In wartime Britain, a simple document could, in more ways than one, be the only barrier between relative liberty and a very difficult life

If you were randomly stopped by the police today, could you prove who you are? Indeed, would you want to?

Precautions against the current pandemic have brought the greatest level of state control in living memory, with stringent restrictions on movement, discussions regarding vaccine passports and constant balance and re-balance of protection and liberty. But it is not the first time the British state has heavily regulated its citizens. Much debated in the 2000s, ID cards have always been controversial – except in wartime, when government legislation made the carrying of identity cards compulsory in an attempt to organise the population and safeguard from spies and criminals.

Long before biometrics, microchips, holograms or even widespread colour photography, Britons were issued with simple folded cards as their number one form of identity. On this one document, everything depended – employment, food supply, even daily freedom.

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