P.O.W. Chess Revisited

Sep 19, 2010, 1:12 PM |


Here are some images from WWII to help bring words to life

The first three photos came from Life Magazine:

German prisoners of war playing chess in the POW camp's recreation room

FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 1945: Young prisoners play chess at Continental Central POW Enclosure 15, called the Baby Lager by its occupants, an American run reeducation camp for German prisoners of war aged 12-17.


German POWs In England playing chess in the POW camp's recreation room.

This set was hand carved at Barth POW camp
[National Museum of the USAF]



Turned figures of pine wood, the horses carved, the white figures nature wood the others painted with ink, around 1946, probably from German POW in Russia.


A small wooden box (26.5x13cm) opens like a book to become a chessboard. Inside chess-figures, all handcarved, yellow and black pieces, probably made by a German POW in a US POW-camp around 1946 .


A hand-carved POW set


This 32-piece wooden chess set (below), encased in a coconut shell, was hand carved by Lieutenant Lancelot Hugh Herd while a prisoner of war in Changi Prison, Singapore.
Herd served with the New Zealand Engineers during the First World War. During the interwar years he became a well-known Wellington solicitor and yachtsman. At the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and was posted to Singapore in command of a Fairmile ML motor patrol boat. [New Zealand History Online]




Ajax Chess
Notice the round pieces- little chessmen like in a pocket set.
This set is deceiving. If you were to pry open the White Bishop, you'd find a tiny compass inside. Concealed in the cardboard tube is a map made of silk.
These kits were issued by the British Military Intelligence Section 9 (MI9) and sent to POW camps from fictitious London addresses, mainly from buildings that had been destroyed by bombs. The writing on the front is itself a code .

The Nazis had a high-security POW camp in Colditz Castle, Colditz, Germany that specialized in containing Allied officers who had repeatedly escaped other prisons. It's estimated that 316 prisoners escaped Colditz using the chess escape kit.

Because of the secrecy, scarcity and the disposable material used to make these kits, very, very few have survived.

According to Hasbro Games, the current manufacturer of Monoply:
Escape maps, compasses and files were inserted into MONOPOLY game boards smuggled into POW camps inside Germany during World War II. Real money for escapees was slipped into the packs of MONOPOLY money.

Above is a silk escape map and a wartime UK edition of Monopoly.


See P.O.W. Chess for F.A. O'Mally's experience with chess in an R.A.F. POW camp.