WWII Silk Escape Maps

What are Silk Escape Maps?

During the Second World War, silk escape maps were very important. When a serviceman was captured or shot down behind enemy lines, he could use a silk map to find his way to safety, or better still, evade capture in the first place. They were also sent to Prisoners of War to help them if they managed to escape. Macclesfield Museums has a wonderful collection of these maps, some of which have since been artfully turned into silk clothing.

Here are some pictures of them –

Why Silk?

Silk was the perfect fabric for these maps because it is so lightweight, it can be folded up really small and it doesn’t rustle when you crumple it.  You wouldn’t want your map to be noisy when you were unfolding it secretly. It also doesn’t fall apart when it gets wet. An escape map would be of little use if you couldn’t use it in the rain.

The Macclesfield Connection

A man called Christopher Hutton worked in the Escape Department in MI9 (a bit like Q in the James Bond films) and had the idea of using silk for escape maps.  He sought help from Wallace Ellison who worked for Brocklehurst Whiston Amalgamated, one of the biggest silk manufacturers in Macclesfield.  Together they worked out how to best fix the ink onto the escape maps.  Wallace Ellison had escaped from a Prisoner of War camp during the First World War and wrote a book called ‘Escaped! Adventures in German Captivity.’

Where did they hide the maps?

The maps were hidden in many creative ways before being sent to prisoners of war.  Some ways that we know about are,

  • Hidden in Monopoly Boards (a dot on the car parking square told you that a map was hidden in the set)
  • In playing cards,
  • In pencils,
  • In gramophone records.

More information about escape maps and Hutton and Ellison can be found here –

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Hutton

https://www.bl.uk/maps/articles/ecape-and-evasion-maps-of-world-war-ii

Visit The Silk Museum on Park Lane to see the collection for your selves….