To view this media, you will require Adobe Flash 9 or higher and must have Javascript enabled.

Duration 00:10:12

1939 National Registration Night

In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the British government introduced an Act that would allow them to gather vital information about the country’s population. This information would inform their decisions on identity cards, rationing and conscription.

The night of 29 September 1939 was National Registration Night, and that evening, at 6:30pm, the Registrar General broadcast this message to the nation.

In our collection we have the script (catalogue reference RG 28/164) of the Registrar General’s broadcast, read here by Gary Thorpe.


Tonight is National Registration Night, the appointed time for the returns to be made for the National Register. The vast majority of householders are now preparing to fill up their schedules; and I am hoping to be able to help you by the following information and advice upon various points as to the return itself and the steps which you ought to take in both your own and the National interest. It may be wise for you to have a pencil and paper handy in case you want to make a note of any point which specially concerns you.

If by tonight you have not received a schedule, either owing to some rare accident or because the enumerator had been quite unable to find anyone at home to receive it, you should get busy yourself. The enumerator has probably done his best to find you. I have had reports of cases where the enumerator has called eight times without success. He can hardly do more; and as your Ration Book depends upon your return you should take the following action.

Remember that the enumerator will be making his collection rounds in the next few days: look out for him and get into touch with him. He will carry spare schedules with him; and he can provide one and help you fill it up on the spot. If you live in a scattered rural area, leave word with one of your nearest neighbours who has received a schedule, or telephone the National Registration Office.

Or you can go early to-morrow morning to the National Registration Office and ask for a blank schedule to fill up before the enumerator comes along on his collection rounds. All the same you, or some responsible members of the household, must make contact with the enumerator and deliver the schedule to him in person. The blank schedule will have to be numbered and entered up by the enumerator; and it must be handed in through him. It cannot be posted or returned to the National Registration Office direct.

As to the filling up of the schedule, I don’t believe that this should give you any difficulty. All you householders have coped splendidly in the past with the far more difficult Census schedules, and this schedule is by comparison very simple.

The instructions on the schedule tell you who ought to be included. But there is one point which has been the subject of enquiry, namely, the case of serving officers and men in the Armed Forces who happen to pass the night on private premises. Well, the rule is that no serving officer or man in the Armed Forces is to be included unless he is on leave. If he is not on leave – for example, if he is billeted on private premises or even if the is sleeping at home – he must not be included in the schedule. But serving officers and men omitted from the schedule need not on that account have any anxiety about their rationing arrangements. These will be provided for by the Service authorities.

Now as to the questions in the schedule. First as to date of birth. Practically everyone knows one’s birthday or the birthday of one’s children. Then as to the year of birth. Most people know the year in which they were born. But if you are one of those who are not very certain about it, you must know your age; and here is a simple rule for converting your age into your birth year. Consider how old you will be at the end of this year, and then subtract your age from 1939. For example, if are now 35 and will still be 35 at the end of the year, subtract 35 from 1939. The result, 1904, will be your birth year. If you are now 35 but will be 36 by the end of the year, subtract 36 from 1939. The result, 1903, will be your correct year in that case.

I hope that nobody will be coy about their date of birth. The date of birth cannot be omitted. If you omit the date of birth you will only put yourself, and everybody else, to a great deal of trouble and will probably also delay the issue of your Ration Books. Remember that the information in the return, and information given to the person making the return for that purpose is strictly confidential, and that no-one can gossip about it except at the risk of sever penalties.

As to evacuated school children lodged with a householder in a reception area, school teachers accompanying evacuated children have been instructed to see that the householder with whom a child is lodged is informed of the child’s date of birth for entry in the schedule.

Now as to occupation. You will find much useful instruction about this in the schedule. The first main consideration is – don’t be vague. Study the examples and note the kind of full and precise statement which is needed. In case of an industrial occupation, if your job goes by a technical name in the works or factory or warehouse, use that name.

If just at present you happen not to be engaged in your usual and regular occupation, but are working temporarily upon some other kind of work, do not enter the temporary work but enter your usual and ordinary occupation, trade, business or calling, even if for the present you are doing something else. What we want to know is your normal job. If you are at present out of work, or temporarily incapacitated, you need not say so. But if you are retired or permanently incapacitated, state the normal occupation which you used to follow and add the word ‘retired’.

