The Reffell Family in the 1939 Register

Friday 29 September 1939

The National Registration Act 1939 was passed by Parliament as an emergency measure at the start of the Second World War to provide for the establishment of a National Register of the civilian population of the United Kingdom. Compulsory identity cards based on data held in the new register were issued, and required civilians to present their these cards on demand to police officers and other authorised persons. Following the passing of the Act on 5 September, registrations and the issuing of identity cards began on 29 September. The register was also intended to support the administration of rationing after this was introduced in January 1940.

The register differed from the usual UK census in a number of ways, one of which was the place of birth was not recorded, instead the exact date of birth was required. It was always intended that the register was meant to be a living document. In fact it became the basis of the post-war National Health Service and National Insurance system and was in use up until the 1990s. This means that the register was amended in time to show any corrections found and also surname changes as females married and remarried. Records of individuals born after 1939 were also included, but this information is contained in separate books that are not currently available.

In England and Wales, a team of 65,000 enumerators delivered the forms ahead of Friday 29 September 1939. Householders were required to record details on the registration forms, and on the following Sunday and Monday the enumerators visited every householder to check the form and issue an completed identity card for each of the residents. In all some 45 million identity cards were issued. At this time, the estimate of the population of England and Wales for 1939 was 41.465 million exclusive of army, navy and merchant seamen abroad. The figure of 45 million may include the members of the armed forces abroad or in Scotland.

For England and Wales, the original register books were collated and maintained by the Central National Registration Office at Southport. In 2015 the National Archives entered into an agreement whereby these records (as updated to 1991) have been scanned and digitised, and are now available on some commercial websites. Although not covered by the 100 year rule like a census, those people included who are thought to be still alive have been redacted.

The registration process in Scotland was conducted by the General Register Office for Scotland. The register was also used as the basis for the NHS Central Register from 1948 onwards, but unlike in England and Wales, the original register books remained with the GROS and are now held by the National Records of Scotland. Only limited details of people in the Scottish 1939 Register who have died are available, and this is limited to the named individual, their address, marital status, age and occupation. Records for Northern Ireland are accessible via the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Records for the Isle of Man have not survived.

There are 174 individuals in the 1939 Register (as currently redacted) with the surname Reffell. Everyone listed has an occupation, thus there are 67 females whose ‘occupation’ is shown as Unpaid Domestic Duties. Other occupations range from a student at the Royal Veterinary, a Staff Officer at the Air Ministry, a RAF Sergeant at Uxbridge and a Police Sergeant in the 92K Division.

There are twelve people shown working on the railways, two teachers, three jewellers and ten clerks. Surprisingly given the Reffell history, there was in 1939 only one person shown as working in the brewing trade, and there are only two servants. Although most children are redacted, there are 18 shown as being at school or under school age.

A county by county breakdown of where there are more than twenty people shows London with 33, Middlesex 29, Kent 23, Surrey 21 and Glamorganshire with 21.