DORA rescues the nation’s morals

Hyde Park Serpentine
The nation’s moral fibre under threat at the Serpentine

On August 5th 1914 Lord Kitchener was appointed the Secretary of State for War. Like the great soldier-saint Gordon of Khartoum, he was unmarried and a non drinker. He famously refused to allow the BEF to be issued with condoms, telling them instead to simply avoid women and wine.

The other combatant nations were more realistic. But the outbreak of war was seen by many as a chance to reverse years of decadence since the death of Queen Victoria; this was a war against the sins of the British nation as well as a chance to give the Kaiser a bloody nose.

On August 8th the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed which came in time to affect almost every aspect of the nation’s life. The first target, naturally, was the demon drink. “We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink!” boomed Lloyd-George. The King offered to lock the cellars at the Palace for the duration, but when the House of Commons was invited to follow his lead, the move was emphatically thrown out. But this didn’t apply to the workers, however.

Access to drink was tightened in munitions, ship building and steel making areas, with prohibitions on ‘treating’ – no-one could buy a drink for another. The price of a pint went up from 1p to 4p. The strong beer that had traditionally soothed the lives of generations of working men disappeared forever, taking with it degrees of street drunkenness which never returned. But female drinking was another part of working class life that troubled the DORA puritans, especially now that women were becoming more prosperous than they had ever been before.

Rumours abounded that soldiers’ wives were said to be blowing their separation allowances down the boozer, drawing temperance enthusiasts to pub doors to count the women going in; (also many soldiers’ women were unmarried as common-law wives, and debates raged whether these were entitled to soldiers’ allowances). The war saw women police introduced specifically to investigate complaints from the front line about infidelities at home.

Some observers, however, thought the level of moral panic was largely down to middle class women who had never undertaken social work before, suddenly alerted to elements of working class life that up till then had gone unnoticed. Many working women did indeed venture into pubs but often to hear news, in the almost total news black out that reigned in the first months of the war. Nevertheless pub drinking hours were quickly curtailed with closing time brought down to 10pm.

Another treasured component of working class life to feel the weight of DORA was professional football. Teatotaller Frederick Charrington – a member of the famous brewing family – railed against anything that detracted men from killing the enemy. He tried to disrupt a game at Craven Cottage between Fulham and Leyton Orient, only to be ejected from the ground by the club chairman. The FA tried to fend off the inevitable by permitting recruiting rallies at half time, but April 1915 saw the last FA Cup until after the war played at Old Trafford, between Chelsea and Sheffield United with Chelsea going down 0 – 3 in what was known as the Khaki Cup Final, due the great number of soldiers in the crowd. As far as DORA was concerned nothing must get in the way of slaughtering the country’s enemies.

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