From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


War-opoly: How History’s Most Popular Board Game Helped Defend the
Free World
BY Brian McMahon  /

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 on
missions. 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

Community Chest

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
bedelivered 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 enterprising, top-hat wearing, mustached man
we know so well today. 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 on the defense
against 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 knock-off 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

Do Not Pass “Go.” Do Not Collect $200.

By far Monopoly’s most famous encounter with Communism happened at the
1959 U.S. Trade & Cultural Fair in Moscow. In an attempt to show off
the benefits and values of living in a capitalistic society, Americans
set up a full-size model of a U.S. home to use as its display. Spread
out on the coffee table inside the mock living room? A Monopoly set,
of course. Soviet officials at the event were already suspicious that
the game was nothing more than free-market propaganda. But they got
really scared when surveys from visiting Russians included comments
such as, “Why can’t we have Monopoly?” One morning during the fair,
the Monopoly set went missing, so the Americans quickly replaced it
with a backup. But the replacement soon disappeared, and the
exhibition had to put out another one. Apparently, this continued
until roughly half a dozen backups were gone. The culprit may have
been someone linked to the government, or it may have just been
someone who knew what the games would fetch on the black market (and
who was interested in experimenting with a little capitalism
themselves). Either way, it was a sure testimony to the fame and
intrigue Monopoly held, even in a place where it was against the law
to play.





Prisoner of war map, 1944

These maps were created in secret by British prisoners of war, in a
camp at Querum near Brunswick in Germany in 1944. The maps are
evidence of great courage and resourcefulness in the most trying of

Thousands of the maps produced by the British during WWII were made on
silk and rayon. These fabrics were stronger than paper, and more
easily concealed. The games company Waddington possessed the
technology to print on cloth, and printed many silk maps for supply to
Allied servicemen. The company also concealed maps and tiny compasses
inside Monopoly games and packs of cards; these were sent into the
prison camps disguised as parcels from charities.

But these smuggled maps were too few in number to be of much use to
the thousands of men inside the camps. Philip Evans, who created this
map, was a printer by trade. Evans devised a method of printing maps
while he was interned in a German prison camp during the war. The idea
was to create enough maps for each of the British soldiers in the
camp. That way, each man would be provided with some chance of finding
his way to safety if the war ended in anarchy.

The idea of making the maps came to Evans when he realised that tiles
from a bombed building in the camp could be used as printing plates.
All the information on the maps was drawn by hand on to the plates.
The ink was made from melted margarine mixed with pitch scraped from
the pavement. The printing press was made of floorboards, and the ink
roller was constructed from a window bar covered with leather. The
resulting maps are an astonishing example of human skill and

Taken from: The Prisoner’s Press Archive
Creator: Evans, Philip
Date created: 1944
Copyright:  By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: Maps C.25.a.23

from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition

The Lessons of Monopoly
BY Russell Roberts  /  January 2, 2005

When our children got old enough, we’d play Monopoly, a game that was
an important part of my childhood. The vivid orange of Tennessee
Avenue. The royal blues of Boardwalk and Park Place. The little man
with the mustache being hauled off to jail. And all that pastel
colored money.

But if I play Monopoly now, it’s only to teach my kids how badly its
lessons prepare you for the real world.

In Monopoly, whoever has the most toys wins and winning means taking
everything belonging to everyone else.

In Monopoly, landlords are parasites that eventually drive everyone
into bankruptcy. And bankruptcy is like death. Game over.

Monopoly is the ultimate zero-sum game. You profit only by taking from
others. The assets of its world are fixed in number. Yes, you can
build houses or hotels, but somehow, the greater the supply of places
to live, the HIGHER the price, an absurd contradiction to real-world
economic life.

In Monopoly, hotels never get a makeover and railroads, unlike Amtrak,
are always profitable.

In Monopoly, getting rich and succeeding in business only comes from
exploiting unlucky suckers who randomly enter your life. There’s no
role for hard work or creativity– figuring out what customers might
want to buy that isn’t being offered by a competitor. There’s no

I know. That’s why it’s called monopoly. But only Marxists look at the
world of capitalism the way the game of Monopoly does–as an
unrelentingly gloomy system of exploitation where the rich eventually
wear everyone else down.

Ironically, most of the new board games with more realistic economic
lessons come, like Karl Marx, from Germany.

In games like The Settlers of Catan players compete, but they also
cooperate and trade in various ways. One player’s economic success can
end up benefitting fellow players. Yes, there’s a random element to
success but life has that too. And in these new German-style board
games as they’re sometimes called, strategy and skill matter more than
the roll of the dice.

