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Visitor Information

Opening Hours
(Winter Opening Times - Closed 24th Dec - 2nd Jan incl.)

Free Car and Coach Parking
Disabled Access
Merlin Café open daily

The Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial Museum
The Airfield
Manston Road
Ramsgate
Kent CT12 5DF
[Get Directions]

Tel: 01843 821940
Email: enquiries@spitfiremuseum.org.uk

  1. Hidden Letter

    by Natalie Düwel-Bou Orm

    Here we have an unused box of ‘Wild Woodbine Cigarettes,’ produced by W.D and H.O Wills; Bristol and London.  The box contains pristine packets of cigarettes, as fresh as when they were produced during World War Two. However, the real gem lies in a tiny piece of paper sandwiched between two cigarette packets.

    How we discovered the hidden letter in the box of cigarettes

    How we discovered the hidden letter in the box of cigarettes

    The letter, still in situ, was cordially addressed to ‘My friend’ and continues…

    We were very pleased to have a letter from you; no doubt you think I have quite forgotten you, but I think of you every day and trust when you go to France you will have good luck and a safe return.

    There seems to be terrible fighting out there.  Pleased to tell you that we are all in good health. I hope this will find you the same.

    From your true friend, 

    D (?) Brown

    This poignant letter immediately raises concerns. Did the dear friend ever see the letter? Was the sender ever able to reconnect with his/her friend? Why weren’t the cigarettes ever smoked? Were they a sentimental keepsake or a love lost? There are endless scenarios; however, I somehow feel that there may have been a sad ending to this story.

    The box of cigarettes and the hidden letter

    The box of cigarettes and the hidden letter

    The hidden letter revealed

    The hidden letter revealed

    The second page of the hidden letter

    The second page of the hidden letter

    One of the tiny unused packs of ‘Wild Woodbine’ Cigarettes, dating from WWII

    One of the tiny unused packs of ‘Wild Woodbine’ Cigarettes, dating from WWII

     

     

     

  2. World War 2 Cigarette Cases

    by Natalie Düwel-Bou Orm

    Cigarettes were used as staple currency in POW camps during World War Two. They could be exchanged in order to buy food, other essential commodities and were even used to settle debts. Even non-smokers accepted cigarettes owing to their trade value.

    The comforts material goods provided came largely through the issue of Red Cross parcels. These provided foodstuffs including tinned goods, chocolate and also cigarettes.

    Cigarette Case

    Cigarette Case

    POWs had time on their hands when not completing forced agricultural or industrial labour duties. Therefore, they began to produce items such as cigarette cases in their free time. The case would be fashioned from aluminium obtained from, for example, food cans or from the fuselage of aeroplanes. Decoration was added using broken drill-bits, saws and old toothbrushes to produce effective designs often made from simple punch-holes.

    There are a number of beautifully designed cigarette cases displayed in the Hurricane Hall. One example, as photographed, was crafted by a German POW in North Africa. Can you spot the palm trees? This was kindly donated by Mr. D. Holmes from Gravesend.

    The other example pictured here was made from a bully-beef tin and was produced using only a hammer and nail! The donor: Patricia Philip’s father purchased it from an Italian POW when he was stationed in Shetland in 1943. Ms. Philip from Surrey added that, “I had been sentimental about it for all these years…but I should get more pleasure by giving it to the museum to display.”

    Of course, these functional yet decorative cases were often considered as souvenirs and treasured possessions. They could easily be transported home when the war ended and were often given to loved ones.

    Cigarette case crafted by a German prisoner of war in North Africa

    Cigarette case crafted by a German prisoner of war in North Africa

    Cigarette case crafted by a German prisoner of war in North Africa

    Cigarette case crafted by a German prisoner of war in North Africa

    Cigarette case crafted by a German prisoner of war in North Africa

    Cigarette case crafted by a German prisoner of war in North Africa

     

     

     

  3. Escape Items

    by Natalie Düwel-Bou Orm

    Who would have thought that a simple comb dating from World War Two could accommodate such an important escape item; a compass! ‘Swinger’ compasses could be inserted into many small everyday objects and were often moulded into plastic combs, which needed to be broken in order to extract such escape devices. The compass comprised of two small magnetised strips of steel with tiny holes, filled with luminous paint. In order for the compass to work, you would need to tie it to a piece of string and then allow it to float in water in order to get your bearings. But this wasn’t the only type of compass allied forces could utilize.

    RAF tunic buttons used on clothing could also conceal small escape ‘pill box’ compasses. The buttons were produced by the famous ‘Firmin of London’ Company. The top of the button was unscrewed to reveal the compass. In the later stages of the war, a new version had to be created with a reverse thread screw as the Germans had detected such compasses in earlier models. This type of compass was also found hidden inside shaving brushes and lighters. When you are next looking around the museum, see if you can find the Polish Air Force button complete with its internal compass!

    Another type of button compass known as the ‘Weskit’ consisted of a black (RAF) or reddish-brown (Army) Bakelite button modelled after a uniform fastener. A small magnetised steel bar was embedded inside the device. The three dots were placed on the back surface of the button so that they were not seen. The single dot pointed towards Magnetic North. To use the button, it had to be suspended from thread and allowed to come to a stop in order to obtain an accurate reading.

