The Mem-O-Maps of John G Drury, 1945-46

The Mem-O-Maps of John G Drury, 1945-46

The vibrantly colourful pictorial Mem-O-Maps designed and first published in early 1946 by Colorado native, John Gottlieb Drury [1907-1988] came into being as a direct result of two years’ service with the US Army during the Second World War, following his enlistment in Los Angeles in late May 1943.

Drury subsequently served in the Pacific Theatre as a Technician (T/4) with the 214th Ordnance Battalion.

In the latter stages of the war he was stationed in Okinawa, following its capture after an arduous & costly 82-day battle with Japanese forces from early April to the end of June 1945.

Drury’s maps are perhaps all about overlaying and displacing that reality of the completely wrecked & broken wartime world that he witnessed in the Pacific Theatre in 1945 with a much brighter, more optimistic, idealized, peaceful and colourful construct.

The primary colours of his Mem-O-Maps and their bright, vibrant & often amusing cartoon-style imagery at first glance give little inkling of the devastating impact of the war on any of these areas, particularly Japan and Okinawa, where some 90% of the island’s buildings were destroyed during the three-month Allied assault. Looking more closely, wartime events are poignantly referenced in the array of Military Cemeteries, Memorials, Bases, Airfields & Barracks and in the Maps’ Legends which instruct former servicemen as to ways in which they might individually customize the maps and so create their very own personal geographies, either by marking the locations of their service or filling in the dates of arrival/departure/stationing or routes of progress through these regions. It is certainly known that Drury produced an initial sketch map of Okinawa for his GI buddies in the 214th Battalion during the final months of the hard-fought Pacific war.

Born in January 1907 in Trinidad, Colorado, the son of John H Drury and Helen Floyd, his father worked in a variety of clerical & management positions in local businesses including Gottlieb Mercantile Co (whence presumably came John Jr’s middle name) and the Trinidad Floral Co. His mother also appears to have held a management position in the City Treasurer’s Dept.

Drury left Trinidad High School in 1924 and by the late 1920’s was already in employment as an electrical meter reader and service technician with the Trinidad Electrical T Railway & Gas Co, whilst his father, perhaps a victim of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, appears to have fallen on harder times and by 1929 was running a local Trinidad gas station: “Stop and gas with John” at the Drury Service Station noted the Trinidad City Directory of 1929…

By the late 1930’s John Jr. had moved to California and settled in Los Angeles. In 1938 he was a Department Manager at the jewellers, Strasburgs of Hollywood on Sunset Blvd, before joining the Western Auto Supply Company in LA in 1941. He worked in their advertising department and oversaw the layout, copy & scripts for all of their advertising and publicity across local newspapers, magazines & radio. He was still working for them at the time of his enlistment in 1943 and by which time he had also married.

An article in the October 1946 issue of The Reader’s Digest, in a feature focusing on post-war enterprises of wartime veterans, picks up the story of the evolution of the Mem-O-Map idea:

To kill time on a troopship returning from the Pacific, Technician Fourth Grade John G. Drury used his Army experience with charts to prepare a map of Japan with scenes that GIs knew best. Buddies clamored “Draw me one too”. Drury went ashore with money for 232 maps in his pocket and the idea for an independent business in his head.

Converting his garage in North Hollywood, Calif. into a studio, he drew maps of Oahu, the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan, and the European Theater of Operations. He selected the outstanding features of each, adding figures illustrating them, often humorously, with familiar aspects that had appealed to GIs. Blank spaces were left for the men to depict individual experiences. 

Assisted by his wife and the wife of his partner, Cpl Richard G Bryant, Drury frames, packs and ships reproductions of the maps under the name of Mem-O-Map Company. He is considering proposals to use the maps for cut-out puzzles and lamp shades and he plans also to build up a more permanent line of souvenir maps of national parks and other vacation areas.

Though two of the maps are imprinted with a copyright date of 1945, all in fact appear to have been registered for copyright with the Library of Congress in early 1946: in February, the map of Okinawa; in March, the map of the Philippines & in April those of Oahu & Japan. The original registered copyright date of the Europe map remains unclear but must presumably be within this early 1946 time frame.

Drury (left) & Bryant, 1946

Photo courtesy of John R Drury

Drury & Bryant cleverly marketed the Mem-O-Maps through Army veterans’ organisations & the American Legion Magazine.

