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Defence of the Realm Act

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Britain abstains from drinking – ‘Not during the war, thank you.’

On 8 August 1914, the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed, giving the government sweeping powers to act in the interests of national security.  DORA, as it was known, was amended several times throughout the war and would increasingly impact on the daily lives of Britons.

One of the most significant aspects of DORA from the viewpoint of the ILN titles was the introduction of censorship.  Lord Kitchener already had clamped down on the presence of journalists at the front and the establishment of the Press Bureau meant that only expurgated news was spoon-fed to the media.  Letters home from the front were also censored.  DORA meant that newspapers and magazines were left to self-regulate (as before the war) but were also asked to submit any potentially sensitive material to the censor for vetting, while any paper publishing reports that might cause despondency or a lowering of morale among the population would be heavily penalised.  The Globe newspaper, for instance, was suppressed for two weeks after suggesting in November 1915, that Kitchener was being forced to resign.

DORA also limited Britain’s drinking habits, a particular mission of Lloyd George who famously declared, ‘We are fighting the Germans, the Austrians and drink, and as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is drink.’  Convinced that improved sobriety would directly increase armaments production, under DORA he was able to slash pub opening hours and ban ‘treating’ or the buying of rounds.  In response to these changes, a Tatler cover from the period shows a British bulldog [pictured] turning its nose up at a tankard of beer.   The closure of pubs between lunchtime and early evening would continue until the Licensing Act of 1988.

DORA would also impose blackouts in London and towns on the south coast, restrict the movements of foreign nationals of enemy countries and introduce daylight saving in order to extend hours for agricultural production.  It also banned whistling for taxis, the lighting of bonfires, the flying of kites or the feeding of wild animals.  Fines were imposed for making white rather than wholemeal flour, or for allowing rats to overrun wheat stores.