Escape Map

An MI9 escape and evasion map of northern Italy and the Swiss frontier, belonging to Lesley Fleming-Dunstan, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, c. 1940–41.

What is it?

Escape maps were first produced by British intelligence organisation MI9 during the Second World War. They were designed to assist Allied prisoners of war in escaping, as well as to help others evade capture in enemy-occupied territory. The maps were made from silk and other types of cloth material so they could be concealed in small places, survive wear and tear, and withstand immersion in water.

Who used it?

An MI9 escape and evasion map belonging to Flight Sergeant Stanley Hawken, Royal Australian Air Force, c. 1940–42.

The escape map pictured above is part of the British Royal Air Force escape kit issued to Sergeant Stanley Hawken. He enlisted as an aircraftman in the Royal Australian Air Force, and in 1943 qualified as a wireless operator and air gunner. Stanley then sailed to the United Kingdom, where he was attached to the Royal Air Force and served in Bomber Command.

On the night of 18 July 1944 Stanley and his crew were met with heavy fire from enemy fighters as they entered the air over Nazi-occupied France. Stanley received a radio message requesting them to delay bombing for five minutes, but as they circled the target the plane was struck by machine-gun fire, and the two engines burst into flames. The pilot gave the order for the crew to bail out.

Stanley parachuted from the rear escape hatch, landing in a small forest. After getting his bearings, he came across a farmhouse near the village of Saint Vrain. He cautiously approached the occupants for assistance, and they fetched the leader of the local resistance, Jean Vidal.

Stanley was taken to Jean’s home, where he remained hidden for several weeks. When German troops moved into the village, he joined a group of resistance fighters who had set up a camp several kilometres away. Sometime later he met two American airmen who had also been shot down. He left the resistance and waited with the Americans, hoping Allied help would soon arrive.

On 2 September the nearby village of Cheminon was liberated from the German forces, and Stanley was able to travel to Paris and on to England. He returned to Australia in January 1945.

Read more about Stanley Hawken.

What does it do?

These maps allowed escaped prisoners of war or service personnel hoping to avoid capture to navigate their way through enemy-occupied territory and make their way back to safety.

Activities for research and discussion

1. This escape compass was made in 1942 by Lieutenant Archibald Walker, 2/1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion, while he was a German prisoner of war. What might have been the advantages and disadvantages of having an escape kit in a prisoner-of-war camp?

Lieutenant Archibald Walker’s handmade escape compass.

2. Escape maps were often turned into items such as blouses and lampshades after the war. Why might these items have been created? How might servicemen and servicewomen have felt seeing these items around the house?

Mrs A.K. Blundell made this lampshade from an MI9 escape and evasion map after the war. The map was given to her by her son, who had served with the Royal Air Force. She brought the lamp with her to Australia when the family emigrated from England in 1951.

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