Ten Surprising Laws Passed During The First World War
The outbreak of war in 1914 brought many new rules and regulations to Britain. The most important of these was the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), passed on 8 August 1914 ‘for securing public safety’.
DORA gave the government the power to prosecute anybody whose actions were deemed to ‘jeopardise the success of the operations of His Majesty’s forces or to assist the enemy’. This gave the act a very wide interpretation. It regulated virtually every aspect of the British home front and was expanded as the war went on.
Here are a few of the surprising measures introduced by DORA – some of which still affect life in Britain today.
- Whistling: whistling for London taxis was banned in case it should be mistaken for an air raid warning.
- Loitering: people were forbidden to loiter near bridges and tunnels or to light bonfires.
- Clocks go forward: British Summer Time was instituted in May 1916 to maximise working hours in the day, particularly in agriculture.
- Drinking: claims that war production was being hampered by drunkenness led to pub opening times and alcohol strength being reduced. The ‘No treating order’ also made it an offence to buy drinks for others.
- Drugs: possession of cocaine or opium, other than by authorised professionals such as doctors, became a criminal offence.
- Blackouts: a blackout was introduced in certain towns and cities to protect against air raids.
- Press censorship: press censorship was introduced, severely limiting the reporting of war news. Many publications were also banned.
- Postal censorship: private correspondence was also censored. Military censors examined 300,000 private telegrams in 1916 alone.
- White flour: fines were issued for making white flour instead of wholewheat and for allowing rats to invade wheat stores. Further restrictions on food production eventually led to the introduction of rationing in 1918.
- Foreign nationals: DORA put restrictions on the movement of foreign nationals from enemy countries. The freedom of such ‘aliens’ was severely restricted, with many interned.