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Caithness at War: Week 4

25 September - 1 October 1939

German forces began their final assault on the centre of Warsaw on Tuesday 26 September; the Polish forces there finally surrendered on Thursday. On that day, Germany and Russia officially divided Poland in the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty. On Saturday he German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee sunk its first British merchant ship, the Clement, off Brazil, and French forces which had advanced into Germany were ordered back to the Maginot line, ending the only French offensive of the war.

In Caithness, the first full month of the war ended quietly. Most of Wick’s fishing fleet, the boats which used seine nets and operated outside three miles from the coast, had been confined to port since the outbreak of war (no boat had been allowed out further than three miles). Now the fishing limit was extended to four miles, so these boats could fish in the narrow strip between three and four miles: it was unsatisfactory but, as the John O’Groat Journal observed, it was still “better than being idle”.

Following on from the concerns noted last week by the Council’s Education Committee about shortages of teachers, Bower School recorded on 1 October that, “The Headmaster has been called up for Military service and Mrs Miller, Wick, has taken up duty as temporary Head Teacher with Miss Simpson, Canisbay, as temporary Assistant Teacher.”

Friday 29 September was National Registration Day. The National Registration Act had been rushed through at the beginning of the month, receiving royal assent on 5 September. Now, using a similar methodology to the census, enumerators delivered forms to every address in the country, to be completed on the 29th; and then, on the weekend of 30 September-1 October, the enumerators visited each household, checked the details, and issued registration cards there and then.
Until the Act was repealed in 1952 identity cards like the one illustrated here [the name has been redacted] were compulsory and had to be produced on demand, or presented to a police station within 48 hours.

Hetty Munro was staying at the Stennes Hotel on Orkney. She recorded, “One night we had to do the National Registration Forms and had quite a lot of fun with all the people staying in the Hotel. All very confidential about their ages, etc. As if I was interested! Soon after this we got our identity cards which we were supposed to carry around with us everywhere and now we hear that rationing is to start quite soon.”

Also staying at the hotel were several members of the Fleet Air Arm who recounted their experiences of dawn and dusk patrols: “The best time of all was when they came to say that they really had got a whacking big German ship with her entire crew and a terrific cargo.”