I recently read an interesting article on how printing on silk helped save lives during World War II. The story is one of inventive thinking- certainly thinking outside the box and in this case outside the Monopoly box!
During WWII many servicemen were captured and detained by the enemy. It is well known that they made it their duty to try and escape and stories of their escapes have kept the film industry busy for many years. Some of these stories are beyond belief but most films are based on facts however fanciful they may seem. The story of how printing on silk helped in these escape efforts is itself a fanciful one.
What is one of the most useful items that you might need if you manage to escape? A map! How could you get hold of a map if you are imprisoned? Well, someone came up with a way. That way was to include maps in a game of Monopoly. Games were allowed to be included in the care packages that the International Red Cross distributed to prisoners as they helped them pass their time while detained and stop them thinking of how they might escape!
The British intelligence service, MI-5 (yes, the one that James Bond works for!) came up with the idea of printing maps on silk. Why silk? Well it could be folded up into a tiny package; it could be scrunched up and most importantly it was lightweight, very durable and silent! But then there was the problem of how to get the maps to the intended recipients. This is where the Monopoly game played its part.
By happy coincidence, the only company with the technology, at that time, to print on silk in the UK was Waddington who were, by another coincidence, the only agent in the UK for the American game of Monopoly! So a secret team of employees were selected and they worked on printing the maps and putting them into specially marked boxes of Monopoly. These maps were folded so tiny to fit inside a game piece. From this idea others immerged- a game piece that was actually a compass; a metal file (in two pieces) which could be useful for all sorts of things. One of the other really helpful items was the Monopoly money as hidden in the stacks of play dollars was Italian, German and French currency. How clever was that?
The secret map printers at Waddington
It is estimated that a third of the Allied escapees from POW camps used a silk map to help them reach freedom. The story remained a secret for over 75 years because it was felt it might be used again, but in 2007 it was declassified and the surviving craftsmen who had worked at Waddington and the company itself were honoured.
So you never know what might come of thinking outside of the box or playing games!
More information about escape maps can be found at: