1914 Emergency issued passports
United States special issued war travel documents.
Two years ago the world remembered the 100th year for the outbreak of World War One. The war that was supposed to end all wars, the war that engulfed Europe for 4 years and the war that was the “cause” for the Second World War, 21 years after it ended, 20 years after the Treaty of Versailles, the same treaty that many saw as the cause for the next world war.
Much has been said and written about the outbreak of that war. How one event triggered a chain reaction that saw nearly all countries fighting one against the other. But not much was written about another aspect of that war, the travel documents that were used back then. Pre-war travel documents where rather simple and standard, for example, they did not include the image of the holder. Back then a detailed description of the holder was sufficient: Age, stature, forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, hair, complexion and face. Today, when I read these old documents I find it difficult to get an idea of the holder, but I guess if one stood in front of the individual, and read his description, well, it could have been enough. After all, the world back then was not as complex and with all those risks and conflicts as there are today.
A new feature adopted during that Great War was the addition of the bearers photograph into new or existing travel documents. They began to appear at the end of 1914 and by 1915 it was already a required standard in most issued passports and travel documents.
In 1914, at the outbreak of war, and Germany being declared as an enemy of the United Kingdom, a problem arose with civilians, from both sides of the channel, being caught up in newly declared enemy territory. These civilians now found themselves at risk. They were in dire need of travel documents that would permit them to return back home safely. But their current papers where either not acceptable or they needed newly issued travel documents, but their would-be consulates where now being shut down or already closed. What could they do?
During the Great War, fighting countries reached agreements with neutral countries regarding representation, with regards of their national interests or of their citizens, now stranded. For example, the United States government was in charge of British interests in Germany. This can explain the large hand written inscription in a 1914 US issued passport in Germany where it is stated that the holder was a BRITISH SUBJECT. Some passports even have an added sentence at the head of the document which reads “At the request of H.B.M’s Government”. Were as the German interests in the US, after the latter declared war in 1917, were in the hands of the Swiss Government, and their embassy in Washington was in charge of issuing German nationals travel documents, for example, among other matters required.
It seems that nations have a way of working things out even at times of war and peril. And once hostilities have come to an end, there is a resumption of normality to their natural pre-war state.
I would like to thank Mark, from Canada, for sending me images for this article.
Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.