For more than a century, one of the most popular board games in the world has been, undoubtedly, the real estate-inspired Monopoly. Though it rose to popularity after the Parker Brothers released it in the 1930s, the successful game was actually invented by a woman named Elizabeth Magie, and it was originally dubbed “The Landlord’s Game.”
What neither Magie nor Parker Brothers could have predicted, however, was how critical a role the game would play for soldiers in World War II. Far from just a way to pass the time, Monopoly was utilized for a more secretive—and brilliant—reason by British POWs in German prison camps.
So, what did these soldiers use the famous game for, exactly? The answer will amaze you…
Ever since its arrival on toy store shelves in the 1930s, Monopoly has been one of the most popular board games in the world. But you probably had no idea this simple board game played a major role in helping British POWs during World War II.
It was the way British intelligence used the board game during World War II that was truly remarkable. Thousands of prisoners were kept in camps with no hope of escaping, but British intelligence realized they had one huge advantage…
You see, German guards allowed British prisoners to receive care packages from humanitarian groups while they were imprisoned. But how exactly would British intelligence use this to their advantage? Surely the packages were thoroughly inspected before they reached the captured soldiers, right?
The British intelligence organization MI9 had a brilliant idea, and its leaders devised a simple plan. Before troops were sent off on missions, they would be informed that, in the event they were captured, they should be on the lookout for Monopoly games sent in care packages.
MI9 then worked with the Monopoly manufacturer in Britain, Waddington’s, to have maps, small metal tools, magnetic compasses, and other supplies subtly embedded inside the games that were sent to soldiers. The plan was designed by British intelligence officer Clayton Hutton.
“My aim, right from the start of my association with the escape department, had always been to discover a foolproof system for introducing my ‘toys’ into the camps themselves,” Clayton once wrote about his clever plan.
One of the tricks was to print the maps on pieces of silk because the material wouldn’t crinkle when soldiers looked at them. That way, they could be easily stuffed into small compartments, and they wouldn’t dissolve in water. It was an ingenious tactic.
Of the nearly 35,000 British soldiers who escaped imprisonment during World War II, it’s estimated that some 20,000 of them used the silk maps, compasses, and assorted tools that they found in their Monopoly games.
But Monopoly wasn’t the only game that included secret tools to help prisoners escape. Maps, bank notes, and messages were also included in chess sets and packs of cards. All this happened right under the Germans’ noses!
Who would have thought a simple board game would have saved the lives of thousands of men during a time of war? Thankfully, the Germans didn’t thoroughly inspect any of the packages the prisoners received, or else the plan would have immediately failed—and many more brave men would have lost their lives.
Talk about a “get out of jail free” card! What an ingenious way to deliver supplies to the imprisoned troops who really needed it—and an awesome piece of little-known history!
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