I love rummage sales, yard sales, garage sales, boot sales (for my British side), and estate sales. I can’t tell you how many really cool things I’ve brought home from those sales. Most of it I have no plans for, but they’re just too cool to leave behind.
And then there’s the special items. The ones you can’t leave behind no matter what. The ones that haunt you until you turn the car around and go back, praying it’s still on the table where you last saw it — if you’re stupid enough not to snap it up then and there and cradle it to you all the way home. It’s not an experience I have often these days, but last weekend, I had it — with quite possibly the most special item I’ve ever found at a sale.
It’s a simple US passport, a mild burgundy in color with gold embossing. Big deal, you say? Maybe. Keep reading, though.
It was carried by a man named Ernest W. Reid, and used between 1936 and 1939.
Now does it make sense? Here, maybe this will make it more clear: he was in England on September 3, 1939.
If that date doesn’t ring a bell, then your history teacher needs to be fired. If it does, then your hands are probably shaking like mine were when I picked this up and saw that stamp. Because this man was in Dover, England, on the very day England declared war on Germany. Starting World War II.
The next stamp is just as chilling in its finality: No Return to United Kingdom. He had fourteen days to leave the UK.
For me, a historian who is passionate about finding and saving these scraps of history, this passport is not just ink and paper: it’s a wormhole. I can look at these images and know where Ernest Reid was at any given point on his journeys. He wasn’t just in England; he was in Oslo, Brussels, Paris, and yes, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. You want chills down the spine? Try flipping a page and seeing a bright red swastika stamped there. I don’t know how many people have looked at this passport since that moment, but to me, I can look at that stamp and I don’t see all those other hands; I see that one hand, holding that one stamp. That one Nazi immigration officer, looking Ernest Reid in the eye as he checks the passport photo against the man standing before him, asking his business in Germany and his duration of stay, before he stamps that passport and hands it back to Reid.
So I’m on a quest. I needed another, obviously. My urban fantasy series, my fourteen-year old rumrunner, my Etsy store, my 13 classes, and my cats and horses — oh, and my OTHER historical research project! — clearly aren’t enough. I want to know more about this Reid, and I’m going to document my findings in this blog. It won’t be every week, but stay tuned — I’m determined to find out just why this guy was in the Sudetenland in 1938, and why he was in Germany just weeks after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
And why on earth he happened to be in England on such a pivotal day.