I had read that in WWII airmen and paratroopers carried special maps printed on silk, and I’d seen a photo in Jonathan Walford’s book, Forties Fashions, of maps that were made into a blouse. But I’d never run across one in all my flea marketing. But that changed last week, when I spotted the above map at the Charlotte Metrolina. At first I thought it was a folded paper map, but I knew what it really was the minute I picked it up.
Unfolding it, I realized it was in perfect condition, meaning that it probably was never used. And even though the USA made fabric maps during the war, this one is British. It is map 43-A, France, Holland, and Belgium, and on the reverse, 43-B, the German Swiss Frontier.
Many of these maps were actually smuggled into German POW camps by way of Monopoly games. The Germans did allow relief groups to send games and such to the captured Allies, so the makers of Monopoly in Britain, Waddingtons, printed the maps on silk and inserted them in an indention made in the board. The indention was then covered by the paper of the playing surface.
The maps were also carried by airmen, sewn into their clothing, or sometimes hidden in the heel of a boot. The dyes were formulated as to not run when wet, and the silk would not disintegrate in water. It was also an extra layer of warmth when put in the clothing.
After the war was over, life did not automatically return to normal. In Britain there was still a fabric shortage, and the system of rationing continued. People used whatever fabric they could find in order to keep themselves properly clothed. And that included the surplus escape maps. The Fashion History Museum has a beautiful example in their collection of a blouse made from some of the maps. You can also read about this map blouse in Forties Fashion.
Photo courtesy The Fashion History Museum
Posted by edgertor:
I’ve always wanted to take a bunch of them and make them into a dress–but they cost a lot, even on ebay!
Monday, October 4th 2010 @ 6:17 PM
What a great find! And yours is in such good condition too. I read somewhere they were often used to make lingerie pants as well.
Tuesday, October 5th 2010 @ 6:31 AM
I am ashamed to say I never knew this…I adore old maps, so finding something like this would be a true treasure. It would make a great scarf, but I’d probably have it framed and hang it.
Tuesday, October 5th 2010 @ 6:36 PM
Posted by Lizzie:
You know, this might make a great Spoonflower http://www.spoonflower.com/welcome
design, though I’d have to check into the copyright.I can see these in the form of knickers, Jonathan!
I’m sure many of these were tied around a post-war head!
Wednesday, October 6th 2010 @ 9:26 AM
Posted by becca:
What an amazing piece of history, Lizzie! I would feel faint (I think) if I ran across something like this!
Wednesday, October 6th 2010 @ 8:17 PM
this is one of my favorite parts of history that women/men who would line their jackets with maps. Very happy for you to have found such a gem. My second fav is how women wore their skirts so low not to show ankle. Staircases would be lined in fabric so no one could catch a glimpse of one walking up or down. Any posts on that? love your blog.
Saturday, October 9th 2010 @ 11:21 AM
Posted by Em:
Amazing find! I always enjoy all of the background you provide in your posts
Sunday, October 10th 2010 @ 8:15 AM
Posted by Mrs Exeter:
I’m an avid fan of war films and airman memoires but I’d never heard of these. How ingenious!
Monday, November 15th 2010 @ 12:29 AM