|You would think by now that
every even modestly interesting fact about World War II ...
... had been unearthed and posted on the
Internet. You might have to do some digging, of course, but somewhere in Cyberland, you can find out the brand name of Field Marshal Montgomery’s favorite toothpaste!
So we were amazed, and hugely intrigued, by a revelatory piece that appeared recently on the ever-fascinating website Mental Floss. The article, entitled "World War II
Weapon: Monopoly With Real Money", recounts the following amazing story:
Starting in 1941, increasing numbers 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, accurate map, one showing not only where-stuff-was, but also showing the locations of "safe
houses" a POW on-the-lam could go to for food and shelter.
Paper maps had 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 i n the
MI-5 branch (one hopes it was the youthful incarnation of "Q"!), 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 whatever.
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 HM Government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.
By pure coincidence, Waddington's 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 of all belligerents.
Under strictest 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 located (Red Cross packages were delivered to prisoners in accordance with that same 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:
A playing token containing a small magnetic compass A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together 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 missions, on 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, perhaps one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely - HM Government might wan t to use
this highly successful ruse in 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 honored in a public ceremony.
At any rate, it's always nice when you can play that "Get Out of Jail Free" card!
Submitted by Bob, Rockville, Md.