The Malta Independent 22 June 2021, Tuesday

Malta: World War II identification passbooks and ration books

Anthony Zarb Dimech Wednesday, 9 June 2021, 13:40 Last update: about 13 days ago

It is normal practice during emergency wartime circumstances for the authorities to issue passbooks, identification documents and rationing books, not usually issued under normal peacetime circumstances. Identification is most important during wartime, especially when workmen and/or military personnel enter military, naval, air force zones and other strategic sites.

The coming of age of electronic identity cards and passports such as Green Passports and Digital Green Certificates is characteristic of the high-tech post-modernistic society in which we lare living.

Cards and other identification documents existed in many forms in the years prior to the Second World War and some were characteristic of the rising Social Nationalistic Party’s racist ideology in Germany or as it was known, the Nazi Party. 

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For example In 1933 an ancestral passport or genealogical document as proof of the Aryan lineage was issued giving the holder right to access public buildings, museums, theatres, sports arenas, studies, workplace and other venues.

Aside from racism and the Nazi Party, most identification papers during wartime were issued to ration essential commodities, which were scarce during wartime and as a means  to regulate the distribution of quantities of these items, such as food and kerosene.

The documents chosen for this feature were some of the main passbooks and booklets in daily use in Malta by the persons who kept them.  These civilians and servicemen/women had to produce them any time on demand by the establishments, especially the Police to ascertain the identity of the person and any entitlement for food, clothing and other benefits. The passbooks were also the means for right of entry into airfields, military stations and naval areas.  One could not be cautious enough to check such documents for fraud, falsification and the possible spy in our midst.

The following are the documents under review.

The setting up of the Special Constabulary was a means of assisting the regular Police Force in that they were vested with powers in maintaining order in the country and when necessary, repelling any attack that seemed more than likely in the days of 1940 when hostilities commenced. The card was issued by the Commissioner of Police and stated the rank and class of the Special Constable.

The Air Raid Wardens were part of the Air Raid Precautions and had the most important duty of ascertaining as quickly as possible any site where it is suspected that damage had been done and casualties inflicted.

The Army Soldier’s Service and Pay Book was kept by every soldier serving in Malta during wartime.  It kept details of the soldier’s name and description and how long he served as well as details of where he was stationed. Details of specialist employment while serving was also given as well as medical classification and prescription of glasses and any protective vaccination, if any.

The Continuous Service Booklet was issued by the director of Compulsory Service (Mexxej tal-Lieva) giving details of the worker’s name, surname and family nickname. A right thumb print was impressed instead of a signature for those unable to write.  Most of these men were employed as labourers with the Army during wartime. A fine of £10 was imposed if the booklet was lost, destroyed or defaced. A similar fine was inflicted if the person did not produce the booklet to the director or Police Station within 48 hours.

The Ration Card was issued by the Food Distribution Office and the person whose name appeared on the Ration Card was entitled to purchase from a grocer indicated on the Ration Card quantities of sugar, coffee, matches, soap, lard and/or margarine, oil, corned beef, tinned fish and tomato paste.

Changes in families were to be reported to the authority of the area within 48 hours.  Breaches of the above regulation were punishable by a fine of not less than £5 and not more than £10.  It is noted that the Rationing Office was one of the departments that kept on operating  well after the war ended and to some extent in later years.

The Malta 1944-45 Clothing Book was issued by the Protection Office of the area for 1944-45 just after the war ended. If a person lost the book it could not replaced. The coupons were not to be cut by the holder of the book but by the retailer and the holder was to see that the right number of coupons were cut out. No detached coupons were to be given to the retailer. After the war many persons were left homeless and lost their possessions during the bombing. Aid in the form of clothing stamps were issued and the Clothing Book was the means to help such persons.

The British Army issued Identity Certificates to personnel attached to different units such as the Royal Army Medical Corps. These Identity Certificates were withdrawn the minute the soldier ceased to perform the duties for which the card was specifically issued.

The HM Dockyard was one of the most strategic stations for the British establishment in Malta. Workers were issued with an identity card with the bearer’s photo. This card was issued by the manager of the department where the person was employed, such as the Engineering Department. If lost, the identity card was to be immediately handed back to the Police..

Workers were to be registered under the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance, 1934. This was compulsory for all workers of both sexes whatever their nationality who had attained the age of 14 years and whatever their wages who were in employment. Even if they were paid on the share system by piece or by time at a fixed rate or for a lump sum or otherwise, they had to be registered. This scheme was a form of insurance in case of accidents at work. 

Even persons working on their own account could voluntarily apply at the Labour Office for registration. Notice of the accident was to be given to a government medical officer as soon as practicable, but not later than 24 hours after the happening thereof. 

Both employer and worker were to affix respectively a compensation stamp on the Worker’s Compensation Contribution Receipt Book. If the booklet was lost the worker had a week’s time to procure a fresh one from the Labour Office.

The National Service Registration Identity Card was issued by the Commissioner of Labour of the Labour Office. The trade of the person was entered on the identity card. The card had to be all the time on  the registered person and shown on demand to any police officer. Loss of the card was to be immediately reported to the police. This card was in many ways the forerunner of our present day identity card.

The cards mentioned in this feature are by no means  the only cards issued in Malta during the war. They are some of the most commonly used by the people on the street and the ordinary workman and soldier.

It is noted that the different colours and the presentation of the cards were to  help the local Police identify at first hand the nature of the work the holder performed and ascertain his/her identity.

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