Travel In Wartime Germany With A False Passport

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traveling wartime Germany passport
(by Jim Grundy, Great War Forum)

One of the stranger stories to be reported in Hucknall was that of a journalist, Harold Jeffrey Darnton-Fraser, who spoke at a recruiting rally in Hucknall on 27th July 1915 support of local V.C. winner James Upton, 1st Notts. & Derby. traveling wartime Germany passport

In the course of his address, Darnton-Fraser said to be working for the “Daily Chronicle,” spoke about what he’d seen during his recent travels through Germany, Austria, and Constantinople. He urged men to enlist because tales that Britain’s enemies were at the end of their tether were false: “It was entirely a mistake, he said, to believe that our enemies were exhausted. Germany had gigantic resources both in men and food to call upon, and we must not forget they were as determined to win the war and as confident of winning as the Allies were.”

How had he managed to travel freely across enemy territory? He had done so under an American passport. Although he had crossed Germany and Austria safely, it seems that his true status as a British subject was discovered by the time he reached Romania, where he had to wait until 15th June 1915 before he could secure a British passport and complete his journey home. traveling wartime Germany passport

After taking part in the recruiting campaign, he then applied to the French Embassy for a visa to return to France, where his dual ‘status’ as American and British led to his arrest and subsequent trial. The proceedings were reported as follows:


“At Bow-street, London, on Tuesday [10th August 1915] before Mr. Hopkins, Harold Jeffrey Darnton Fraser, 30, described as a British subject, a journalist of no fixed home, was charged on remand with having in his possession an irregular or false passport issued by the United States Embassy, London, on March 12th last. The defendant spoke at a Hucknall recruiting meeting last month [27th July 1915], when a visit was paid by Corporal Upton, V.C., traveling wartime Germany passport

“Mr. E. B. Knight, on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, said that on March 12th last the defendant went to the American Embassy and obtained a passport in which he was described as an American citizen. With that passport, he traveled across Europe by way of Norway, Copenhagen, Germany, Austria, and Romania to Constantinople. He then returned to England through Malta and France. The passport was available for only two months and therefore expired on May 12th. During its currency, the American Embassy learned that he was not a citizen of the United States. They advised their representatives on the Continent that they were not to renew the passport.

“At the time of its expiry, the defendant was in Romania. He waited there until June 15th and then obtained a British passport to get to England. How he got that passport, it was not possible to say. After arriving home, the defendant wished to return to France and called at the French consulate in London to have his passport vised [visa?]. Captain Savy, who saw him, asked for his papers, and he produced both his British and American passports. Captain Savy reported the matter to the police, and the defendant was afterward arrested. traveling wartime Germany passport

“Mr. Knight added that it was regarded by the authorities here as a serious matter for a British subject to travel with an American passport through enemy countries. It rendered American citizens liable to be suspected.

“Captain Savy, in his evidence, said he thought in his own mind that the reason for the defendant having two passports was that he was in the Secret Service.

“The Defense.

“Mr. Travers Humphreys, for the defense, submitted that a passport could not be said to be false unless it had been tampered with. The defendant was born in Chicago to Scottish parents. When the war broke out, he acted as interpreter in the British Army but resigned his commission in January and then obtained journalistic work. For this work, he applied at the American Embassy for a passport. It was then explained that a person born in American lost his nationality if he was absent from the country for more than five years. There was, however, an exception for persons who left America for education. The defendant left America when he was a child, and for his education went to Brussels, and afterward, to Edinburgh. He then entered into a half-British and half-American firm’s employment and was led to believe that he had not lost his American nationality. traveling wartime Germany passport

“His American passport expired on May 12th, when he was in Romania. He then obtained a British passport through the British War Office. It was issued through the British Consular Office in Galatz by a person who must have known that the applicant had an American passport.

“The magistrate said he did not want to say anything unpleasant, but if there was anything behind this case, it had been cleverly concealed. He fined the defendant £50.” (‘Hucknall Dispatch,’ 12th August 1915.)

This report does leave several questions unanswered:

– How could anyone British, who, until January 1915, had held a temporary commission in the British Army (attached as an interpreter to the Indian Corps) go on to return home via Constantinople? Did he manage to bluff his way with his expired U.S. passport, or did he make the last leg of his journey up (and actually traveled back via still neutral Bulgaria and Greece)? traveling wartime Germany passport

– If he had been gathering intelligence for the Secret Service, would the case have ever been brought to court? That seems very hard to believe.

– The fine was a very substantial one for the time. But how lucky was he to escape imprisonment? Would he not have come under suspicion – a former officer, who had resigned his commission and then acquired a ‘false’ passport from a neutral country to travel within the enemy territory?

– There is a medal index card confirming his role as a Second Lieutenant working as an interpreter but no other record, it seems, of any subsequent military service. Did he continue to work as a journalist for the ‘Daily Chronicle’ and/or others?

He seems not to have made a secret of his travels within the ‘Central Powers’ and had the War Office’s trust to allow him to take part in a recruitment campaign. A fascinating story that I suppose we’ll never know much if anything, more about. But should anyone know differently, I’d love to hear from them!


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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...