Searchlights over London, 1917 © IWM (Art.IWM ART 17172)

DORA

(Defence of the Realm Act)

by Pat Simons

DORA stands for The Defense of the Realm Act, which was brought in by the Government at the start of WW1 and imposed limits and rules on various activities, and anyone breaking these rules would be liable to prosecution. Further research revealed that other Government initiatives and changes impacted on everyday social activities, so when we started this project I decided to look at how DORA and other government controls may have affected the entertainment, social and leisure life choices during WW1 for the people in England and specifically here in Nottingham, and if any of these carried on after the end of the war.

From ‘The Gazette’ publication which is on the Official Public Record Website , I learned that The Defense of the Realm Act had originated in 1798 but in 1914 its acts and powers became much more wide-ranging affecting many aspects of daily life.

On August 8th 1914- just 4 days after we entered the war- The Defense of the Realm Act was passed by the Government without a debate; and then it took just 4 days for DORA to achieve Royal Assent. DORA came into operation on August 11th, and was then revised and extended at least four more times during the war.

The Government at the time were concerned about insubordination and disorder from amongst others, Trade Unions, Suffragettes, ongoing problems in Ireland, and the public's mistrust of German Business and a general feeling of fear of 'Spies in our midst'. 

Overall DORA was designed to prevent invasion and to keep morale high here at home, it gave the Government more control over people’s lives. I shall now look at some of the areas in which DORA affected entertainment and the social life of the general public, such as:

  • The banning of Bonfires & Fireworks, the Ringing of Church Bells and the Flying of Kites as all or any of these could have used by spies for signaling, this ban lasted until the end of the war when church bells rang out all over the country, and bonfires lit up the sky.
  • Pub opening hours were cut, beer had to be watered down, and people were discouraged from buying rounds of drinks. This was to decrease the time people spent in pubs, to encourage workers to return to work for the afternoon shift to increase output, particularly in the munitions factories. Also to decrease drunkenness, and prevent groups of people gathering and talking too much, and women were warned of the dangers of staying in pubs too long.

These licensing restrictions impacted on the social life of the public house, their customers and the landlords, and the new licensing hours stayed in place right through till the 1980's. 

Watneys Beer Advert
Watneys Beer advert from 1915

It was reported in the Nottingham Evening Post on January 5th 1915 that:

Licensed premises within 3 miles of Nottingham City centre were only allowed to open between 12 and 1 at lunchtime, and then from 6 until 9 in the evening, this included Nottingham, Newark and Retford, but had originally excluded Bulwell, Arnold, Carlton & Beeston, however it was extended to include these areas later in January 1915, as people were probably travelling out of town to these other areas!!

John Stringfellow of the Nottingham Licensed Vituallers Association representing 490 pubs in the area complained that sales of beer and spirits were down due to imposition of duties. Job losses had already occurred amongst barmen and draymen, and the Police had found less drunkenness than before the war.

A prosecution against a landlord for breaking the restrictions was thrown out by a judge after information was obtained that the investigator had bought a good number of drinks before disclosing who he was and why he was there!!

Then in the Nottingham Evening Post on April 29th 1915 we were told that:

Lloyd George in Parliament and Canon Braithwaite at Church House Westminster, both of whom were teetotal, called for stricter regulations and more temperance as workers were still drinking too much....this was greeted by much laughter in the House of Commons. Hmm....I do wonder if the beer in The Houses of Parliament was also watered down....maybe not!

From these facts we can see that the changes were introduced for acceptable reasons to help with the war effort, but would have restricted leisure time for people whose social lives included visiting the local pub.
Other DORA restrictions included:

  • In May 1916 British Summer Time being introduced this was to help the farmers with more hours of daylight and reduce lighting up times, and enable munition and other factory workers to work longer without using power, and also stated that all public entertainment had to finish by 10.30. We still have BST today, although thankfully we can enjoy entertainment for much longer hours.
  • Bank Holidays-When war was declared on August 4th 1914 a 3 day Bank Holiday was declared by Royal Proclamation.....it was assumed this was done to prevent a run on the banks. The May Bank Holiday in 1915 was used by many communities as a further push for recruitment into the services, but other Bank holidays that year were cancelled.

However, as the war progressed and there were more appeals for some relaxation in the regulations, by 1917 the Bank Holidays were re-instated and the workers and population were being allowed to play a little and as well as work hard.

  • There were also increases in income tax and an entertainment tax was introduced.
  • Income Tax rose during the war from 6% in 1914 to 30% in 1918, the war being a very costly business.
  • An entertainment tax was introduced in 1916 and this added between 25 & 50% to the cost of a ticket for the cinema, the theatre and Music Halls as well as increasing any entry costs for sporting events. This was finally abolished in 1960.

Many of the fund-raising events were widely reported in the local press and suggest that they may have been popular as a way of socialising, and would have filled a void left by more regular entertainments being restricted, as well as raising money for charities and the needs of the services abroad.

So, as the research progressed we found that generally people complied with the DORA restrictions, and very few prosecutions were brought in the area of entertainments. The population generally accepted and understood that the rules were necessary, however many forms of entertainment and social activities did carry on during the war. As always people found a way of enjoying themselves and escaping for a few hours from the all the bad news coming from France and from the impact of the restrictions and deprivations here,
'Life really did go on'.

© Pat Simons 2017


  1. Main Image: Searchlights over London, 1917 © IWM (Art.IWM ART 17172)
  2. Watneys Poster : © IWM (Art.IWM PST 4651)
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