Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mr Laithwaite’s identity card.............. stories behind the book nu 8

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

Mr Laithwaite's identity card, 1915
I am looking at the identity card of Mr Joseph Reuben Laithwaite which was issued in the September of 1915.

It tells me that he was a “timekeeper and store keeper for a Bleach and Dyeworks” and that he lived at nu 7 Gibson Street Harpurhey.

And that started me on a search for Mr Laithwaite.

I know that he had been born in Bolton in 1876 and that he married Emily Rushton in the summer of 1907 and that they had a daughter in the late February of 1911.

I can’t be sure how long they had been living at nu 7 Gibson Street but they were there in the April of 1911 and shared the 4 roomed house with Emily’s widowed father.

In time I might be able to locate that bleach and dye works where he was employed.

There were a number of these in the area including a big one just beyond Harpuhey House which would have been a short walk from where they lived.

Gobon Street, 1893
Sadly Gibson Street is no more it was opposite Beech Mount on Rochdale Road and went when the area was redeveloped.

Nor have I found where he was buried.  His name doesn’t appear on the list of burial records for the city so perhaps he lies in Bolton where he had been born.

But at least I know something of the man and that is because of the chance survival of his identity card.

Identities cards were a feature of the Second World War and lasted well into the immediate peacetime period.

Identity card, 1915
I have my own which was issued in 1949.  It recorded my movements across London and beyond from when I was born till the cards were abolished in 1952.

But I was not aware that a similar scheme had operated from 1915.

Of course it should have been fairly obvious.

During the war the Government issued a series of measures which extended their powers to prosecute the war.

It began with the Defence of the Realm Act and the Alien’s Act in 1914, went on with the Munitions Act the year later and was followed by a range of legislation and orders including of course military conscription.

And the identity card was at the heart of that debate on military conscription.

After the first heady rush to join the Colours in 1914 recruitment had fallen away.  In that first few months two million men had enlisted in the armed forces joining the hundreds of thousands of regulars, reservists and territorials but by early 1915 the numbers enlisting each month had levelled out at around 110,000 which was judged to be not enough to keep pace with the casualties on the battlefields.**

As early as August 1914 the height restrictions had been lowered and in the May of the following year the upper age limit was raised from 38 to 40.

Identity card, 1915
It therefore made perfect sense to explore just how many men were out there who were fit for military service and so on July 15th 1915 Parliament passed the National Registration Act which set out the means by which “a register shall be formed of all persons male and female between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five (not being members of His Majesty’s naval forces or of His Majesty’s regular or territorial forces).”***

The registration was to undertaken in a similar way to a census with some 29 million forms issued across England and Wales.

But unlike the census where the householder was responsible for filling in the form under the Registration Act it was the responsibility of each man and women to complete their own form.

The returned forms were collected in mid August and compiled by the local authority that in turn passed on the statistics to the Register General.

It showed there were almost five million men of military age who were not in the forces of which over a million were in scarce or essential occupations.

Knightley Street, Rochdale Road, 1900
And that leads me back to Mr Laithwaite.  His details were transferred from the form to a card index and finally a ledger which I shall go looking for.

As for the identity scheme according to one source**** once it had uncovered the numbers of men available for military service it was sidelined leading the Manchester Guardian to comment in July 1919 that “apparently, National Registration had survived merely in order to be forgotten, and the news that the Government no longer desires that it should be kept up to date sounds rather like reading the funeral service over a mummy.”*****

I doubt that many people chose to keep their card but I am grateful Mr Laithwaite held on to his.

Location, Harpurhey, Manchester

Pictures; Identity card, 1915 from the collection of David Harrop, and Gibson Street, 1893 from the OS of Lancashire, courtesy of Digital Archives Association, http://digitalarchives.co.uk/   and Knightley Street, no 51 - 53,off Rochdale Road, Harpurhey, 1900, A Bradburn  Bradburn, m25097, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass

*Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, was published in February 2017  http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/A%20new%20book%20on%20Manchester%20and%20the%20Great%20War

** The National Register: the beginning of the end of voluntary recruitment, https://greatwarlondon.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/national-register/

***First Clause of the National Registration Act 1915.

**** Identity cards in Britain: past experience and policy implications, Jon Agar, November 2005, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/identity-cards-in-britain-past-experience-and-policy-implications

*****The Passing of the National Register, The Manchester Guardian, July 7 1919

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