Category Archives: Documents

Identity Cards Book Review

Over the last few years I have reviewed three of the four books published in the series ‘Within the Island Fortress’ by Jon Mills. Recently I have acquired the missing volume in the set and so tonight I am looking at Volume 2 “Identity Cards, Permits and Passes”.SKM_C30819032807520The British government issued a myriad of different identity documents to British civilians, military personnel and civil defence workers. Further documents were provided for those from allied countries and exiled military personnel. Many of these documents have survived to the present day and this book provides a comprehensive guide to them. The book covers both the common and mundane as well as the more obscure pieces that are highly unlikely to come into a collector’s hands. As well as covering the documents themselves, the author explains much of the internal administrative process of recording the details of an entire nation and simple information such as what the letter codes on civilian identity cards mean is covered- something highly interesting and not to be found in many other publications.SKM_C30819032807531Unlike the other books in this series, this volume is mainly illustrated with copies of the identity documents themselves. These are reproduced in clear colour images and are all easily readable, this is part of the strength of the volume as it allows the reader to closely examine documents that are usually at best a blurry part of a larger photograph. Many of these documents were very short lived and it is remarkable how many examples have been brought together to illustrate this book. Many have the word ‘sample’ stamped across them, so I suspect they came from official archives and might be the only examples of these documents known to exist today.SKM_C30819032807532It is fair to say that identity cards and permits are a niche collecting area, however even if you are not a collector of these documents I do not hesitate to recommend this volume. For those with an interest in the home front this books provides a unique insight into a crucial but often overlooked aspect of the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s lives during the war and for the living historian this book is invaluable in ensuring you have the correct paperwork for your impression. SKM_C30819032807530Copies of the book are still available directly from the author and it is well worth picking up one for your reference library.

War Damage Repair Leaflet

It is hard to under emphasise how many different aspects of civilian life were influenced by government legislation during the Second World War. What you could buy was limited by rationing, what you could sell items for was limited by price controls, even where you were allowed to live was subject to government control. In 1941 new regulations came into place to control civilian building. Supplies for repairs and new building were under pressure to meet both military requirements and repair bomb damage and labour was short. Large numbers of workers from neutral Ireland helped mitigate the labour shortage to some degree, but prices were rising and some builders were taking advantage to make large profits by charging extortionate prices for work.

The government recognised that controls needed to be brought in, and companies directed to ‘triage’ the construction needs. It was better to repair twenty lightly damaged buildings to get them back into use, than repair one badly damaged building that took up more time and materials to fix. In early 1942 Defence Regulation 56A came into effect and this leaflet was sent to builders to explain the new rules:SKM_C30819021912050 - CopyRuth Dunstan worked for an architect’s firm during the war:

My own real war work was to come at the end of 1940 when I joined Mr C Russell Corfield FRIBA, a very distinguished local architect, many of whose local houses have been listed for their fine quality. My own qualifications were only secretarial but with the young men of the practice away on war service the work devolved on Mr Corfield and me. I had to learn the elements of traditional building in a hurry for the firm was empanelled to serve with the Borough Surveyors of Falmouth and Penryn, Mr Harry Tresidder and Mr Harris respectively.

As stated, there had been a good deal of war damage (and sadly some fatalities) in Falmouth and Penryn from enemy aircraft.

National legislation required all property owners to take out war damage insurance for all necessary war damaged repairs of a permanent nature. However, First Aid repairs were dealt with wholesale as promptly as possible, after careful recording. Because of the pressure, and because I had then absorbed some working knowledge, I too was required to produce straightforward specifications on my own initiative. It kept us busy.

Local air raids damaged Falmouth’s Wesley Church, Lister Street and the Boscawen Hotel (by then the headquarters of the local Women’s Royal Navy). In fact Lister Street included several complete houses, including one which only came on the market as a clear site in 2002 which the estate agency sold for the owners in that year. 

Penryn, with its fine period houses, suffered badly. We found many interesting items at risk. I remember a circular head carved door from the 17th century and a vertical passage, which could have been a remnant of either Reformation or smuggling days both in Bohill; the use of canvas or “poldavy” (a type of sailcloth — a former Falmouth Packet Captain had a poldavy mill at Tremoughdale) used to line buildings instead of plaster and early house deeds from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr Corfield refused to condemn badly damaged properties, as someone less sensitive might have done, with the result that Penryn’s essential character was preserved for later effective restoration. It is a pity that progressive modern development has taken place here and there since then.

