« | Home | »

Handkerchief Maps

Tags: |

I have three half-metre-square maps of southern Europe framed on my living-room wall. Printed by the American air force on acetate rayon – lightweight, waterproof and hard to tear – the ‘handkerchief maps’ were given to my father-in-law, Howard Walker, who flew with the Australian Air Force during the Second World War. He started operational flying from Brindisi in October 1944, in Lancaster bombers that dropped supplies – guns, explosives, food and clothing – for partisans in northern Italy, Yugoslavia and northern Greece. ‘My job,’ he says, ‘was to ride up in the perspex nose of the plane to pick out landmarks of any sort that would help the navigator affirm or correct the plane’s course.’

They were frequently shot at. ‘At first you feel the jolt of the supersonic air blast, then the thumping explosion, then see the dirty greasy-looking puff of dark smoke that has missed you. Being off course over enemy territory and not knowing where you are is nerve-racking too, especially at night.’

The detailed maps were a crucial escape aid in case the plane was shot down. Each man was also issued with a packet of high-energy glucose cubes, a razor, water-purifying tablets, a comb, a fishing line and hook, a pocket knife with a pig sticker and a can opener on it, a needle and thread, and a compass. And a pair of dry socks.

Comments on “Handkerchief Maps”

  1. jillmbeckwith says:

    Thanks for posting these images. I’ve always wanted to see one of these. Michael Frayn mentions them in Spies and I’d often wondered whether my father had ever been issued one. He flew Spitfires over Holland towards the end of the war. Were maps like this issued to Spitfire pilots in Britain?

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement