Permit Book no 155148

When Permit Book No 155148 appeared on eBay for sale I knew immediately I had to add it to my collection. It is the most expensive single item in my collection of photographs and ephemera associated with female munition workers from the First World War. The regulations required the owner of this permit book to document their appearance, height and include a photograph. Photographic technology of this time was limited to black and white, which is frustrating to our modern eyes. As a dress historian I long to see the colour of the clothing worn so descriptions are extremely important. The fact that we can imagine Emily’s complexion from the description gives her picture a little more vitality and, strangely, humanity. Identifying the person, or people, in the photographs from the First World War has become increasingly more important to me; perhaps as a way to memorialise these long forgotten individuals.

The front cover of this Permit Book (Figure 1) besides detailing the issue number also provides instructions if the document was lost. The cover is also stamped with the King’s Coat of Arms and the phrase ‘Defence of the Realm’ to authenticate it as an official document. 

Figure 1: The Permit Book Cover of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own collection

Defence of the Realm Act 

The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed on the 8th August 1914, only 4 days after the declaration of war. The Act granted the Government the power to acquire land and to control the range of resources necessary for the administration and/or procurement of the war. Originally the wording of the Act was brief but, importantly, its brevity and vagueness allowed the Government to increase its scope as and when required.[1] DORA also introduced restricted opening hours for public houses, which still exist today, as Lloyd George, who initiated and triumphed a campaign to observe abstinence, exclaimed that the Empire had 3 enemies – ‘Germany, Austria and drink… the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink!’[2] This quote even appeared on temperance pledge cards such as the one in Figure 2.[3] Interestingly David Thomas was a young boy when he signed this card, he was 7 in 1911 and Lloyd George made this speech in 1915 (Figure 3). To justify the limited opening hours of public houses, drink had been blamed for the loss of factory production hours. Following the Shell Scandal of 1915, when the shortage of ammunition had been made public by Sir John French, the efficient manufacture of munitions was critical. The Ministry of Munitions was founded in May 1915 and the form munitions production took was reformed, so that by 1917 there were 150 times the amount of shells being produced, compared with the quantity of 1914.[4]

Figure 2: Pledge card signed by David Thomas. Author’s own collection.
Figure 3: 1911 Census record for David Thomas and family 3, Nicholl Street, Swansea. Courtesy of

One of the greatest concerns of the Government was the protection of the country’s security. There was thus, heightened secrecy surrounding the location of certain factories, the reporting of explosions and the developmental research of warfare. The existence of ‘Enemy Aliens’ was such that the movement and internment of foreign nationals, or their immediate descendants, was strictly controlled under DORA. Anti-German fervour led to the boycotting and, in circumstances, the destruction of German businesses, many of whom anglicised their names as a result. 

Permit Books

The most likely reason for the use of these permit books was to explain the presence of citizens in certain locations. For example, Figure 4 shows an example held in the Imperial War Museum belonging to a Miss Dorothy Florence Sweet of 15 Woodside Park Road, North Finchley, was granted permission to sketch and paint for business in the East Sussex area.[5] Tales of espionage abounded during this period so to see someone sketching may have aroused suspicions, especially if Dorothy Florence was sketching near any military camps located in and around East Sussex towns such as Lewes or Shoreham, for example. Security surrounding military areas was of paramount concern so the movement of people was strictly controlled in a combination of bureaucracy, legislation, transportation and these books were early examples of identity cards.

Figure 4: Dorothy Florence Sweet permit identification page. 

Permit Book No 155148

My permit book was issued at Dartford on the 19th May 1917. (Figure 5) It was issued to a Miss Emily Adelaide Hill, who gave her address as 44, Priory Road, Dartford, Kent. The ‘Personal Description’ notes her height as being 5 foot 4 inches with a medium build. She has been described as having fair hair and blue eyes with no distinguishing marks. The black and white photograph shows her looking slightly away from the camera lens displaying no facial expression. She has long hair, which is presumably pinned behind her head into a bun and has a pretty, simple, beaded hair grip on the right side of her head. She is 28 at this point and, although unmarried, it was the fashionable at that time for a young women of her age to wear their hair in this style, rather than loose, or in a long plait. She wears a plain white but smart shirt with a brooch at the top of the neckline.

Page 2 (Figure 6) comprises of a ‘Declaration of Identity’ in which Emily has detailed her Christian names, nationality, date of birth (27th October 1889), place of birth (Plumstead, Kent) and importantly for me – her occupation as a munition worker. Page 3 gives her father’s details as William Hill and documents both her parents as being ‘English’. Interestingly, page 4 reveals that she has no ‘male relatives (fatherhusbanddaughter’s husbandsons or brothers only) in arms for or against His Majesty and Allies during the present war’. This is perhaps surprising as there is a presumption of later generations, because of the publicly accepted narrative of the First World War, that every family had a relative serving in some branch of the armed forces.

Figure 5: Page 1 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own collection
Figure 6: Page 2 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own Collection

Page 5 (Figure 7) had to be countersigned by two persons, who witness the applicant’s own signature in order to verify their identity (which is particularly significant in Emily’s post war story – I’ll explain why later). A Mr S. G. White of 41, Priory Road, Dartford, an Engine Driver by profession is the first signatory. The second witness is a Mrs Cutter of 40 Priory Road, who described her occupation as an Engine Fitter.

Figure 8: Page 5 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own Collection

Figure 9 confirms that permission for Emily A. Hill had been granted and authorised on page 7 of the document, giving the permit number as C5059. She has been granted permission to visit the Isle of Sheppey between 22 May 1917 until 28 April 1918. The Isle of Sheppey contained military and naval bases as well as munition factories and was thus designated a military zone. It was due to this status as a military zone that the permit requirements were enforced. Permits would be checked at the railway station, which served as a barrier checking travellers’ identities before they could enter or leave the Isle of Sheppey. A strict curfew prevented civilians entering or leaving the island between 9 pm and 5 am. The railway was the only way in or out of the island as civilians were not allowed to travel by road. The rest of the book contains blank permits, which would have been completed if Emily Adelaide had had to move around the country through work, one assumes.

Figure 9: Page 7 of Permit book no 155148. Author’s own Collection

Emily Adelaide Hill

This little permit book contained only so much information and I wished to find out more about this Munitionette. So I searched for Emily Adelaide Hill on to see what I could find. An Emily Adelaide Hill, whose details match those in the Permit Book, appears on a Family Tree that has been created on the website.[6] Further searching resulted in finding Emily on the 1891 and 1911 censes. In 1891 Emily is listed as aged 1 living with her parents William, Emma and 1 month old sister Dorothea, who died a year later. Plumstead is in the Registration District of Woolwich and is geographically very close to Woolwich, where the Royal Arsenal is situated. Her father’s occupation was a ‘Hammerman’ or ‘Smith’ and may have worked at the Arsenal or in a dockyard. By the 1911 Census Emily is residing at 44, Lawson Villas, Priory Road, the address written in the Permit Book. (Figure 10).

Figure 10: 1911 census showing Emily Hill residing at Priory Road: courtesy of

The 1911 census notes her as the niece of the head of the household and her occupation is listed as a bookbinder. Her Uncle is a papermaker, perhaps she worked for him or he recommended her to an employer. Her male cousins, who reside at the same property are all involved in engineering, one at a Gun Factory. Dartford was largely an industrial area, which included many munitions and engineering manufacturing companies. As was common during this period, processions were a popular way of celebrating and promoting occupations, patriotism and as employment drive, as seen in Figure 11 of female munition workers parading through Dartford. Following the end of the war, Emily married a Henry Charles White on 14th February 1920 at the age of 30 at Holy Trinity Parish Church, High Street, Dartford. Her husband, a Henry Charles White, was the son of Samuel George White, who was the counter signatory on her Permit Book and lived a few doors away at 41 Priory Road. There do not appear any records showing Emily and Henry had children. This left me wondering whether in fact her work in the munition industry affected her ability to conceive as this was one of the many side effects of working for such prolonged periods of time with toxic chemicals. Some of the serious reactions to the chemicals included: jaundice, nasal and throat problems, headaches, chest pains, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, skin rashes, fainting, swollen hands and feet, drowsiness, depression, blurred vision, changes in menstruation, irritability and loss of appetite.[7] Emily died age 76 in Dartford in 1966. Her husband, Henry, lived for another year dying on 23rd July 1967 aged 80. They had been married for 46 years both passing away in the same local hospital.

Figure 11: Women workers parade

[1] Hughes-Wilson, John, A History of the First World War in 100 Objects. London: Octopus Publishing Group, 2014. Print, p.42

[2] The Right Hon. Lloyd George, 15th March 1915 Speech made to the Shipbuilding Employers Federation,

[3] David Thomas was still a young boy when he signed this particular card. I found him on the 1911 Census aged 7. 

[4] Hughes-Wilson (2014) p.137

[5] Permit Book no. 343102 Miss Dorothy Florence Sweet Accessed 4th August 2020


[7] Richardson, Jenny, Female Munition Workers’ Workwear in Britain, 1914-1918: A Visual and Material Cultural Analysis. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Brighton, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s