Although many are familiar with the World War II Identity card, what is less well known was that a generation before in World War I a very similar scheme had been enacted. In 1915 it was agreed in parliament to create a register of all adult males and females between the ages of 15 and 65 in the United Kingdom who were not already serving in the armed forces. 29 million forms were distributed and individuals were responsible for filling them out. On the 15th August 1915 the forms were collected up and collated at a local level before the data was passed up to the central government system. The forms were retained until 1921 when local authorities were ordered to destroy them.
Once the local authority had received your form, they sent back out a registration card which you were to keep in a safe place once you had signed it. Unlike in the Second World War, this was not an identity card, but rather proof that you had completed the national registration. The card was printed on buff card and folded in half, with the Royal Coat of Arms on the front:
The rear of the card gave instructions on what to do with the card and how to update your address if you moved house:
The inside of the card had space for the personal details of the recipient, here we can see that this card was issued in Liverpool to an Elizabeth Harvey of 21 Lindley Street:
She does not appear to have signed it as she was instructed however! The Surrey In the Great War has an excellent article on the National Registration scheme that can be read here, one paragraph of which describes the frustrations of the clerks collating the information for the local council.
An article in ‘The Pilgrim’, the magazine of Reigate Grammar School, of April 1916 commented on the other side of the matter – the actual collection of the completed ‘blue and white’ forms, of which the anonymous author noted that for every ‘two or three hundred forms’, probably only ‘a dozen or two’ would have been completed correctly and went on to lament that ‘after the method of filling in the form had been minutely explained to an occupant of every house … The inability of some people to do as they had been requested was appalling … It was surprising how few people knew their own surnames’. The author found many of the replies humorous, especially one reply to ‘Question iii (regarding single bliss or otherwise)’ where a gentleman stated he was ‘“married and knew it” – underlined twice’. He particularly enjoyed answers to Question iv (occupation), where spelling and accent amused him – for example, a ‘Casular’, a ‘Meshin Hand’, an ‘Offis boy’, an ‘Ise Vendor’, the person who had a ‘Grosery Beesness’ and the Cockney who was a ‘Lythe Hand’. Other oddities noted in this category were a ‘Fried Fish Operator’, an ‘Emergency Ration’, a ‘Fish-monger’s Photographer’, a ‘Chief Stoker, other trade Milliner’, a ‘Hydraulic lift driver, matirial for wich use coal’, a ‘Cheesemonger working on Explosives’ and an ‘Exploded Worker’. Of women’s responses, ‘the answer which appealed to us most, perhaps because of its neatness and brevity, was that·of the lady who was “Wife to my husband”. We are uncertain whether this was the person who erased “Form for Female” at the head of the form and inserted in its place, “Form for Lady”’. Finally, the author noted ruefully that ‘Nearly all these details had to be recopied on to Pink Forms, Green Forms, Buff Forms, and Certificates. And when it is stated that there were at least 40,000 male Forms … the magnitude of the task may be imagined’, even if ‘compensation for working till 10 o’clock at night and all day Sunday’ was found in the comedy provided.