Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Escaped World War II POW's Owe a Great Deal to Monopoly

The following information was forwarded to me by my mother Mary Burleson and her brother Ronnie Cherry. Being a history buff myself, and having two grandfathers who served in World War II, I found the information (declassified in 2007) very interesting. Read on ...

"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 means to facilitate their escape… Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing 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.

Someone in MI-5 (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 makes no noise whatsoever.

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. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, 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 of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were in a regional system. When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add:

1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass

2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together

3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a 'rigged' Monopoly set by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly 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 in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets.

Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war. 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.

It's always nice when you can play that 'Get Out of Jail' free card!

I realize most of you are (probably) too young to have any personal connection to WWII (Dec. '41 to Aug. '45), but this is still interesting."

Story verification:

The Informated Reader

ABC News


Bob Cleveland said...


Very interesting.

Personal connection? Dad escaped the draft as he was in the steel industry. One of my uncles failed the physical, one was exempted as a farmer, and two served in the war.

Oh, yeah. I remember it, myself.

Gosh I feel old. Best get some warm milk and go to bed.

Byroniac said...

Wade, what an interesting article. I always loved Monopoly as a kid. Great game, and served an even higher cause!

Rex Ray said...

Very interesting.

The language of an Indian Tribe (I’d ask my wife but she’s asleep) was used through out the war because it was the only language or code the Germans could never break.

My father was a chaplain on the front lines with Patton’s Third Army till the war ended.

He had two ‘codes’ he sent our mother messages that passed through censorship.

A certain mark meant to look under the stamp. Another meant to spell out words from the first letter of every sentence. (He wrote long letters.)

I remember one message under a stamp read, “Bombed last night” as they were in England waiting D-Day. He received three citations – one was a Bronze Star.

On his way to be discharged, his troop train stopped in Fort Worth a few minutes and we met him there.

He was surprised how much his four kids had grown in three years. On the spur of the moment, when the train pulled out, he had his oldest (15) twin boys with him.

(He did things that way.) We were thrilled to death.

You say you’re feeling old. Let me tell you how old I felt today. I was installing our church basketball backboards and was hanging on structure and tried to step on top of an 8 foot lader to get down, but it tipped over.

I finally managed to get back on the structure and whistled a long time for help. But no one was there and my cell phone was on the floor.

If I’d been young I would have dropped but I’ve got bad knees.

I doubled an electric cord with knots and came up with a 5 foot rope.

Starting down the rope, I put my foot in the bottom loop and it felt good and gave me a rest, but then I couldn’t get my foot out.

I was getting weak and I couldn’t get back up. I got the picture of me hitting the floor with one leg 5 foot in the air.

This inspired me to try harder. By the time the foot came out, I dropped like a rock. Tomorrow, I’m going to tie a rope on that ladder.

rebeca cole said...

Rex Ray - It's my understanding that the Navajo language was used in the Pacific - the Japanese couldn't decipher it. I didn't know it was used in the European Theater.

Bob Cleveland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Cleveland said...

I recall stories about the Navajo Code Talkers .. active in the Pacific theater. Navajo had no written language and they set up a simple (if you were fluent in Navajo) code, based on their words, which the Japanese never could crack.

Byroniac said...

Wade, I couldn't get your ABC News link to work. Is this the correct link? http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/monopolys-hidden-maps-wwii-pows-escape/story?id=8605905

Christiane said...

Good Morning Everyone,

Please pray for the men and women who serve on the USHS COMFORT, which has dropped anchor in Haiti.

This hospital ship will be treating the most severely injured.
My niece Linds is a Navy nurse deployed on the Comfort. She serves 'from the heart' in the way of a Christian, so she will do much good, in His Name.
Love, L's

Mara Reid said...

My father-in-law and his younger brother served in WWII.
My husband was the youngest of 8 baby-boomer kids.
My father was a boy during WWII but his scout leader, when he came back from the war, told all kinds of wonderful stories since he was a member of Patton's Tank division.
Dad has been an arm-chair historian of WWII all my life.
He knew who the Wind Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen were long before any Hollywood movies came out about them.

E.K. said...

What a great deal! Thanks for posting this.

Pastor Bobby T said...

Fascinating story! Interesting! Thanks for sharing. Just asthe Monopoly maps helped these people find freedom from POW camps, Jesus helps us have freedom from the consequences of sin. Jesus, thru His death on the cross, and the message of the Holy Bible, is our map to eternal freedom! Good illustration found here thru your Blog.

Have a good day Wade.

Steve said...

35,000 men escaping from Fritz! What an incredible demonstration of the tenacity and durability of the human spirit.

Rex Ray said...

Mara Reid,
You mentioned your father’s scout leader told stories of Patton’s Tank division.

Once Patton asked why the tanks had stopped. The reply was that they were down to 5 gallons of gas and were saving it in case they were attacked so they could maneuver.

He said, (along with a few other words he was noted for) “Keep rolling! Let us worry about the gas!”

He was noted as “Blood and guts”. Some complained, “Yea, his guts and our blood.”

My dad was the chaplain of Patton’s 4th Armored Division and had the reputation of never loosing a wrestling match.

Every ‘tough’ guy tried him out. He was a veteran of World War I, and too old for the army except Sam Rayburn got him in. (He was first in completing the ‘obstacle course.)

Once, the commanding officer arrived for Sunday services and my dad had a guy down between two bails of hay and was sitting on him.

Instead of being bawled out, the commander said, “Well, looks like we have one convert this morning.”

My dad never ‘pulled rank’ but everyone knew he had asked his assistant to shave off his mustache on his upper lip.

The guy wouldn’t do it. After sleeping weeks in foxholes, they found a barn with hay and chickens. They were all dead tired, but some stayed up longer and coated the mustache with chicken stuff.

They could hardly wait for the assistant to wake up. When he did, they started talking how awful the barn smelled.

He didn’t say a word but went outside where he said, “The whole xxxxxx world stinks!” They laughed so much and the word spread till he shaved it off.

After a battle, German prisoners were being marched to a holding place. Some were hurt so bad, my dad gave them a ride in his jeep.

The jeep got so full, he told his assistant to drive and he’d walk. It was a several miles and the assistant got lost.

The prisoners didn’t want to fight anymore and told him he was going the wrong way, but he drove into the German army where he became a prisoner for several weeks.

Once, the MP’s asked my dad to look for the commanding officer of several hundred prisoners. The officer had been hurt in a motorcycle side-car and was left behind.

The prisoners like him so much they were threatening to go look for him. The MP’s said they wouldn’t be unable to ‘hold’ them if my dad couldn’t find him.

My dad went back to the town were the battle had been and found him unable to walk and was guarded by a large dog. He told him his men wanted him and he’d take him to them if he could keep his dog under control. There was a loud cheer when they drove up.

PS I'm probably wrong about the Navajo language and Germans.