Silk maps were one of the most ingenious ideas of the Second World War. During WWII, thousands of maps were produced by the British on silk, thin cloth and tissue paper. The idea was that a serviceman captured or shot down in enemy territory should have the map to help avoid capture or find his way to safety. Silk maps were issued specially to airmen so that they could sew them into their clothes or wear them around their neck. They could also be cunningly concealed in a cigarette packet or within the hollowed-out heal of a boot and they would never make a suspicious rustling sound if the captive was searched.
A single escape map was little use to the whole camp. The information here, printed by the prisoners, could have been copied from a silk map of Germany such as the one made by Waddington. Prisoners' Press Archive . Inspired by the success of the British maps, American Intelligence adopted the idea. Escape maps were standard issue to all U. S. Air Force servicemen from 1942. History of silk maps
From The American Naval Air Combat Intelligence-Hydrographic Office S-8B-3 Luzon & Taiwan Island 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. more escape maps can be found here
Producing the maps was a process shrouded in secrecy and it is not possible to know how many maps were made or whether they were used. However, one can assume that they were invaluable as during the course of the war over 35,000 imprisoned men did manage to escape across enemy lines into Allied territory. The War Office was responsible for their production and in the spirit of the war effort, the printing company, Waddington PLC, best known for its playing cards and board games, including Monopoly, leant its printing expertise.
They were typically produced on a very small scale but covering vast areas. Some of them gave more specific information such as recommended routes marked by a red line or hints and tips such as – in the event of being followed, throw stones!
the dress below belonging to Mrs. Jeanne Terwen-de Loos, 1945, Tailored by her, Sewn on cast iron treadle sewing machine.
After the capitulation of the Japanese in 1945, the internment camps in the Dutch East Indies were liberated. Most people returned to impoverished living conditions and had to make do with whatever was available. In need of new clothing, Jeanne van Leur-de Loos (Mrs. Terwen-de Loos), a Dutch art historian, purchased a bundle of silk RAF parachutists' maps at a flea market. From the maps, depicting parts of Burma, French Indo-China, Siam, India and China, she fashioned a silk dress.