    The trouser fly button compass was in use before zips. This type required two discs which when balanced carefully on top of each other, on a level surface, depicted Magnetic North through the position of the two dots.

    Compasses were an essential piece of kit when planning and carrying out an escape but other items were also vital. The museum is lucky enough to have in its collection a flip-top torch designed to look like a cigarette lighter. This was probably used for escape purposes by aircrew. This item was kindly donated by Mr. J. Sherwell of RAF Manston.

    Also a very important item to have about your person was currency and during World War Two, Allied Military Currency, ‘AMC’, was a type of currency issued by the Allied Powers to troops entering newly occupied countries. This was declared as legal tender. Here we have French and Italian currency issued to airman serving in the desert air force. This was kindly presented by Mr. C.T. Mumford of Folkestone.

    Silk and cloth escape and evasion maps were issued to all aircrew on operational duties. Some examples were found sewn into the lining of wallets and inside uniforms including sewn into the lining of the collar. These maps were used by many servicemen of all nationalities to escape from behind enemy lines. These fabric documents when used made no noise, which was essential when in hiding, and did not disintegrate when in contact with water. Permanent ink was used. Interestingly, they could be folded up small enough to fit into a cigarette packet!

    It is widely believed that cloth maps, compasses and foreign currency were sometimes hidden inside games including Monopoly and sent through the allied charitable organizations to prisoner of war camps. Maps were even hidden between the 2 sides of a playing card! The Red Cross, however, was not involved in this unique operation, in case the items were discovered and parcels to POWs stopped.

    So as you can see, if it wasn’t for these ingenious ways of concealing escape devices, many troops and SOE’s would not have made it home. These everyday objects played their part in helping to save lives and can still be seen at the museum, so come and have a look!

     

    A Swinger Compass would have been hidden inside a comb

    A Swinger Compass would have been hidden inside a comb

    A Polish Air Force Button concealing a compass

    A Polish Air Force Button concealing a compass

    An escape compass hidden inside a screw-top RAF tunic button

    An escape compass hidden inside a screw-top RAF tunic button

    A Bakelite Weskit button and Trouser Fly button compass

    A Bakelite Weskit button and Trouser Fly button compass

    A Flip-Top torch disguised as a lighter

    A Flip-Top torch disguised as a lighter

    Italian and French currency

    Italian and French currency

    Italian and French currency

    Italian and French currency

    Part of a silk map

    Part of a silk map

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  4. Pencils As Escape Gadgets

    by Natalie Düwel-Bou Orm

    During World War Two escape devices saved many lives and we are extremely lucky at the museum to have a rare pencil which when split open reveals a brass compass, under where the ferrule (clip) was attached. Some pencil barrels even concealed tightly-rolled up silk maps which didn’t rustle when opened.  A tiny compass was placed on top inside the metal clip.

    The green wartime Cumberland Pencil

    The green wartime Cumberland Pencil

    Wartime gadgets were used by the British Secret Service including the Special Operations Executive (SOE).  These objects enabled secret agents, shot-down aircrew and escaping Prisoners of War (POW) to navigate their way across Occupied Europe. POW’s received pencils in Red Cross parcels and drawing implements were standard navigation tools used by RAF airmen. Who would suspect an ordinary pencil?

    The green wartime Cumberland Pencil

    The green wartime Cumberland Pencil

    The top-secret task of producing such a pencil was given to Charles Fraser-Smith. During World War Two, Charles was ‘working’ for the Ministry of Supply Clothing and Textile Department. However, in reality, he was secretly working ‘underground’ on escape gadgets and equipment.  Believed by many to have been the inspiration for the character ‘Q’ in Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, he was passionate about out-witting the enemy and saving allied lives. His gadgets were nicknamed ‘Q-devices’ after World War One ‘Q-ships’ which saw warships being disguised as merchant shipping.

    The pencils were produced in the upmost secrecy, out of normal company working hours, at the Cumberland Pencil Factory at Keswick. Part of the pencil lead was left at the writing end, for effect, and for pencils containing maps; a cavity was drilled along the length of the pencil where the map could be placed inside. An eraser was glued to the top and then a metal ferrule, containing a compass.

    The pencils were painted green and were the only war-time pencil to have colour, owing to paint being requisitioned for the war-effort. There were four sets of numbered pencils from 101-104, each containing a specific tiny map. For instance, number 101 contained a general map of Germany. The others contained escape routes out of Germany and there was a map of Switzerland. Some maps depicted ‘safe houses’. Owing to the secrecy of such gadgets, no-one knows how many pencils were manufactured between 1939 and 1945.

    These pencils with both a map and compass are considerably rare. The government recalled such items after the war and it is presumed that they were destroyed. So, if you are rooting around in an old drawer or bureau, who knows, maybe you might be harbouring an extremely valuable, and not so humble, green pencil!

Donations are very gratefully received. Not only because they let us know that we enjoy the support and interest of our visitors but also because, like many charities, we can claim Gift Aid support which could add an additional 20% to our donated income.

 

 

» Read more about ways to support the museum.

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