Thursday, December 5, 2013


Nelson Mandela died today.  For those of you who don't know his history, I will recap it.

As a young man, he was arrested after co-founding a militant group which led a bombing campaign against government targets as part of a protest against apartheid in South Africa.  He was convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to life in prison.  After 27 years, he was released.  Rather than being angry and bent on vengeance, he worked with the white power structure to change South Africa.  Four years after his release he was elected president.

He was a forgiving and reasonable man in his later years and a symbol of virtue.  Today, at the age of 95, he died at home, surrounded by family.

Now, about Monopoly.  A friend sent me this by email today and I found it fascinating.  Here's hoping you will too.

In 1941, increasing numbers of British Airmen became prisoners of the Third Reich. The Crown was looking for ways and means to facilitate their escape...

Obviously, one of the most helpful aids would be a useful map, which showed locations of 'safe houses' where an escaped POW could go for food and shelter.

However, paper maps had drawbacks -- they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush.
Someone in MI-5 (similar to America 's OSS ) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, John Waddington, Ltd.

When approached by the government, the firm was happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly.
'Games and pastimes' was a category of item qualified to be inserted into 'CARE packages', sent by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under strict secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where
Allied POW camps were located. When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

The clever workmen at Waddington's also included:
1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass 
2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together 
3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German,             Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of             Monopoly money!

Before taking off on their first  mission, British and American air crews were advised, how to identify a 'rigged' Monopoly set -- by means of a tiny red dot, cleverly disguised to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by those rigged Monopoly sets.  
Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might
want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn't declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington's, as well as the firm itself, were honored in a public ceremony.

Some of you may be too young to have had any personal connection to WWII (Dec. '41 to Aug. '45), but this is an interesting part of history.


  1. It is a fascinating part of history ans something I'd never before heard. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I'll be damned. Never heard this story, and it makes me feel much better about my lifelong fondness for Monopoly.

    1. I hate Monopoly. I always lose! But this story does make me a bit more affectionate toward it.

  3. A terrific post. Your recap on Mandela is a paragon of the virtue of succinct tight writing. It elucidates with brevity. Loved the Waddington story. Monopoly as field craft. Brilliant!

    1. I figured everyone had probably heard about Mandela. And watching the tv news tonight, I'm sure of it.

      Yes, the Monopoly story was absolutely fascinating. As I said above, "if it is true."

  4. Sorry to hear of Mr. Mandela's passing. And like Steve, I'd never heard of this Monopoly story, either. People's ingenuity amazes me!


    1. "There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them."

  5. Fascinating fact. I wish my dad was still alive...

  6. I think some form of independent corroboration of your Monopoly story might be in order. On the other tack, I regret the passing of a truly wonderful exemplar and leader. Mahatma Ghandi also was a man of peace who was instrumental in bringing about the independence of India. What a pity so many people's wanting change and self-determination cannot seem to learn the lesson that violence breeds violence.

    1. According to Snopes ( the story is essentially true.