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Home Front Vintage specialises in rescuing genuine escape and evasion silk maps that pilots and Special Forces would have hidden inside their uniforms in case they needed to escape from enemy territory during WW2 and the Cold War. I use pieces of these maps and remake them into fabulous gifts and accessories. A question I’m often asked is how I print the maps onto silk. I DONT. All products are made from the genuine maps printed onto silk by the military during the 1940s and 1950s.
Stories behind the maps
The collection showcases my inspirations as I take WW2 and Cold War escape and evasion maps and rework them into new items, weaving the story into every piece I make. Escape maps are not really about the places that they depict, but more about the idea of finding your way home. Through my work I explore this idea of staying found with the aim of preserving the integrity and history of the maps but making them relevant to today; thus ensuring that the story of these maps and the people who used them continues.
An obsession with junk shops
OK, so I have a bit of an obsession with rummaging around in junk shops. I love unearthing unloved stuff. Especially unloved stuff that has a map on it. Or a globe. I have been known to stare at a globe for a very long time…
Over the years, all this accumulated stuff had to compete for space in a small Victorian cottage with two large dogs and Mr Austerity who, although rather lovely, was starting to tut as yet another 1930s enamel biscuit tin in the shape of a globe obscured his view of Newsnight. In order to restore marital harmony, I started selling the pieces I’d collected at a vintage fair in Kent.
One danger of selling at vintage fairs is that your eye is often drawn to the myriad of interesting items on sale. And it was at such an event that I came across what I thought was a damaged silk scarf depicting a map.
My first escape and evade silk map
It was only when I got home I realised what Id bought. The piece of silk was an Escape and Evasion map from the Second World War. A pilot or member of the Special Forces would have carried one of these maps in case they found themselves behind enemy lines and needed to escape.
The maps were issued to the RAF and Special Forces in the Second World War and beyond. Troops sewed the maps inside the lining of their uniforms, or concealed them in the hollowed-out heel of their boot. They were even hidden inside monopoly board games and sent to prisoner of war camps under the guise of charitable donations. You can read more about the story on our escape and evade page.
The more I learn about this fascinating tale, the more I want to share it. Further research reveals that some army regiments and ex-military personnel still have stocks that are either damaged or simply unwanted. I start to collect as many as I can, with no real plan of what I might do with them. One day I arrive home with three boxes containing over 1,000 of these maps.
Home Front Vintage is born.
We now remake the damaged maps into gifts and accessories for people who value British heritage and provenance. Each item we make comes with information on the history and provenance of the maps, preserving the integrity of the maps and ensuring the story survives.
And the best bit? We recently received an email from a 93-year-old ex-RAF officer who was carrying one of the maps when his plane was shot down in 1944. Hed seen our products at the RAF Museum and wrote to tell us how pleased he was that the story was being re-told. He also sent us a copy of his unpublished memoirs which, we think, is one of the greatest stories never told.
WW2 British silk escape maps are the creation of Clayton Hutton, an eccentric MI9 British Army Officer. He was the genius behind so many WW2 escape and evasion aids which are still in use today.
The maps were issued to the RAF and Special Forces throughout WW2 and beyond. They were even smuggled into prisoner of war camps; helping our troops find their way home.
We make all our escape and evasion items with genuine, issued maps; a real piece of history. Each item is unique depending on which part of the individual map we use.
We source many of our maps from an ex-Royal Engineers soldier. He started his army career as a private and worked his way up through the ranks to officer. During the 1960s he is told to clear out the regimental stores and get rid of boxes and boxes of escape maps. The maps date from the 1940s to the mid 1950s WW2 through to the start of the Cold War.
Being the resourceful chap that he is, the Engineer gets rid of the maps by storing them in his loft. Here they stay until 2013 when he contacts Home Front Vintage. Thanks to him, the story of the maps goes on; retelling our history and remembering the past – whilst looking to the future.
Sara Jane, aka The Map Lady