The Emergency Issue Banknotes War Codes
Ireland, though covertly disposed towards the Allies during the Second World War, was very much a cut off and isolated place. The war years were officially termed “The Emergency” in the Republic of Ireland, after the passing of the Emergency Powers Act, 1939. This is reflected in most Irish banknote issues of the period 1940-1944, which bear an “Emergency Tracer Overprint Code” (or “war code”) on the standard A Series Legal Tender Note design for all denominations except the £50 and £100 notes.
The ETO code takes the form of a coloured letter in a circle on the top left and bottom right of the face of each denomination. ETO code notes are a highly collectible variation of the A Series banknotes, and include some of the rarest and most interesting issues of modern Irish paper money.
Usage of the ETO Code
The ETO code was an extra security feature, used to keep track of the Irish banknotes from the time of their production in England to their being delivered safely to Ireland. Like the dates on the banknotes, the overprint codes were chosen at random by the Issuing Authority.
The main danger to the banknotes would have been from hostile action, bombing for example, most likely at the printing facility in England, or during transit to Ireland. Such an occurrence could have destroyed the notes, or rendered them very prone to theft.
Should such a loss have occurred, then it would have been a relatively simple procedure, knowing the quantities of banknotes printed under each ETO code, to identify the losses and where necessary to cancel by decree all notes bearing a particular overprint. Such may have been the intention. However, there is no record of any batch of notes having been so cancelled.
Once banknotes of a certain code had started into circulation in Ireland, it was logical that the tracer code for that denomination should have been changed by the Issuing Authority. This would avoid any possible embarrassment should a batch of coded notes have to be cancelled, very difficult if that code had already entered official circulation.
This explains the variation in the codes used with time. It also implies that the £20 notes for which there is only one code, would all have been shipped to Ireland prior to any being put into circulation, probably being shipped in a single batch after a period of storage. With only about 33,000 £20 notes printed under code A, it is reasonable to assume that they could all have been delivered to Dublin in a single batch.