The actual First Aid Repairs were carried out under our direction by teams of those builders and others in the trade who were still available, being over age for war service. These were signed on from a wider area, notably Staverton Builders of Devon (founded by the Elmhirsts of Dartington; in Falmouth Messrs Eva & Bone, E H Moss, E Thomas, Angove & Son, Curtis & Son (Penryn) and Morris (plumbers). 

Obviously this insurance and repair arrangement applied all over the United Kingdom.

Woollen Comforts Knitting Pattern

The production of knitted goods for military personnel was a major source of woollen items such as gloves, socks, hats and jumpers for the services during the war. To meet this demand from the country’s knitters, various companies produced knitting patterns which could be bought for a few pennies and had the patterns for a number of different garments. Tonight we have a knitting pattern described as ‘Service Woollies for Air Land & Sea’ with a fetching picture of a man wearing some of the items standing in front of a training aircraft:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (2)This is a rather more substantial pattern than most, running to ten pages, and so cost 6d when new. The inside of the front cover has a number of the items that the keen knitter can make illustrated:SKM_C30819021912051These are all fairly standard garments like cardigans, scarves and gloves.The remainder of the pamphlet has the knitting patterns themselves:SKM_C30819021912051 - CopyKnitting comforts was undertaken by women (and men)up[ and down the country and with many girls learning to knit when they were still young children it was a skill that millions shared. Rita Sarin was a child and she joined in knitting comforts:

I used to love doing knitting on four needles. I used to make loads of pairs of socks and used to like turning the heels. I don’t think I could do it today unless I was shown – but I made loads of gloves and scarves. We used to make gloves on four needles. When you did a finger you’d get so many stitches on each needle and then knit round and round until you’ve got a finger done and then cast off and then do another one, then do the thumbs. I did that at school – we all used to sit — I used to hate sewing, I still do now – but I used to do an ever so a lot of knitting until my thumbs got bad, and that’s all I did at school, was knit! The school mistress used to say to me “Rita Flower did you do your sewing last week?”, (because we used to have to knit one week and sew the next), “Yes I did!” But I never did of course! I always said I did my sewing last week but I never did. I used to hate it. I remember doing khaki gloves and socks, and black for the Navy, and sort of bluey for the air force we had all those colours, I can remember that as plain as day, sitting at my desk knitting.

Sylvia van Oosten’s mother was another who knitted for the troops:

I remember my mother going to a Women’s Guild during the war and the women sat around knitting for the army and navy. She also brought home wool for knitting socks, gloves, helmets etc. I remember the wool for socks for the navy was very oily and thick and very difficult to knit with. My mother eventually “adopted” a sailor and sent him packets of food as well as the knitting she had done for him. Because of my mother knitting so many socks I also picked up this knowledge and can knit a pair of socks “in no time” without a knitting pattern. I began when I was 9 years of age knitting my own socks. My mother would also cut the worn heel or toe from my father’s socks and re-knit these. We had to be thrifty in the war.

YMCA Active Service Postcard

The YMCA supported British and Allied troops in both World Wars, running canteens and hostels, offering reading rooms and leisure space to soldiers and providing stationery to men to enable them to write home. We have previously looked at a piece of YMCA notepaper here and tonight we have an Active Service postcard that would have been. Given out to soldiers in the field to write home with:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (3)It is hard to date this item as there is no indication as to whether it is First or Second World War, however the design of the YMCA logo is very simple:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (3) - CopyThis suggests to me that this postcard is later rather than earlier as many of the First World War designs are far more elaborate than this. The patron of the Military Camp Department is listed as the Duke of Connaught:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (4) - CopyAgain this is not very helpful at dating the card as the Duke remained heavily involved with the YMCA from the early years of the twentieth century until his death in 1942.

The postcard itself has space for the sender to indicate who he is sending it to, along with his own number, regiment and where he was stationed:SKM_C30819021912050 - Copy (5) - CopyThe message was then written on the rear and could be quickly posted off back to friends and family.

