WWII Silk Escape Map

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

Posted by Jonathan Walford:

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

Posted by The Red Velvet Shoe:

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

Posted by Catherine Janda:

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


Filed under Curiosities, World War II

21 responses to “WWII Silk Escape Map

  1. Deanna Lyons

    I have Map 43 E given to my son by Gains W. “Jack” White who lived in Stanley, Kansas in 1976. Jack was an Airman in WWII and the map belonged to him, it is silk and printed on both sides. Jack died while living in Oklahoma City in the 90’s as did his wife Lea, they had no children.

    The map is enclosed between two sheets of glass and hangs in my office. By chance I Googled WWII Escape Map and found your site–I was just chilled when the picture of the map came up.

    Thank you for publishing your information.


  2. Pingback: The Tennesee Aviation Museum « The Vintage Traveler

  3. Nick Zehnder

    Are you a buyer? I have two such maps. One of Cyrenaica, printed on one side and the other on Greece, prined both sides.
    Nick Zehnder, Johannesburg


  4. Gary Westervelt

    My father was a prisoner of WW II and I have a map – S- series S2 – S3 printed on both sides. It’s silk and was the Bartholomew series. It’s of Greece and Crete and on the other side it’s Italy, Greece and Turkey and Europe – 20 1/2 ” by 23 3/4 “.


  5. Gar

    I have a ww2 silk map of SE Asia. It’s in excellent condition. Do you know what it might be worth?


  6. nsbenson

    Wonderful site – I have collected these for years after I was given one by the son of an early flying boat pioneer (China Clipper Pilot Masland), That one shows the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia above Japan), and at one point an army surplus company called something like IMD sold the maps for two for $


  7. nsbenson

    15., So I got about 20 more with extras of France/spain, which I had sewn together as gift scarves for traveller friends – Roads and RRs still the same today 75 years later and fun to read while in lines, Some on ebay,but wish i could find IDB or whatever the army navy co was to see if low cost still lives – G


  8. shoe

    Are you interested in selling the map?


  9. Thomas

    Hi, i just got here because google showed this site while was doing some research about these maps. Years back i got the 43 C/E from my grandfather. Since i’m german, i was wondering how he might have gotten in possession of such a map. He wouldn’t tell me when asked about it.


  10. Betty Reeves

    Does anyone have any knowledge of the value today?


  11. James Omaha

    As a WW2 collector I have a few of these maps.A few months ago I found a photograph of a complete dress made after the war by the wife of an RAF pilot. He collected a huge amount of these maps and she made a very nice dress out of it. These maps are still used today. The postwar maps can be quite cheap. from 10-20 US dollars. The Imperial war museum have reprinted a map but these have almost the same price as an original ww2 map. The American were so impressed when they got a sample of all the British maps, that they send all their surplus silk white parachutes to the British. (After 1942 the Allies made their parachutes from nylon! The Japanese held the areas were the silk worms lived.) Many British made maps were issued to the Americans. These maps were not printed by the Monoply firm but they received the maps from the government. The early maps were printed B/W. The owner of the copyright of the maps waved his rights to allow the government use his maps.for free.
    This is a excelent website about ww2 escape maps. http://www.escape-maps.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  12. James Omaha

    Here just found on pin intrest several escape map clothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Escape and Evasion: a Post-WWII Map Blouse | Seam Racer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.