were known to be. The maps were folded so tightly they fit inside Monopoly game pieces. Repackaged by Waddington, games included playing pieces with a small magnetic compass, a 2 part metal file that screwed together, and useful amounts of authentic German or Italian currency hidden in the piles of Monopoly money.
Of the 35,000 Allied POW's in Europe who escaped, it is estimated 1/3 were aided by a rigged Monopoly game. In case they had to use this trick in future wars, the story wasn't declassified until 2007.