Keeping your ID stylish

As a little kid during our family summer stays at various holiday camps along the South coast, one ritual emerged quickly each year and that was getting a new ID bracelet with each visit.

We would have probably needed a replacement as the previous years one, had been lost, stolen or simply perished in the rough and tumble of daily life back then

You could buy these from the camp shop with many names already engraved on them or if you were very lucky win one at a visiting fair or on one of the games in the arcade and get your mum to have it engraved later.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure these would have been the first piece of jewellery we would have considered wearing at that tender age. Back then, it was simply a fashion thing, but unbeknown to us then, it was a fashion that would stay with us into much later life.

So where did the desire to have one start? My guess would be that the older male relatives we knew, dad, uncles and their mates would be wearing one and we wanted to be just like them.

It was only as we entered our late teens, that one or two of us would have spotted our musical heroes also wearing one either in old photographs from the 1960s or our new heroes like Paul Weller, sporting one on a daily basis.

A few years ago, your correspondent was flicking through a rack of vintage Soul/Jazz albums in Honest Jon’s record shop on Portobello Road when a sleeve caught my eye. The name of the artist and the album are buried deep and yet one day might reappear, but it was the cover photograph that stopped me mid flick.

The guy on the cover was wearing his ID bracelet with pride and his name and date of birth was stamped/engraved upon it.

By this stage I guessed that the origin of what we were wearing would lie in the military and some research confirmed that with identity tags introduced in the British army as early as 1907, with name, service number and religion among the details upon it.

Some later tags were made of a compressed fibre, which was more conducive to hotter climes. However sailors, fearing the composite material would rot in water, began to wear ‘unofficial’ ID tags, including wrist bracelets.

The bracelets were embraced by the US military as part of their uniform and were worn during World War II. Men then simply left them on when discharged as a sign of pride having served and they simply became ‘jewellery’.

The popularity of ID bracelets spread further to the civilian world in the 1950s and 60s as civilians began wearing them engraved with the name of soldiers reported either as missing in action or as being a POW during the Korean War and later Vietnam War.

Once the soldier returned home, those wearing his name would mail the bracelet to him. If it was learned that the soldier had died, the bracelets were sent to the family.

Over the years, I’ve noticed James Dean, Al Pacino in The Godafather, Paul McCartney, Kenney Jones of The Small Faces and Paul Newman, among many others, all wearing one.

And I still wear one today. Made of silver and bought in Italy (sorry Leysdown).

Well, good enough for them, it’s good enough for me

The Mumper of SE5