So leave Monopoly on the shelf and try the Settlers of Catan. My wife
usually wins when we play, but at least my kids learn about the value
of trade and cooperation in creating wealth and success.




Waddington PLC, the printing company best known for its games
including Monopoly, was involved in a most unusual venture during the
Second World War: printing maps on silk, rayon and tissue paper for
military use and smuggling some of them to prisoners of war.  Last
year an archive of correspondence relating to the military maps, along
with samples of the maps themselves, was donated to the British
Library Map Library. A small fraction of the archive, relating to the
initial planning and the early days of the project, is currently the
subject of a small exhibition at the British Library, and a few items
are reproduced here.

When you look at these maps the unusual materials are perhaps the
first thing you notice.  During WWII hundreds of thousands of maps
were produced by the British on thin cloth and tissue paper.  The idea
was that a serviceman captured or shot down behind enemy lines should
have a map to help him find his way to safety if he escaped or, better
still, evade capture in the first place.  A map like this could be
concealed in a small place (a cigarette packet or the hollow heel of a
flying boot), did not rustle suspiciously if the captive was searched
and, in the case of maps on cloth or mulberry leaf paper, could
survive wear and tear and even immersion in water.  The scheme was
soon extended to cover those who had already been captured, although a
certain amount of ingenuity was required to get the maps into the POW

The maps themselves were mainly small scale, covering large areas;
many were copied from maps then available from Bartholomew’s in
traditional paper form. (Bartholomew’s generously waived all
royalties, for the privilege of helping the war effort).  In addition
tiny compasses were concealed in buttons, pens and the like; with
these two items the escaper had some chance of finding his way to
safety.  Other useful items such as small supplies of food and water,
and foreign currency, were usually included as well in ‘escape
packs’.  Some of the maps gave more than general information.  The one
shown here, designed for sending to prisoners, shows a route from
Salzburg in Austria to Mojstrana in Yugoslavia (held by forces
sympathetic to the Allies).  The red route avoids the easy mountain
passes and shows a harder but less populated way over the hills, and
gives matter of fact advice on throwing stones at pursuers.

The fact that the maps were made at all was symptomatic of a change in
attitudes to prisoners between the two world wars.  In the 1914-18
war, being taken prisoner was regarded as a disgrace.  By the outbreak
of World War II policy regarding prisoners had become more
constructive; in December 1939 M19, the branch of the Secret Service
responsible for escape and evasion, was set up.  It was made clear
that it was the duty of all those captured to escape if possible.  One
man who was behind many of M19’s most ingenious plans, including the
Waddington project, was Christopher Clayton-Hutton. He was a forceful
character who worked ceaselessly to overcome both technical and
bureaucratic obstacles when he was inspired by an idea. His disregard
for regulations and the proper channels sometimes got him into
trouble, but he was responsible for an enormous variety of escape aids
– flying boots and uniforms that could be converted easily to look
like civilian dress, powerful torches concealed inside bicycle pumps
for use by the French Resistance. He regarded a map as “the escaper’s
most important accessory”, and maps printed on silk and miniature
compasses were amongst his first projects. However it was one thing to
provide members of the armed forces with escape kits just in case and
another to get these things into the POW camps, and it was here that
Waddington was particularly helpful.

Prisoners of war were allowed to receive parcels from their families
and from relief organisations such as the Red Cross.  Personal
deliveries, it was known, were checked thoroughly, and it was felt
that it would be unethical to interfere with Red Cross parcels.  A
number of fictitious charitable organisations (often based in bombed
buildings) were created to send parcels of games, warm clothing and
other small comforts to the prisoners.  One of the major problems of
captivity was boredom (a fact that was to play its part in the
creation of some rather different escape mapping) and games and
entertainments were permitted as the guards recognised that if the
prisoners were allowed some diversions they would be less troublesome.

Waddington already possessed the technology to print on cloth and made
a variety of board games, packs of cards and so forth that could sent
to the camps.  They began by printing silk maps for supply to air
crews, both British and American, and went on to conceal maps inside
Monopoly boards, chess sets and packs of cards which could be sent
into the prison camps.  The whole business of making the maps was
shrouded in secrecy and the letters do not tell the whole story.  The
references to different coloured playing cards, for example, made in
one of the letters, are not explained at all in the correspondence;
many communications were by word of mouth and never written down for
security reasons.  A special code, which is described in another of
the letters, was used to indicate to the Ministry which map was
concealed inside a particular game so that it would be sent to a
prisoner of war camp in the appropriate area.  A full stop after
Marylebone Station, for instance, meant Italy, a stop after Mayfair
meant Norway, Sweden and Germany, and one after Free Parking meant
Northern France, Germany and its frontiers.  “Straight” boards were
marked “Patent applied for” with a full stop.

