The 1939 Register
Within a month of war being declared on Germany in 1939, the British Government carried out a population headcount that is now available to family historians. Sarah Williams takes you through this amazing resource
On the night of 29 September 1939, households up and down Britain, from the remotest Shetland Islands to the crowded backstreets of London, filled in a form that detailed everyone who was staying that evening, including their name, date of birth, marital status and occupation.
Policemen on patrol that night had special forms they filled in for the homeless and tramps they encountered on their route. Allowances were made for communities of Orthodox Jews who were coming to the end of the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles and were forbidden by faith to put pen to paper – they were allowed to fill in their forms 24 hours later. Residents lined up in institutions and hotels to complete their details.
Only eight years previously, households had carried out the same task for the 1931 census, but this was different. This wasn’t census night, it was National Registration night.
Germany had invaded Poland at the start of September and Britain mobilised its armed forces and declared war on Germany two days later. The Government needed an accurate snapshot of the nation. How many mouths were there to feed? What human resources could be called upon? How many men were there of
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