National Registration Act 1939
The National Registration Act 1939 (2 & 3 Geo. VI c. 91) was an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. The initial National Registration Bill was introduced to Parliament as an emergency measure at the start of World War II. Royal assent given on 5 September 1939.
The Act established a National Register which began operating on 29 September 1939 (National Registration Day), a system of identity cards, and a requirement that they must be produced on demand or presented to a police station within 48 hours.
World War 2 Identity Cards
Every man, woman and child had to carry an identity (ID) card at all times and the cards would include the following information:
- Occupation, profession, trade or employment
- Address; Marital status
- Membership of Naval, Military or Air Force Reserves or Auxiliary Forces or of Civil Defence Services or Reserves.
65,000 enumerators across the country delivered forms ahead of the chosen day. On 29 September 1939, householders were required to record details on the registration forms. On the following Sunday and Monday the enumerators visited every householder, checked the form and there and then issued a completed identity card for each of the residents. All cards at this time were the same brown/buff colour.
Three main reasons for their introduction:
- 1. The major dislocation of the population caused by mobilisation and mass evacuation and also the wartime need for complete manpower control and planning in order to maximise the efficiency of the war economy.
- 2. The likelihood of rationing (introduced from January 1940 onwards).
- 3. Population statistics. As the last census had been held in 1931, there was little accurate data on which to base vital planning decisions. The National Register was in fact an instant census and the National Registration Act closely resembles the 1920 Census Act in many ways.
1943 (Blue) Identity Card
The more commonly found blue version of the identity card (see image) was issued in 1943 for adults. Until then, adult identity cards had been brown, the same colour as children's cards. Government officials had green ID cards with a photograph whilst those in the armed services had separate identification cards.
Children under 16 were issued with Identity Cards but they were to be kept by their parents. Identification was necessary if families got separated from one another or their house was bombed, and if people were injured or killed.
The sections in the card showing the change in address were important, as many people moved several times during the war.
Class Codes were used for administration and electoral purposes. Cards were marked A, B, C, N or V.
- A: Aged over 21
- B: Aged between 16 and 21
Additionally, all class code 'B' cards were followed by three numbers. The first two indicated the year in which the holder was born whilst the third indicated which quarter of the year the holder was born in. For example, B. 252 would show that the holder was born in the second quarter of 1925 and would also indicate to a polling clerk that the holder would attain adult status in the second quarter of 1946 (i.e. reach the age of 21).
- C: Appeared on yellow cards issued to workers from 'Eire' (Ireland) who were conditionally admitted to Great Britain.
- N: Cards re-issued under an altered name.
- V: Placed on yellow cards issued to people over 16 arriving in this country who declared that they were usually resident outside the UK.
Temporary buff cards were issued to children under 16 but did not carry a class code.
Repeal of the Act
On 21 February 1952, it no longer became necessary to carry an identity card. The National Registration Act of 1939 was repealed on 22 May 1952. The last person prosecuted under the Act was Clarence Henry Willcock.
Access to information
The records created under the National Registration Act are held by The National Archives but are not freely accessible to the public. Subject to restrictions to safeguard the privacy of people who are or may still be living, information can be obtained from the NHS Information Centre about specific individuals for a fee. The National Archives has entered into an agreement under which the original documents have been digitised scanned and are available (subject to privacy restrictions) on the Findmypast website.
- Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Report, 20 July 2004
- Michael Caines, Identity crisis, Times Online, 11 April 2006
- Nick Cohen, Blunkett's identity crisis, The Observer, 30 June 2002
- Jon Agar, Identity cards in Britain: past experience and policy implications
- Privacy International, History of ID Cards in the United Kingdom, 1 Jan 1997
- Statewatch, Identity cards in the UK - a lesson from history
- The 1939 National Identity Card