Irene Stuart worked in the YMCA in Aberdeen during the war and remembers:

When I’d finished my schooling at seventeen and half, I went to work in the YMCA Office. We had to see to all the services when they came to use the facilities such as showers, writing paper for their letters home, and I got the job of sewing on stripes etc. when they got promoted while away from home. 

I was sometimes required to make up sandwiches when the sailors at navigation college had to go away on day exercise. In the evenings I served in the canteen.

I thoroughly enjoyed it all and met so many people.

GI’s Letter to England, 1946

Although tonight’s object is a letter written by a US Army sergeant, it seemed appropriate to include on our British and Empire blog because he is writing back to a family in England with whom he had been billeted and he has some interesting reminiscences about life in wartime England so I hope you will forgive this slight detour from our usual subject matter.

I picked up this letter and its associated paperwork a few weeks ago, the envelope addressed to a Mr and Mrs Herbert Swales of Drighlington:imageInside is a letter, two post cards, two New Year’s Greeting cards and a photograph of an American soldier, presumably the sender of the letter:imageThe letter inside reads:

My dear Bert and Marjorie and gang

It has been quite some time since I left your country and quite a lot has happened. I want to assure you folks that my long procrastination in writing does not mean that I have not thought of you people many times, and always these thoughts gave me a sweep of nostalgia just to think of it.

Bert, many is the time I’ve thought of our “mild and bitter” binges and really longed to do them again. Remember our escapades to one of the “locals” and coming back and try to explain just where we had been and what we’d been doing? And then the eating championships where Frank could always win with so much ease? Also the long lazy afternoons spent trying to stay stretched out in the sun. I’ll never forget those evenings at the “spotted” and at the “‘are and ‘ounds” where everyone joined in the singing. Boy, oh boy, those were the days!

We were in France until the middle of September. That period was one of living in dirt floated tents with no water to spare for even drinking for 3 or 4 days at a time, but I did get into Paris for two days now and then before we moved on into Germany. We were located on an old Luftwaffe field near Munich and had started to get it pretty well operative when the really rough weather set in. My duties were in keeping radio contact with our aircraft. In December I went to Berchtesgaden on a two day pass and was snowed in for a week- those were winds that did some good.

At Berchtesgaden I got a chance to look over Hitler’s Eagles Nest, and to do some deer hunting- didn’t see any deer though. Then I got back to the base just in time to get in on a trip to St Moritz in Switzerland.

The winter season was just opening at St Moritz and many of the “elite” of Europe were there. Those are the people it’s pretty hard to stomach. It seemed that most of the moneyed people who found it unsafe to be in their own countries had come to St Moritz. I want to tell you about one incident that gave me a bit of amusement.

It seemed that certain people decided it would be “nice” of them to be somewhat accommodating to allied soldiers. Several of us went to the Embassy Club at the Palace Hotel for the evening. I had a dance with a Bernice Sheissen whom I came to understand was Fritz Sheissen’s daughter. So I proceeded to introduce an obviously Jewish Lieutenant to the party, and the response was a really tense one. The lieutenant did an admirable job of politely “putting them in an uneasy situation”. He and I had quite a laugh over it afterwards. I must admit I did get quite a fiendish satisfaction out of it.

As a whole however, the people I met in Switzerland were really nice to meet. The time there was spent mostly in skiing. I’m not much of a skier but certainly had a lot of fun- I find it quite a thrill to come down a mountain on skis when you don’t just know what they are going to do. When I got to going too fast all I had to do was fall down. Skiing to me has always been one of those things that one admires- but never does (I haven’t changed my opinions)

When I got back to my base, I found I was assigned to go to Biarritz, France to get some “book learning”. I guess they figured I needed some sense pounded into me. So here I am. Tho’ hard to imagine that all this could happen in such a short space of time- and further that it could all happen to me.

