While this post made my site last summer too, family visits have me pulling out board games and remembering their role in history- I hope you find it as fascinating as I did!
My family loves games. We’ve spent many happy hours around the table, trying to discover if it was Miss Scarlett or Colonel Mustard whodunit, trying to outbid each other in Rummy Royale, or seeing who can construct the most elaborate Scrabble word.
Personally, though, I’ve never cared for Monopoly. I don’t mind loosing a game, (in spite of rumors to the contrary- some friends just are jealous of my amazing Parcheesi skills 😉 ) but if I’m going down, I’d rather it’s in a blaze of glory having gone “all in,” rather than being slowly bled to death by the bank.
However, I gained a new respect for Monopoly when I learned that it had an exciting role in World War 2- helping save POW’s, no less.
Christopher Clayton Hutton of M19 (British Intelligence) worked on devising ways to smuggle escape aids to POWs. He found an ingenious one when he partnered with the printing and packaging company John Waddington Ltd.
Waddington’s had two things essential for Hutton’s newest plan: they produced Monopoly games, and also had the technology to print on fabric. Specifically, they would be able to print maps on silk- maps that would be thin enough to conceal, and would be silent when unfolded.
A select group of people labored over Monopoly boards, cutting compartments into which were slipped metal files, a compass, and a map of the area to which the game would be shipped. The compartments were hidden under the game’s normal decals. Real money was concealed in the stacks of play money, and the boards were marked so that the POWs could recognize them when they came in.
Of course, smuggling the boards into POW camps was a challenge. Using usual channels such as the Red Cross or care packages from family members would be too much of a risk. If the Germans intercepted contraband in these packages, they might refuse to allow them in anymore. Instead, M19 devised false charities under whose names they could ship the board games.
Just how many prisoners were aided by these special board games is unknown, but they have the distinction of being one of the few means of smuggling in aid that was never discovered by the prison guards.
Since this information was declassified in the 80’s, Hutton has published a memoir about his experiences- I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it might be worth a look!
If you’d like more information on this and a few of Hutton’s other tricks, I particularly enjoyed reading through this article.
What about you? Have you heard any stories of unusual uses for everyday objects in the past?
Many thanks for visiting!