For example the latter’s August 1949 issue included a special advert offering Drury’s Europe map for 50 cents and the four Pacific maps for a special price of just one dollar:

YOUR SERVICE – A MAP RECORD – with places you won’t forget if you live to be a thousand

MEM-O-MAPS  – Lithographed in full colour

Colorful, accurate, four color, pictorial maps showing the points of interest in your overseas service. Plenty of space to record your war travels – for your scrapbook or for framing….


Mem-O-Map of Europe [1946] – detail

Drury’s Map of the European Theatre, illustrated above, illuminates the prevailing pre-occupations of American GI’s in a devastated & bleak war-torn Europe in 1945-6: food, alcohol & entertainment. Illustrations of French wine bottles, German beer stein, wurst and decorative meerschaum pipes abound. Perhaps most interesting is Drury’s reference to the famous Parisian nightclub, La Roulotte (literally “The Caravan”, whose symbol was a naked woman on horseback pulling a caravan) located in the Pigalle district of the French capital. Discerning viewers will note Drury’s comic vignette & cryptic play on words which references this fact: a scene with a “Pig” and an “Alley” (visible just to the south west of Paris) – presumably the way most American GI’s pronounced it: “Pigalley”! – a pointer no doubt to the district’s perhaps less than salubrious reputation. La Roulotte was undoubtedly a very shady, shadowy sort of caravanserai owned by the renowned jazz musician, Django Reinhardt [1910-1953] and run by friend & cabaret impresario, Lulu de Montmatre (Mme Lucie Franchi). During the Occupation it was a magnet for German Wehrmacht officers, British spies and members of the Gestapo and had the unique privilege of being permitted to stay open after curfew until the early hours of the morning. After the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, it was re-launched, becoming an equally enticing attraction for Allied servicemen. It was famously photographed in 1944-45 by Life magazine photographers, Ed Clark & Frank Scherschel. Amongst the many American musicians and entertainers captivated by the charms of La Roulotte & Django Reinhardt’s music during this period were Glenn Miller & Fred Astaire. The club finally closed its doors in the 1960’s.

As to the figure of the naked lad who stands above the town of Saarbrucken, back turned to viewer, seemingly relieving himself into the waters of the River Saar….a reflection perhaps of the bitter sentiments of war-weary GI’s of the US Third Army towards the Nazi regime upon finally reaching the Saar near Saarbrucken, the line of the Franco-German border, after the desperately hard-fought & costly Lorraine campaign in the winter 1944. Many Allied leaders had of course expressed themselves similarly: Churchill had gleefully pee-ed on the Siegfried Line near Jülich in Feb 1945 whilst US General George S Patton, commander of the US Third Army, had been famously photographed relieving himself from a pontoon bridge into the River Rhine in March 1945, as British & American troops finally “bounced” this symbolic river barrier & border and entered the heartland of the German Reich.

The maps certainly proved popular as can be seen in the photograph below, c1946. Entertainers Bob Hope & Bing Crosby are snapped before or after one of their shows, perhaps to an audience of wartime vets, and reading what appears to be a veterans’ magazine (perhaps the American Legion) whose covers are illustrated with detailed reproductions of Drury’s maps:

Entertainers Bob Hope & Bing Crosby read a magazine whose covers feature one of Drury’s maps, c1946

Photo courtesy of John R Drury

However with returns and exchanges the maps unfortunately never proved sufficient to sustain a viable long-term business or feed a family. Equally sadly Drury’s idea for a more permanent range of souvenir maps for national parks & vacation areas never appears to have come to fruition.

By the mid & late 1960’s the maps were also being marketed through the New York Hagstrom Company in their collective Decorative Maps catalogue & large stocks still seem to have been available for sale & distribution through wartime veterans’ organisations throughout the late 1960s & early 1970s.

Drury and his family moved to Albuquerque in 1950 where he worked as advertising manager for a local manufacturing company, Childers. His wife Evelyn became a local teacher. The family later moved to Catalina Island in the early 1970’s.

John Gottlieb Drury passed away in Orange, California in March 1988 aged 81.

I am very grateful for the assistance & cooperation of John G Drury’s son, John Roberdeau Drury, an Arizona-based designer & architect, in the compilation & writing of this post.

It is perhaps no real surprise to discover the creative talents of the father so vividly displayed in these decorative post-war Mem-O-Map designs were passed on to an equally artistic son who would himself join the Disney Imagineering team & be closely involved in the design & creation of parts of Florida’s Disney World, including The Magic Kingdom & EPCOT, as well as Tokyo Disneyland, which first opened in April 1983.

A very different Tokyo & Japan to the one that Drury senior & his GI buddies would have known in the final months of the war in 1945 and which he himself had first portrayed exactly 37 years earlier, in April 1946: