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April 1, 2017 10:07 AM   Subscribe

It's 1923. You're in Nottingham. How do you get to Paris? How do you get to Berlin? How long does it take? Added difficulty: Scotland Yard is looking for you and before leaving the country you need to obtain a new passport with a bogus name. You obviously need to see a guy about a thing, but who and where? A guy I'm researching actually pulled this off. Help me figure out how?

Am looking for specific details on train lines, ocean liners, ports of call, etc. that may have been used in 1923 for European travel between England, France, and Germany. Also information on how a person might have scored a fake passport. Was it as easy as applying for one using a pseudonym? (I know from police reports that he left the country using phony documents.)
posted by mudpuppie to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
In the 1960s I was able to get a British passport urgently by going to the London passport office with photos and some papers, which I could have fairly easily forged, showing my identity. The passport was issued the same day, might even have been while I waited but I'm not sure. Getting a passport in the '20s would likely have been even less bureaucratic.

Sorry, no details on travel, but in the 60's I'd take a train to ferry terminals, where ferries across the channel were walk-on, with connecting trains at the various ports they went to. It was all very simple.
posted by anadem at 10:30 AM on April 1, 2017

This fellow might be someone to ask about older passports:

Dover to Calais was the standard crossing for legit passengers heading to France and points south. If, however, your fellow had headed north, he might have picked up a transatlantic ship heading to, say, Denmark.

Or possibly a freighter, either as stowaway or hired hand on the kind of ship where few questions were asked. Could he have a stolen passport? Does it have to be of a certain country?

Interesting topic, regardless. I do hope there's a public project at the end of this.
posted by BWA at 10:33 AM on April 1, 2017

Frederick Forsythe in The Day of the Jackal had a detailed account of one way to get a false British passport in the 1960s, which I assume would have been valid before that:
1. Go through a few country churchyards looking for a child born around the same year as yourself, who died young.
2. Note the details of the Rector's name from the board outside the church.
3. Apply for a real birth cert for the dead child.
4. Fake the name and parish stamp for the Rector as a reference on the passport application form, enclosing the real birth cert.
5. Voila!

With regard to channel crossings, before the days of big roro ferries there were lots of routes across the North Sea as well as the English Channel - for example, this blog has a 1920s poster for the Grimsby-Hamburg route, mentioning that this crossing was being advertised by the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). This LNER ships page says that the Harwich - Hoek van Holland ferry route allowed "a passenger to leave London in the early evening and reach as far as Berlin by the next night."
posted by Azara at 1:08 PM on April 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Crossing the channel illegally has always been easy. It's just a short jaunt for a fishing boat. Smuggling was a major occpuation in coastal towns until the british opened up trade making it pointless (Brexit may fix this!)
posted by srboisvert at 3:30 PM on April 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've found old guidebooks can sometimes be helpful, and now a number of them are digitized online. For example, the 7th edition of the Baedeker Great Britain guide is available, and has a section on the various routes to/from Great Britain and Continental Europe.
posted by gudrun at 4:02 PM on April 1, 2017

Passport standards were much less stringent in the 1920s, with photographs being a fairly recent addition.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:26 PM on April 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I believe my great grandfather came down to London from Newcastle on the coal boat: This site suggests that this was a common route for people to travel from the northern port towns to southern England - the coal boats were quicker, cheaper and generally easier all round than braving the trials of the great north road.
posted by pharm at 6:19 AM on April 2, 2017

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