P.O.W. Chess Revisited


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.


  • 4 years ago


    "My question was how did these 12 yr. old Germans get to France."

    Membership in the Hitler Youth was mandatory, at least by 1936. Of course, many children were enthusiastic about it. In 1943, Hitler Youth were recruited into the reserves, mostly for defense and mostly 17 yr. olds, then 16 yr. olds, then 15 yr. olds, as the attrition in the regular army continued to grow. A group of HJ were even sent to France as a Panzer division during the Normandy invasion. By 1945, the Nazis had conscripted even 12 yr. olds into active service, this time as a last-ditch defense effort in Berlin itself.  Hitler expected his armies to fight to the last man. Permanent POW camps weren't set up on enemy territory, so the captured children were sent to the camp established in France and treated more like wards of the state than as prisoners.

  • 6 years ago


    Again, another great article.  Thank you!

  • 6 years ago


    "The first picture is dated Sep 45'. The war in Europe had been over for four months in Sep. 45' and Japan had surrendered in Aug. 45'. How long were children kept in POW camps after the war was over. And how did they get 12 yr olds in a POW camp?"


         Well, I thnk it's the second picture you're referring to, but the questions are sure valid.
         The caption was provided by Life Magazine, and, not being an expert on WWII, I had to research the answers - which are also provided by Life Magazine.

         Baby Lager (Baby Camp) was a part of a larger POW camp. It was Enlosure 15 of the Continental Central POW camp located in Attichy, near Compiegne in France. Primarily, though not exclusively) it housed former Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth).  There were about 7000 German boys and a smattering of boys from Austria, Latvia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Yugoslavia, Romania, Russia, plus one boy from Holland and one from Brazil.  The US called the juvenile camp a "re-education camp" because that was its real purpose - to un-indoctrinate the boys of Hitlerism and give them an idea of democracy, as we like to call our own system of government. The boys in the camps were highly disciplined from their Hitler Youth days, but those who had reached high school age by 1943 had
    been enrolled in either the army or in the antiaircraft defense and had received no schooling since then. A four month program was developed with the hope of discrediting their instilled and exaggerated nationalism and race-hatred.
         There were 144 teachers recruited from non-Nazi POWs  - the policy being to let the enemy contribute as much as possible to its own re-education. Each boy studied 3 days a week (16hrs.) and worked 3 days. The guards were unarmed. Instead of Taps, the bugler played Brahm's Lullaby. Band music was prohibited. The camp taught compulsory subjects (compulsory by level) in Arithmetic, Biology, English, American History, Geography, German reading and writing, Music, Religion and Sports. Elective subjects included Algebra, Chemistry, Greek, Latin, Philosophy, Geometry, French, Russian, Spanish and advanced English, Literature, Drawing, Stenography and Shorthand.

  • 6 years ago


    Interesting entry.

    Jaques also sent tricked boards to POWs during WW2. Manipulate the squares and you get a prize. I heard this on shortwave more than 15 years ago, probably BBC, when a Jaques rep was being interviewed.

  • 6 years ago


    Whoever set up the "A hand-carved POW set" has done it wrong. White square on the right! Nice pics, thanks for sharing. :D

  • 6 years ago


    nice !

  • 6 years ago


    Children ended up in the POW camps because of the Hitler youth. The Nazi's really did use 12 year old's and 70 year old's ( and housewives)  at the end of the war to try to survive. This article was outstanding. One of the very best I have seen on Chess.com.

  • 6 years ago


    wow Cool

  • 6 years ago


    Three cheers for Ajax Chessmen!

  • 6 years ago


    Here is an intersting article:

    "Soon after the Nazi invasion, he crossed the border into neighbouring Hungary with his regiment," Attwell said.

    "But in 1944, the Nazis invaded Hungary and began deporting Jews. Roman was taken to a Gestapo officer for interrogation, but when he arrived, he noticed the officer had a chess set in his room and asked him if he played.

    "Roman's brother had been a Polish chess champion before the war, and the German had once played in a competition against his brother.

    "The officer asked Roman if he played too, and when the Pole said he did, but not particularly well, the German replied, 'OK, let's have a game. And if you win, I will save your life.'"

    Roman played ? and won. From then on, the SS officer kept him imprisoned in Gestapo headquarters, having him released from noon to 2pm every day to play chess with him.

    "They actually became great friends", Margaret said.

    As the German retreat began, Roman too made his way back to Warsaw and the family home, which was in ruins.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-488729/Revealed-The-extraordinary-family-defied-Hitler--survived-Holocaust.html#ixzz109jf40N1

  • 6 years ago


    us germans have a long and rich chess history, but moreso obsession. we just can't get away from the game!

  • 6 years ago


    Very interesting. Thanks.

  • 6 years ago


    Very interesting post. It make me think about Stephan Zweig's novel. Thanks for sharing.

  • 6 years ago



  • 6 years ago


    Great article!

  • 6 years ago


    great post!

  • 6 years ago


    Whoa, those are some great sets!  And to think they were able to do craft some of those under the conditions in a POW camp.  Gives me a strong incentive to make my own...

  • 6 years ago


    Most interesting. Thank you.

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