One of the early casualties of the First World War was, in many respects, the community pub or, more accurately the liberal consumption of alcohol on licensed premises. Before the outbreak of war, and partly because of the rising support of the temperance movement, urging the moderate consumption of alcohol, licensing laws began to restrict the opening hours of premises. But, immediately after the outbreak of war in August 1914, Parliament passed the Defence of the Realm Act which covered a range of measures to support the Allied effort of the war. A section of the Act looked specifically at the hours in which publicans could sell alcohol, as it was strongly believed that high levels of alcohol consumption would have a negative impact on the war effort. It therefore restricted opening hours for licensed premises to lunch (12:00 to 14:00) and later to supper (18:30 to 21:30).
But, even with these changes in force, the British Government became increasingly concerned about how the high levels of alcohol consumption still threatened the productivity of the war effort and high work ethics. If anything, consumption was increasing because in many cases wages were rising, particularly for those in industries vital to war, such as shipbuilding, as overtime became the norm. A campaign to persuade people to consume less alcohol led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, had little effect, so in October 1915 the British government announced a further series of measures they believed would reduce alcohol consumption further. A ‘No Treating Order’ laid down that any drink ordered was to be paid for by the person supplied, so to dissuade rounds of drinks or drinks on credit. The maximum penalty for defying the Government order was six months’ imprisonment.
However, the government also became increasingly concerned about the increase in alcohol consumption in specific areas of the country vital to the war effort. An enormous cordite munitions factory built to supply ammunition to British forces had been established in the town of Gretna, just over the Scottish border, 12 miles north of the English city of Carlisle, employing over 15,000 workers. Although most of the workers were well-behaved, the cases of drunkenness, anti-social behaviour, and resulting convictions quadrupled. There was also a heightened risk of hampering the war effort through increased sick absences and the threat of serious accidents as workers had to manually handle nitro-glycerine and guncotton into cordite paste, and load the matter into shell cases.