During the Second World War thousands of allied airmen and women were dropped behind enemy lines in Italy, France and The Low Countries. Part of their standard military kit was a map. These maps were printed on silk and showed the local terrain, towns and roads. They could be worn as a scarf or popped in a pocket as a handkerchief.
Imagine being in the parachute regiment in the 1940s flown to a ‘drop zone’ along with a dozen other soldiers. At a certain location you’d be forced to jump out of the aircraft and instructed to make contact with the local French resistance or the Italian ‘resistenza’. By the time you were reunited with the ground you were on your own.
The standard issue silk maps were very useful items. The information printed on the map helped with orientation. If it got wet it dried out easily, unlike paper which would disintegrate when soaking wet. The silk scarf could also be used around the neck to keep warm. The scarf might mop sweat from a dripping brow. It could be used as a sling for an arm or a bandage for a wrist or ankle. It could also be a makeshift belt for a pair of trousers or a hat to protect the head from the midday sun. It could even be used ‘Dick Whittington style’ to carry your lunch.
The Bodleian Library in Oxford has an extensive collection of these 1940s maps and has recently had some of them reproduced on silk using the exact 1942 format. I bought one on a recent visit. I find the story behind the scarf interesting and highly practical.
As a tour guide and travel writer I love my scarf, it’s practical and useful and it looks good! What’s more there’s a great story behind it. Where would I be without my ‘escape map’!
The Bodleian is a copyright library. It is the library of the University of Oxford and was founded in 1320. In 1840 it became a Copyright Library which entitled it to a copy of every book published. Today there are more than 12 million items in the collection, including books, manuscripts, maps and periodicals.
- The Bodleian Library is a treasure trove of manuscripts, maps, first editions, special collections. It’s well worth visiting their web site. The Bodleian, Oxford
- The shops pretty interesting too! Bodleian Shop, Oxford
- Follow my blog educated-traveller.com for regular (and I hope) interesting articles on journeys and musings often including Italy, France, The Alps
- My compliments to The Bodleian Library for recreating these beautiful scarves.
- My fellow blogger Sandra Hutchinson discovered more about the versatility of silk at the Silk Museum in Macclesfield, Cheshire Paradise Mill & Silk Museum
- Note to self – Must visit Silk Museum in Macc!
- Written: 11th May 2018
- Check out the Bodleian web site for this wonderful scarf and other great gifts!
- Happy Reading!
- Written May 2018, revised in 2019 and 2022.