This Christmas, as you gather around a Monopoly board to play, consider the significant role that Monopoly sets played in helping British servicemen escape to freedom during World War Two.
The history of Monopoly dates back to America in the early 1900s when Lizzie Magie created a game called The Landlord’s Game to educate people about land ownership and its risks. The game eventually made its way to Charles Darrow, who modified it and sold it to Parker Brothers, a toy and game manufacturer. John Waddington Ltd became the licensee for Monopoly in the UK.
During World War Two, MI9, the branch of the secret service responsible for escape and evasion, devised a plan with John Waddington Ltd to use Monopoly sets as a means of providing escape tools to British servicemen. Waddington’s expertise in printing on cloth led to the creation of silk maps for air crews, which were silent and ideal for escaping prisoners.
To deliver the escape tools to prisoners of war, MI9 devised fake charities and used Red Cross parcels to send Monopoly games with secret escape kits hidden inside. RAF air crews were instructed to look for the Monopoly games in care packages and use the concealed escape tools if captured.
The Monopoly boards played a crucial role in helping thousands of captured servicemen escape from their prison camps. The escape kits, disguised as Monopoly games, contained compasses, files, bank notes, and maps, allowing POWs to plan their escape routes.
The ingenious use of Monopoly sets as a tool for escape during World War Two is a testament to human innovation in the face of adversity. These “special edition” Monopoly sets played a vital role in the successful escape of many prisoners of war. If you want to learn more about how prisoners used these crucial pieces of equipment to escape, visit Hut 28 – The Great Escape.