Almost throughout the correspondence maps are referred to as pictures,
and codes were used to identify them, such as Emerald, Double Eagle or
Dutch Girl; exactly what these codes meant is not explained by any of
the letters.  The very first letter from the correspondence seems to
be the only one even to mention the word “maps”.  One letter, from
Clayton-Hutton of M19 to Norman Watson of Waddington, states
cryptically that “I have some ideas on the lines you and 1 know of’,
but gives no indication of what these lines are.  Parcels are sent to
the left luggage office at Kings Cross Station rather than directly to
the War Office.  Another letter, not displayed here, refers to a
conversation between Clayton-Hutton and Norman Watson of Waddington on
the innocuous subject of car parking; this was actually a reference to
the Free Parking space on the Monopoly board which had been marked
with a full stop to show that there was a map inside of northern

It’s impossible to know how many of the maps smuggled into the camps
were found or used.  But it is known that over 35,000 British and
other Allied troops imprisoned or cut off behind enemy lines did
manage to make their way to Allied territory before the end of the
war.  It has been estimated that about half of these would have had a
silk map with them.  In many of these cases their maps and compasses,
and other escape aids, must have saved their lives.

Prisoners’ press

While Waddington and the War Office were plotting to get maps into the
POW camps, the prisoners themselves demonstrated astonishing
resourcefulness.  The BL Map Library has acquired some maps that the
prisoners themselves printed on a home-made printing press virtually
under the noses of their German guards, as well as accounts of the
process by two of the prisoners involved, Philip Evans and Wallis
Heath.  These were acquired owing to the generosity of Wallis Heath
and of the heirs of Philip Evans.  From 1944 until the end of the war
both men were held at a POW camp in Querum, just outside Braunschweig
(Brunswick).  Evans was a printer by trade and was most heavily
involved in the printing project.  A few maps smuggled into the camp
would be of little use to the three thousand men inside, and some
method of reproducing more was highly desirable.

Philip Evans’ matter of fact account of life as a POW and the map
printing process carried out under extremely difficult conditions is
truly inspiring.  It also highlights the boredom of captivity that
provided further motivation for the production of the maps; the desire
for purposeful activity must at times have seemed almost as strong as
the need for maps.  Wallis Heath also mentions the general fear that
the war would end with complete anarchy and “every man for himself”,
especially following the attempt on Hitler’s life by a group of German
army officers in 1944.  Evans was inspired to try and produce the maps
after realising that some wall tiles from a bombed building in the
camp could be used as printing plates.  The tiles were made of a
limestone suitable to be used as a lithographic stone.

Inside the camps the prisoners had a well-organised (and completely
secret) structure for planning escape and general insurrection, and
subversive activities were carried on under its authority.  Evans
presented his idea to this initially sceptical group, who soon
realised its potential value and helped by providing him with a
guarded room and various assistants.  A camp of such a size contained
someone who knew something about almost anything, including
cartographers, carpenters and chemists, although Evans described one
of the most useful men as a “fixer”, a natural entrepreneur who could
obtain almost anything by bribery.

The technical problems of improvising printing plates, pens, ink and a
press, in secret and out of very limited materials, were
considerable.  All the information on the maps had to be drawn on by
hand, in “mirror writing” of course, using home made wooden pens and
melted margarine.  The plates were treated with jelly from Red Cross
parcels, and the printing press itself was made of oak floorboards
covered with leather.  A roller was fashioned from a window bar, and
ink was made from pitch scraped from between the flagstones of the
pavement, boiled to separate out the dirt and mixed with margarine and
pigment.  After much trial and error, a satisfactory method was
developed and efficient teams of four worked together on map

The standard of the resulting maps, one of which is reproduced here,
is astonishing given the circumstances.  The information for the more
detailed maps of the area around the camp was obtained partly by
reconnaissance by temporary escapees, and partly from a map of the
area obtained by the “fixer”.  Smaller scale maps were copied from
smuggled silk maps like the one shown here (from the Waddington

Perhaps inevitably the map printers were eventually discovered, had
some of their precious equipment and a few half finished maps
confiscated, and were punished with five days solitary confinement.
This was not before four different maps had been produced, with up to
500 copies made.

This prisoners’ press was not unique, and attempts were made in other
camps to copy maps by hand, but it is a remarkable demonstration of
resourcefulness and dedication in the most discouraging circumstances.
When the war ended very few of the maps were in fact used as the
camp’s inmates were transported safely home.  A few individuals had
attempted to escape from the camp and taken copies of the maps with
them, but how many got home will probably never be known.

Leave a Reply