Playing Bridge in Times of Trouble

Playing Bridge in Times of Trouble

by Alex J Coyne

You might already know that poker made for a popular wartime game; it’s a great way to form alliances, gather ‘round for important meetings and pass the time during the waiting times of the war – and there are many photographs and other documented evidence out there of soldiers and prisoners sitting down to play a game of poker – but what about bridge? 

In fact, contract bridge measured in as the most popular card game in a 1942 survey according to the historical encyclopedia, World War II and the Postwar Years in America.

Digging for Memories

One of our coolest search results shows us this photo from 1941, named Prisoners of war playing bridge at Stalag 383, Hohenfels, Bavaria, Germany from the New Zealand National Library archives – there’s no doubt that there are more photographs like this one out there.

More memories can be dug up in memoirs – usually of soldiers – who might have engaged in a game of bridge in order to pass the time and keep the mind active. 

  • “We Never Said Good-Bye: Memoirs of a Bombardier from World War II” describes how a soldier and his bridge partner developed “a customized version of the Blackwood system” for their games. (See it here)
  • “A Soldier’s Life in War & Peace” tells the story of a soldier who found himself captured by contract bridge when he first encounters the game. (See it here) In his words, “When the classes started I realised that I was one amongst the few genuinely interested in learning to play contract bridge, whereas the rest had joined merely to make their number with the company commander.”

Wartime Card Decks

There are many special edition war-time decks out there, usually produced and issued to soldiers as part of their kit: Dig around on eBay or Amazon and you can still find many of these decks for sale, with some of them going back as far as WW1 – and of course, military playing cards had to serve a double purpose, often acting as a way to share information (printed on the cards) with other soldiers, or make it easier to remember important information they would need in their situation.

One example of that is the notorious IRAQ MOST WANTED deck, issued to soldiers to clandestinely help identify the most wanted enemy targets.

Are you a bridge player who experienced the game during wartime in one capacity or another? We’d like to hear from you: Tell us how it happened – and of course, your cards!


Cards for Soldiers

A Map Inside the Cards