WW2 – A Cornish Story – The Sailor, The Superintendent Registrar and the Marriage License

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WW2 – A Cornish Story – The Sailor, The…

On tissue thin paper, in a bound letter book I found six letters that told the story of a Sailor in the Merchant Navy who wanted to get married and a Superintendent Registrar who tried to fight for what he saw as an injustice.

In March 1940 the Sailor went to the Registrars as he wanted to get married whilst on a short leave.  In February 1940 a Circular had been issued so that members of HM Forces could get a cheap licence and the Sailor asked if he would be able to apply for one.  

Royal Navy disciplinary rules applied to all men in the Merchant Navy and the Sailor had an official badge so the Superintendent Registrar felt the Sailor was entitled to a cheap licence, but he contacted the County Solicitor to check.  The County Solicitor agreed in theory but he could only see that the matter related to members of HM Forces.

The Superintendent then rang the offices of the Registrar General.  He asked whether or not a member of the Mercantile Marine or Mercantile Service was entitled to be issued with one of the cheap forms of Licence and if a decision could be made on merit.  The person he spoke to said the matter had been raised before.  There was nothing clear in the instructions, but he thought it was possible.  He agreed with the Superintendent that he could get a Certificate of Claim for Remittance of Stamp Duty and issue a cheap licence, if the Sailor gave an undertaking to repay the additional amount if it became necessary.  

The Superintendent had already written to the Clerk of the County Council in February 1940 to say he considered that £5 would be a sufficient grant for the purposes of advancing Stamp Duty for cheap licences.  So he issued the Licence. He wrote to the Registrar General setting out the above and asking for clarification.

On 5th April 1940 the Superintendent wrote to the Sailor.  The Registrar General had confirmed that the reduction in fees for Marriage by Licence only applied to Members of the Royal Navy, Army or Royal Air Force.  The Superintendent said that his view hadn’t changed but that he had to ask for the one pound seventeen shillings balance of the Marriage Licence fee which was two pounds fourteen shillings and six pence.  

He also wrote another letter to the Registrar General putting forward his view that seeing as the Merchant Navy was “in a manner of speaking auxiliary to the Royal Navy” as “all members are immediately under Admiralty control and orders”, he considered the Merchant Navy should be on the same footing and be given the same privileges as the Royal Navy during the hostilities, particularly in view of the fact that being a member of the Merchant Navy precluded them from joining the Royal Navy in any capacity.  He concluded by saying that he had asked the Sailor for the additional payment.

The Superintendent must have received another letter as he wrote to the Clerk at County Hall on the 19 April acknowledging receipt of this letter and confirming that he was “prepared to fall in line with other Superintendents in regard to the matter of Fees for Marriage Licences for Members of the Armed Forces”.

You could feel the reluctance of the Superintendent coming from those tissue thin papers when he asked the Sailor for the outstanding money and the begrudging way in which he agreed to conform to his instructions.

This paperwork was discovered as part of my research helping to uncover stories in our collection as part of the Imperial War Museums Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We’d love to know what you think about our Cornish Second World War stories. We’d be really grateful if you could take a couple of minutes to complete this short survey.

Karen North


Museum of Cornish Life