That is how the occupation column must be filled up. There are some people, however, who have had to abandon one occupation altogether and have taken to another permanently. Now the later occupation is the one which must be returned in the schedule. But a strong desire has been expressed that such men or women should have an opportunity of offering their services for the benefit of their country in the earlier occupation, provided, of course, that they are still able to practise it and were not obliged to give it up for reasons of health or incapacity.

We have arranged to satisfy this demand and to provide for a supplementary return of a previous occupation. The arrangement in England and Wales is this: The return of the ordinary schedule must be made on the lines which I have described. But if you wish to make this supplementary return, go to the National Registration Office and ask for postcard Form N.R.Z. N.R. for National Registration; Z the last letter of the alphabet. Form N.R.Z. the form contains full particulars. It has only to be filled up and posted. But you must not fill it up until you have received your Identity Card, because you have to enter in it your Identity number. When the completed postcard form is received by my department through the post, the supplementary return will be recorded in the National Register in addition to the return upon the ordinary schedule.

Before leaving the subject of occupation, there are two points which I am asked to mention by the Ministry of Food. The first is this: Persons following an occupation which keeps them constantly travelling about the country, such as commercial travellers, travelling inspectors, private nurses, touring variety artists, lorry drivers who are unable to return home at night, and employees upon canal or river boats, will be able to obtain a special Ration Book which does not require them to be tied to particular retailers in a particular locality. If you regard your occupation as one which qualifies you to claim this special Ration Book, write and underline the word ‘Travelling’ after the statement of your occupation. If you do this you will receive a form of application upon which you can make your claim to the special Ration Book more fully.

The other point is this: If you are a seaman serving on weekly articles, or a fisherman who is normally at sea for several days at a time, you also will require a special type of Ration Book. If you fall within this description, add and underline the words ‘Weekly articles’ after your statement of your occupation in the schedule.

That is all I have to say about filling up the schedule.

Now to-morrow and on the days following, the enumerator who delivered your schedule will return to collect it and to issue Identity Cards for your household. I must repeat what the Minister of Health said lately as to giving the enumerator a helping hand.

Arrange for him to find you or some responsible member of your household at home. If your home is empty all day, leave word with neighbours to say when the enumerator can find someone at home. You can judge from what I have said before how difficult enumerators may find it to collect your schedule. When the enumerator calls, ask him in and let him do his writing at a desk or table. You want your Identity Cards properly written and you can hardly expect him to write them properly on the doorstep, particularly in the evening under blackout conditions.

When the enumerator calls to collect the schedule, he will write and issue Identity Cards for everyone included in the return. It is the duty of the head of the household to see that each Identity Card reaches the right person. If one of the persons included in the schedule removes before the enumerator calls, he or she should leave an address and arrange privately to have the Identity Card forwarded there. This is important. It applies also to people spending to-night at an Hotel, and leaving to-morrow. The Hotel Manager should make sure that he gets an address for such persons.

If the whole household removes before the enumerator calls, they must take the completed schedule with them and deliver it up by personal attendance at the National Registration Office for the area of the new address. When the return is presented at the National Registration Office, Identity Cards will be written and issued in exchange.

I have referred several times to the local National Registration Office, and you will want to know how to find it. In most cases it will be at the local council Offices; and if it is not you will be able to obtain the address by enquiry there. The address can also be ascertained by enquiry at any local Police Station.

Now I have to mention an important point about rationing arrangements. After the schedules have been collected, Ration Books will be written from them and posted to the address for which the return was made. The Ration Books may not be posted for some weeks. If you remove before receiving a Ration Book you cannot expect it to follow you about like a pet lamb. You must leave the new address behind and arrange privately to have the Ration Book forwarded. If the whole household move before receiving their Ration Books, they must make use of the postal re-direction arrangements and fill up the necessary form at their local Post Office before they remove.

This is very important; and I will repeat it. Your Ration Book will be posted to the address for which your return is made. If you remove before you receive your Ration Book, you must either make private arrangements to have it forwarded, or you must make use of the postal re-direction arrangements and fill up a form at your local Post Office before you remove.

We have done our best to make things as easy as possible; if you follow the advice I have given, everything should go smoothly.

Good night and good luck.