Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Freedom in a Box

As many of you know, my WiP takes place in pre-WWII England. The books I hope will follow, will take place during the war. In the course of doing the necessary research, I've come across some interesting historical tidbits...here's one which will make you want to re-look at that Monopoly game languishing in the back of a closet.

From 1941 onwards, as more and more Allied pilots and airmen became reluctant guests of the Third Reich, the RAF spent some time dreaming up ways to help these captured men and aid their escapes. The most obvious need was for a map showing the locations of 'safe houses' where an escapee could expect to receive food and shelter. It was decided to print these vital escape maps on silk, since paper maps make noise as they are unfolded and refolded and turn into mush when they come in contact with water. Silk maps could be crunched into tiny balls and unfolded silently.

In 1941, the only company in Great Britain that had perfected printing on silk was John Waddington, Ltd., the same company that held the UK rights to the Monopoly board game.Objects coming under the term 'games and pastimes' were part of the CARE packages distributed by the Red Cross to all prisoners of war.

Under the strictest security and secrecy, a select group of Waddington employees began producing silk escape maps keyed to each region of Europe where POW camps were located. These maps were then hidden inside Monopoly playing pieces.These games also included a token containing a small magnetic compass and another containing a two-part metal file. Hidden in the Monopoly money were amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian and French currency.

Before taking off on their first mission, all Allied air-crews were told how to identify these particular Monopoly sets. There was a tiny red dot - looking like a printing glitch - in a corner of the Free Parking square. It is estimated that one-third of all Allied POWS successful escapes were helped by these Monopoly games.



  1. Fascinating. I love details like this.

  2. I love this information! I`m looking through my grandfathers info on WWII this morning so this really adds to the theme of my day :)

  3. Carol; It's interesting, isn't it?

    Karen; Yes, I did know this. It is my fate that my name is always given to English headmistresses of all-girls schools, or nasty Scottish spinsters.

    Deb; How fascinating and how lucky for you to have it. I'm envious!

  4. Wow! I love this so much. And our monopoly game isn't hidden in the back of the cupboard - we still play it! Now I have something fun to tell the kids at dinner tonight. I love that.

  5. Wow! That’s totally fascinating information. Every time I see a Monopoly game from now on, I’ll be looking for that little red dot.

  6. Elspeth - How absolutely fascinating!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I admire you for "doing your homework," too and I really look forward to reading your book. I didn't know that about Monopoly. That really is ingenious! I wonder how many other games have been invented (or passed along) with a similar aim in mind.

    I know that the custom of spinning the dreidel at Hannukah came about because the game was a way to tell the story of Hannukah without being "caught" teaching religious history at a time when being Jewish was vey dangerous. I love clever solutions like that...

  7. That's so cool! I'll have to pull out our old Monopoly set (my husband's parents' board) and take a look. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. Jane; You'd almost have to, wouldn't you?

    Margot; One does wonder how many so-called innocent games had other purposes entirely.

    Elizabeth; Would it be from the 1940s? If so, and made in England, you might be in luck. But, who knows?

  9. Absolutely amazing! I can't wait to tell my kids about that one - they'll find it fascinating too :)

  10. Wow, that's a great piece of history. I will never look at a Monopoly game the same. I knew the game gave hours of fun and enjoyment to families, now to know it also helped give freedom to soldiers is like the icing on the cake. Thanks for sharing.

  11. It is fascinating how similar our writing interests are. My first (complete publication pending) begins in 1937 and ends 1945. Number 2 (WIP) begins 1941 and ends 1949. 3 (outline only) begins 1945 ends 1956. 4 (rough outline although I have written a provisional end) runs from '55 to '67.

    I love escape maps. I've seen one in the flesh, (brought home against regulations by a RAF pilot) beautifully printed.

    Many aircrew actually carried a version of them on operations, usually as part of an "escape kit". They were simpler with no secret information, but the idea was they could be used to assist airmen attempting to evade capture.

    As a teaser I'll also say, one of my characters in the book I am working on getting published actually uses an escape map.


    Publish or Perish

  12. That is really fascinating, Elspeth.
    My older one is six, and I had decided to get him a Monopoly game for his next birthday. Since that is nine months away, maybe I'll buy myself one for my birthday instead.

  13. Doing your homework, I see. This kind of little-known historical information is what can really set a book apart from the run of the mill. Nicely done, Elspeth ... very interesting, too.

    Marvin D Wilson


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