For over more than seventy years this great grandmother Priscilla Smailes has kept a secret that saved the lives of thousands of men. The 88-year-old has a precious silk map scrawled with the hidden locations of enemy troops who were stationed in France during the Second World War.These said troops are carefully plotted out in red ink, the positions of German forces were printed on to the fine silk and issued to allied units to help them evade torture and death if they landed in enemy territory.
And even though it has been many, many years since the Second World War this beautiful silk scarf map remains one of Priscilla’s most treasured possessions. She says it has a lot of sentimental value for her. The map was given to her as a present by a pilot in 1943, when she worked as an instrument repairer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
Mrs Smailes, of Ryton, in Gateshead, said: “The airmen used to visit the hanger and this Canadian chap fell for a irish girl who worked with me. He used to bring her all sorts of presents and one day, he gave her a silk map.“She used to share everything with me and told him she was going to cut it half so that I could have a piece. But he said: ‘We can’t have that’ and the very next day he brought me a map too.“The men knew by word of mouth where the safe houses were, but they would keep the maps hidden and stitch them inside their caps and uniforms in case they were captured so the Germans wouldn’t find them.” “These maps were also very important. I was going to give it to a museum, but I decided to keep it for my grandson Tony because he joined the air cadets when he was younger and originally wanted to join the air force.
This was a important part of history and Priscilla was part of it, just like a many number of other grandparents including mine.