Starting in 1941, an increasing number of British Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and to facilitate their escape…
Now, obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, showing among other things the locations of ‘safe houses’ where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.
Paper maps had some real drawbacks — they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush, but Someone in MI-6 (similar to America’s OSS) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It’s durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and is quiet.
At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. Coincidentally, Waddington was also the U.K Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, ‘games and pastimes’ was a category of item qualified for insertion into ‘CARE’ packages’, dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.
Under the strictest secrecy in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington’s, a they began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region where POW camps were located. These maps could be folded so small as to fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.The clever workmen at Waddington’s also managed to add a playing token containing a magnetic compass, a two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together and useful amounts of high-denomination German, Italian and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money.
British and American crews were advised how to identify a ‘rigged’ Monopoly set by means of a tiny red dot, rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the ‘Free Parking Square’.
Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWs who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided by the rigged Monopoly sets. The story wasn’t declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington’s, as well as the firm itself, were finally honoured in a public ceremony.