My studies at the university here are in the field of international trade and finance, also a course in problems of world peace. It’s quite a comedown to learn how little I really did know. This is really like a “break” for me. We are billeted in a modern hotel, and although there is not much heat, the weather is usually fair. I find the instructors here to be quite good. They are mostly older professors from the various colleges and universities of the United States. Most of them are civilians on leave from their institutions, but a small number are ex-college professors who were in the army. I am amazed that the army was able to get the staff it has here. One of my instructors was on the staff of the League of Nations Secretariat and taught for a while at the University of Geneva. Another was on the production board of our country during the war, before that he taught business methods at Eastern Americans University. Another is a Canadian professor who was for some years in the US Treasury department.

I must admit that they keep you busy. I don’t have the spare time to look over this part of the country as I would like. I imagine I could take the time but then I want to get as much out of this opportunity as possible.

I am enclosing a picture of Konigsce Lake near Berchtesgaden and also I’ll send you the New Year’s card I got there and didn’t send because it was after New Year when I got to where I could post it. I decided not to send it but just to show you I thought of you folks I am going to send it anyway. The only postcards I’ve been able to get in Germany were these. I guess they didn’t make any for a couple of years and they were sold long ago. So as a result I was not able to send out greetings cards. As long as I still have them though I was going to send them on. I’ve got one for Ella and Tommy and the Websters too. I’ll send Mary’s to you because I always think of one of your household- she lives so close and you’re spending half the time in each other’s houses anyhow. I hope this is alright with you Mary. If I sent it through the mail to you I’d have to do all this explaining over again, or you might think me more crazy than I really am.

Will you write and tell me what’s going on. Where are Tommy and Ella going to live? Who is Frank’s new girl now? Has Elizabeth been out eating ground berries again?

Please give my best regards to Mrs Hudson and the folks at the Spotted. 

My sincere regards to all of you and I hope I may see you all again.



Army Education Certificate

In order to be promoted to Sergeant, the British soldier needed to have completed a Second Class Army Certificate of Education. This was a qualification that showed he had mastered certain subjects sufficiently to be considered for promotion and helped weed out those soldiers of insufficient intellectual ability to succeed as an NCO. These exams were held regularly, both in the UK and at overseas garrisons. The certificate had been set up in the mid Victorian era and AR Skelley describes its foundation in his book ‘The Victorian Army at Home’:

In 1861 a new inducement towards learning was the army certificate of education. On the recommendation of the Council of Military Education three levels or standards were set out and were linked with promotion in the ranks. The third-class certificate specified the standard for promotion to the rank of corporal: the candidate was to read aloud and to write from dictation passages from an easy narrative, and to work examples in the four compound rules of arithmetic and the reduction of money. A second-class certificate, necessary for promotion to sergeant, entailed writing and dictation from a more difficult work, familiarity with all forms of regimental accounting, and facility with proportions and interest, fractions and averages. First-class certificates were a great deal more difficult and were required for commissions from the ranks. Successful candidates had to read and take dictation from any standard author; make a fair copy of a manuscript; demonstrate their familiarity with more complicated mathematics, except cube and square root and stocks and discount; and as well prepare for examination in at least one of a number of additional subjects. After 1887 candidates were examined in British history and geography in place of a special subject. First-class certificates were awarded on the results of periodic examinations held by the Council (later Director-General) of Military Education. Second and third-class certificates were presented on the recommendations of the Army schoolmaster. The third-class certificate of education was considered to be too high given the level of literacy of many army recruits, and the Commission urged the introduction of a fourth (minimum) standard.

These certificates were still very much in use in the interwar period and tonight we have a lovely example of a Second Class Certificate issued in 1932 to a private serving in India:SKM_C30819030107530My thanks go to Andy Dixon who kindly passed me this certificate, knowing my love of all things Indian. The certificate was awarded to Pte E Dixon of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry:SKM_C30819030107530 - CopyHe took his exam in Agra in December of 1932:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (2)He studied four subjects:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (3)And the award was made in Delhi on 3rd January 1933:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (4)Note how the dates have had the ‘2’ crossed out and the year typed next to them! It seems a bit mean of the Indian Authorities to do this when this was probably the only educational certificate Pt Dixon would ever receive!

It is often forgotten how important the army was in educating working class men in the early twentieth century. Many young men joining the military had very limited education, few were truly illiterate thanks to nineteenth century reforms of the education system, but many had left school at a very young age and had only limited reading, writing and arithmetic. The army education certificates encouraged them to learn and prepared them for potential promotion whilst giving an ever more technical military a pool of better educated and more useful men.


