How board game helped free POWs

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by David Layne, May 22, 2008.

  1. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    Park Place, Boardwalk, and a hidden map with a secret escape route? For Allied POWs during World War II, Monopoly® games came equipped with real-life "get out of jail free" cards.

    During World War II, the British secret service hatched a master plan to smuggle escape gear to captured Allied soldiers inside Germany. Their secret weapon? Monopoly boxes.

    The original notion was simple enough: Find a way to sneak useful items into prison camps in an unassuming form. But the idea to use Monopoly came from a series of happy coincidences, all of which started with maps.

    Smooth as silk

    Maps are harder to smuggle than you might think. They fall apart when wet, and they make a lot of noise when unfolded. Allied officials feared paper maps might draw the attention of German troops, so they turned to an unlikely source for help -- silk. Not only would silk maps hold up in all kinds of weather, but they'd also come with the life-saving benefit of being whisper quiet.

    To produce these silent maps, the Brits turned to John Waddington Ltd., a company that had recently perfected the process of printing on silk and was already manufacturing silk escape maps for British airmen to carry. What else was Waddington known for? You guessed it -- being the licensed manufacturer of Monopoly outside the United States.

    Suddenly, the popular board game seemed like the perfect way to get supplies inside German-run POW camps. At the time, the Nazis were hard-pressed to get provisions to their own troops, much less to the Allied soldiers they'd captured.

    Wishing to hide this less-than-stellar upholding of the Geneva Convention, they happily welcomed Red Cross aid packages for POWs. So throwing Monopoly games into the care kits along with food and clothing was met with little scrutiny. Monopoly was already a well-known game throughout Europe, and the German guards saw it as the perfect way for their detainees to remain occupied for hours.

    In 1941, the British Secret Service approached Waddington with its master plan, and before long, production of a "special edition" Monopoly set was underway. For the top-secret mission, the factory set aside a small, secure room -- unknown to the rest of its employees -- where skilled craftsmen sat and painstakingly carved small niches and openings into the games' cardboard boxes.

    Along with the standard thimble, car, and Scotty dog, the POW version included additional "playing" pieces, such as a metal file, a magnetic compass, and of course, a regional silk escape map, complete with marked safe-houses along the way -- all neatly concealed in the game's box.

    Even better, some of the Monopoly money was real. Actual German, Italian, and French currency was placed underneath the play money for escapees to use for bribes.

    Also, because of its collaboration with the International Red Cross, Waddington could track which sets would be delivered to which camps, meaning escape maps specific to the area could be hidden in each game set. Allied soldiers and pilots headed to the front lines were told to look for the special edition game if they were captured. The identifying mark to check for? A red dot in the corner of the Free Parking space.

    Get out of jail free

    By the end of the war, it's estimated that more than 35,000 Allied POWs had escaped from German prison camps. And while there's no way to set an exact figure on it, more than a few of those escapees certainly owe their breakout to the classic board game.

    But despite its brave and noble role in all of it, Monopoly's heroic war deeds would go unrecognized for decades. Strict secrecy about the plan was maintained during the war, not only so that the British could continue using the game to help POWs, but also because Waddington feared a targeted reprisal by German bombers.

    After the war, all remaining sets were destroyed, and everyone involved in the plan, including the escaped prisoners, were told to keep quiet. In the event of another large-scale war, Allied officials also wanted to make sure the seemingly innocent board game could go back into action.

    Uncle Pennybags goes behind the Iron Curtain

    Believe it or not, it wasn't long before Monopoly found itself in the middle of yet another international conflict -- this time defending itself from Communist leaders in Russia.

    Being that Monopoly is essentially a game in which one player gets rich at the expense of others becoming poor, Soviet officials had long seen the board game as an overt symbol of capitalistic frivolity and greed. So, as its popularity soared, Communists took more and more efforts to curb the enthusiasm.

    Cuba, the U.S.S.R., and other Eastern Bloc countries outlawed the game for fear it would corrupt the public with positive notions about a free-market economy. Soviet leaders even tried coming up with their own Marxist-themed spin-off games designed to highlight the virtues of frugality. The title of one such knockoff from Communist-era Hungary loosely translated to "Save," while another in Russia had a name that roughly meant "Manage."

    But bans and spin-offs couldn't hold down the individualistic drive of the human spirit. Monopoly became an underground success, secretly coveted and played behind the Iron Curtain as a way of escaping the drudgery of Soviet life. It wasn't until 1987, four years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Monopoly was allowed to be legally sold there.

    Today, Monopoly is licensed in more than 80 countries, and no fewer than 200 spin-off versions exist. Of course, playing it in the cozy confines of your living room, it's easy to take for granted that there was a time when, to many, Monopoly was a lot more than just a game. E-mail to a f
  2. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    At the risk of walking headlong into another of David's jokes - my husband and I have had some long discussions about this and wonder how this information came to light? Have any sets survived?

    And on a very serious note, isn't the Red Cross compromised by this action? Is this one of the reasons why the travesty in Burma has been exacerbated?
  3. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Though the Red Cross were responsible for the distribution of parcels, and responsible for checking on the welfare of POWs etc, they were not the ones who actually produced the packages. Each country produced their own Red Cross Parcels, which were handed to RC reps, and who then, in theory, helped in the shipping and distribution. But in reality, the RC parcels would be transported to the holding country, and the holding country would be responsible for the distribution.

    This often resulted in many POWs not receiving parcels because te Germans claimed that they didn't have the transport to do so, especially near the end of the war.

    And POW parcels varied greatly - the US troops received the best, and the ones produced in Canada were also said to be pretty good.

    The situation in Burma was due to the fact that Japan was not a signatory to the "Geneva" Convention and so the RC had no access to the prisoners.
  4. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

  5. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    Here are examples of the contents of Red Cross parcels as listed by my father in his P.O.W. Red Cross Wartime Log.
  6. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    Sorry, David mentioned collaboration between the International Red Cross and Waddingtons. I thought that this implied that they were aware of the contents.

    My reference to Burma was the current tragedy where the regime were/are loathe to allow in international aid agencies for fear of ???? exposure????
  7. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    What a fascinating reference!!

    How did you find out about this David?

    Does anyone know if any sets survived?
  8. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    There wasn't any collaboration, but the Germans were aware of someof the tricks and try to find the objects. But they didn't/couldn't complain to the IRC because they were doing the same in return.

    And the current Burmese situation is just awful. Even after they have allowed some aid to be shipped in they are refusing the ships to dock, and the freight has to be offloaded offshore and brought in by local small boats.
  9. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    Not sure what you mean about how did I find out about this.

    The attachment is taken from a "Wartime Log" that the Red Cross gave to P.O.W.'s. In the log the prisoners recorded their thoughts, wrote poetry, sketched their surroundings etc.

    I am not aware of any complete parcels surviving but recently on the internet, I saw a box that was in a museum.
  10. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    I have recently been contacted by relatives who were seeking the forum's assistance in how to progress having their brother's remains brought home from Burma. Sadly it was in the centre of the devastated area so not only is it inappropriate to pursue right now but increasingly unlikely that they can be located.
  11. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    Oh I am having a bad day!!!!

    I meant how did you find out about the monopoly sets being used and have any of them survived?

    p.s. David this is when you admit that you played with one of these monopoly sets after feeding that horrendous meal to your "girlfriend"!!!!!
  12. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    I meant how did you find out about the monopoly sets being used and have any of them survived?

    I found the article on the internet but was aware of it happening.

    p.s. David this is when you admit that you played with one of these monopoly sets after feeding that horrendous meal to your "girlfriend"!!!!!

    You have too long a memory!
  13. Andy M

    Andy M New Member

    Interesting read David. I may try and find a way to work some of this into a project I'm working on.


  14. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    Can you update us on this and give a little more information?
  15. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Thanks for bumping that David, I had missed Nana's post completely.

    Nane, are the remains Commonwealth or American? Are they in a designated CWGC?US cemetary? If they are then it will be nigh on impossible to get them re-interned. However, if they are "lost on the field" then it is a question of trying to locate where he may have fallen. Unfortunately doing that in Burma is extremely difficult - not only because of the logistics but because of the access to the country
  16. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    My apologies for not replying more quickly. I have lots of information which can be summarised as follows:-

    I quote"Flight Sergeant Walter George Bond, RCAF service number R. 260658. Flying as a wireless operator/air gunner, Walter disappeared on 19 June 1945 when his RAF 358 Squadron B-24 Liberator bomber, EW124, failed to return from a Special Duties operation destined for Burma or, more likely, Thailand (via Burma)."

    An American called Matt Poole has been helping the Canadian family who contacted me. His hobby is tracking down the relatives of war time crash fatalities and helping them to have the remains brought home.

    He puts forward a strong case for the identification of wreckage which corresponds in respect of timing and general location (sadly I'm told in the middle of the devestated area) and has lobbied the Canadian government on behalf of the families.

    Despite the Canadian government having led and funded a similar mission before they seem disinclined to do so again.

    I guess the situation in Burma will have thwarted any possibilites now, but I had wondered if any of you had any other ideas?

    Hope that was not too brief!
  17. David Layne

    David Layne Active Member

    So many fates are left unknown
    And so many rumors that abound
    So many families ask the question
    "When will, the answers be found?"

    So many years have come and gone
    Sometimes, hope is hard to keep
    There's some who feel there's none
    And in some, it's buried deep.

    The pain, is in not knowing
    How, to put loved ones' to rest
    When there is no way to prove
    They have passed, the final test.

    But, no matter what the answers
    We can't let this cause alone
    Until, each and every one of them
    Is found, and brought back home
  18. CTNana

    CTNana Active Member

    How true! David who wrote that?
  19. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    The problem of officially locating, identifying and returning causalties is complicated, which ever country is involved. But due to both the international sanctions against Burma, and the disinclination of the Burmese government to allow any outsiders into te country, it is nay on impossible to get very far.

    And I know of Matt - he is member on rafcommands
  20. Interrogator#6

    Interrogator#6 Active Member

    I read a book perhaps a decade ago which dealt with the topic of Monopoly sets and how escape equipment was being smuggled into POW camps. This book took the American perspective. Entitled, as I recall, Escape Factory, I forget the author(s). The book was, as I recall, ghost-written memiors of a now elderly fellow who was a corperal during the war, assigned to a small unit (company sized or smaller) whose mission was to provide material comfort to POWs as well as escape support.

    The unit began by constructing a phony agency with a covername which was innocuous, sounding like a group of patriotic grannies. They then constructed and filled "comfort boxes", establishing a system. Only later were escape items placed in some boxes. Money, maps, compases, cameras, film, crystal-radios, and even at least one pistol. Through a coded message system the POWs were alerted as to which specially marked packages were coming, so the guard-inspectors could be brided or distracted.

    The radios were crystal sets and tuned to BBC frequencies. They were built into cribbage boards. They fuctioned only if you knew the right hole into which to plug the antenna, ground wire, and headphone.

    Besides Monopoly set/maps, some decks of paying cards also contained silk maps, some assembly required.

    Certain 78 rpm records contained escape cash. Smash the record and get the money. Unfortunately this lead to a frenzy of record-smashing which was not only suspicious but removed entertainment from the POWs.

    Most flyers were equiped in their flying kit certain escape equipment, usually sewn into their tunic's shoulder padding. This equipment consisted of an escape compass (massed produced, cheap, and after the war put into Crackerjack boxes) as well as small ID-sized photos of the flyer in civilian clothing. As each squadron had its single suit, soon the Germans could identify the airmans unit by his escape photos.

Share This Page