Identity is something we’re quite preoccupied with these days. Identity theft, identity cards and ‘who do you think you are?’. For two of my family, ID cards were a fact of life. They carried them during two separate wars with Germany.
Tom, a policeman, was in a reserved occupation in World War II. A Schedule of Reserved Occupations was drawn up in 1938 and included farmers and railwaymen as well as policemen. These jobs were regarded as vital to the country at home. Nonetheless, Tom went to the recruiting offices of every armed service and tried to enlist. He was turned down – because a stray cricket ball had punctured his eardrum when he was a boy and left him deaf in one ear.
This picture ID card is dated 1940 and was an expanded version of a Police Warrant Card. White dress gloves are tucked into the choker-collared tunic of the day, made from of heavy dark blue serge. His hair is short (the rule of never having hair touching the collar was one he adhered to for the rest of his life) and he looks ridiculously young, although he was 21 when this picture was taken. During the war, he worked for Kirkcaldy Borough Police on the Fife coast. I don’t think they were ever in real danger from invasion or bombing there, but the threat must have seemed real enough at the time.
I found this ID card near the end of my father’s life. He wasn’t a sentimental man, and the fact that he had chosen to keep it all those years must have meant it was precious to him.
The other person in possession of an ID card in my family takes us to my father’s Aunt Annie. The year is 1917 and World War I still has one more bloody year to run. Annie, who was my grandfather’s sister, married a foreigner, a French stonemason named Laurent Storione. So her ID, although also issued by the local constabulary, was quite different in its purpose than my father’s. As the wife of a foreign national in 1917, she was required to carry ID with her at all times. Despite the fact that France was a British ally in the fight against Germany, Laurent would still be viewed as a foreigner and by association, his wife Annie could have been said to pose a risk to national security.
Annie was the third child of thirteen born to Thomas Cowan & Anna Brown. Her father served in Her Majesty’s Army for many years, seeing service in India, South Africa and England. This photograph clearly shows a woman who is not prosperous. Both her dress and hairstyle are more suited to 1900 than 1917 and her best outfit, donned here for the photographer, would have lasted for many years. Her expression is fairly grim and with good reason. At the age of 44, she had borne seven children and raised them with little help from her husband, who often disappeared for months on end, ostensibly on political missions (he was a firebrand Communist well known to the authorities) but there was talk of other women. Annie died only seven years after this picture was taken in 1924. My cousin, her granddaughter, commented that “She died of a broken heart, but she was really just worn out and had taken to Hell’s Wine to help”. There apparently was no money for a burial and she lies at rest with her brother John, my grandfather, and his wife Martha.