The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was an international relief agency, largely dominated by the United States but representing 44 nations. Founded in 1943, it became part of the United Nations in 1945, and it largely shut down operations in 1947. Its purpose was to “plan, co-ordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of war in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services”. Its staff of civil servants included 12,000 people, with headquarters in New York. Funding came from many nations, and totaled $3.7 billion, of which the United States contributed $2.7 billion; Britain, $625 million; and Canada, $139 million. In Europe it worked closely with the US Army, but had a civilian staff drawn from across the world, including a British contingent. Large numbers of civilians involved in the British civil service were drafted in to help the UNRRA and given training, a khaki uniform and sent to Europe. Tonight we have a letter sent back home from one lady serving with UNRRA to a friend or relation back in Great Britain:SKM_C30819021215280 - CopyThis is in the form of a ‘V Mail’, a special for of post used by the US Army and it is clear from the address above that this lady was attached to the US Army. The V Mail was a single piece of paper that acted as both a letter and envelope:SKM_C30819021215280Instructions were printed on the reverse advising how a sender was to use the pro-forma:SKM_C30819021215280 - Copy (2)Inside the sender, Marjorie Thornton has written a chatty and personal letter to her friend:SKM_C30819021215290Janet Thornlayson was another attached to UNRRA and describes being inducted into the organisation:

Sometime in 1944 an approach was made from the Foreign Office to the Divisional Food Offices asking for volunteers to go Germany after the war was over to assist in the feeding and repatriation of refugees, they were looking for personnel who were used to feeding large numbers with limited resources. The intention was that the organisation which was to be called United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. (UNNRA) I had a screening interview and heard nothing more for about a year. In January 1945 I was called to London for an interview. I went home having been accepted to wait for the end of the war.

I knew I had been accepted and would be in “khaki”…it had been found as the Allied Army advanced the refugees were being released and getting behind the lines. They needed feeding and administering, this was not a job for the army so UNNRA was brought forward. I was called to London again where it was very hot for the time of year, pumped full of all types of inoculations. Supplied with skirt and army battledress jacket
Shown a film in glorious colour on the birth of a baby in case we had to do it.
It might have been a combination of the inoculations, the heat and the film – I passed out at the railway station going home. Never passed out in my life before.
Given a few clothing coupons to get brown shoes, a service dress. Getting brown shoes in London was quite difficult

I was then ready to go to the continent. Friends at home told me I would need an iron, I bought a rusty old flat iron and spent hours cleaning it with emery paper, they gave me things that would be in short supply, coffee, talcum powder, ink – I was given a very nice camp bed from an Ex Indian army officer…

At Joux-la-Ville the teams were being assembled, they had to be International, it would not have been prudent to have one team of the same nationality. Doctors were in short supply and teams were always waiting for a doctor to arrive and be allocated.
A team consisted of a Director in our case a Dutchman, a Doctor ours was
Dr. Michele Hardi a Frenchman — he had qualified as a doctor with the French Army — when France fell he went to the French resistance ), a welfare officer, Henriette Bergl (Belgian), a Belgian warehouse officer , a supply officer,Jean Biard a Frenchman, a food supply officer (me) A French nurse, Paula and two drivers ,one Dutch, Jacque one Belgian, André. We had been allocated two Army trucks with canvas sides and tops — we were team 158. We were in France about two weeks before the end of the war. We had a few days there and then set off towards Germany.
We set off with blessing of the Quakers who were doing the organizing of the teams,
“Go with hearts full of goodwill” one of them called to us. The down to earth French doctor said to me, “ It would be better if we went with our camion (truck) full of blankets and medicaments”.

We drove through France into Belgium, through the rubble and devastation, the dust kicked up by the vehicles was indescribable, and we were permanently covered. 

We were near Brussels in the back of the truck when we heard on a small radio, I think it may have been one used by the resistance, that the war was over. We drove into the city for the celebrations. All the bars were open, all vehicles were sounding their horns, and everybody was celebrating. There was nobody that I could say I really knew — I had not got to know the team. 

For me the war was over but for the rest of the team their countries were liberated.