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10 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.

  • 1. Whistling

    The BRCS and Order of St John Stores, 1920, by Walter Spradbery.
    The BRCS and Order of St John Stores, 1920, by Walter Spradbery.
    Q 115131E

    Whistling for London taxis was banned in case it should be mistaken for an air raid warning.

  • 2. Loitering

    Forth Bridge defences at Inchgarvie during the First World War.
    Forth Bridge defences at Inchgarvie during the First World War.
    Q 115131E

    People were forbidden to loiter near bridges and tunnels or to light bonfires.

  • 3. Clocks go forward

    Farm hands, boys and girls and German prisoners on a Suffolk Farm, 1918.
    Farm hands, boys and girls and German prisoners on a Suffolk Farm, 1918.
    Q 31045

    British Summer Time was instituted in May 1916 to maximise working hours in the day, particularly in agriculture.

  • 4. Drinking

    A woman brewer securing the lid of a barrel of beer.
    A woman brewer securing the lid of a barrel of beer.
    Q 31065

    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.

  • 5. Drugs

    Female chemist at work in a laboratory.
    Female chemist at work in a laboratory.
    Q 28370

    Possession of cocaine or opium, other than by authorised professionals such as doctors, became a criminal offence.

  • 6. Blackouts

    Searchlights Over London, 1917, by T B Meteyard.
    Searchlights Over London, 1917, by T B Meteyard.
    Art.IWM ART 17172

    A blackout was introduced in certain towns and cities to protect against air raids.

  • 7. Press censorship

    Lieutenant Colonel Charles à Court Repington, prosecuted under DORA for disclosing secret information to The Morning Post.
    Lieutenant Colonel Charles à Court Repington, prosecuted under DORA for disclosing secret information to The Morning Post.
    HU 82345

    Press censorship was introduced, severely limiting the reporting of war news. Many publications were also banned.

  • 8. Postal censorship

    Women sorting newly arrived mail for despatch to the various censorship departments.
    Women sorting newly arrived mail for despatch to the various censorship departments.
    Q 114815

    Private correspondence was also censored. Military censors examined 300,000 private telegrams in 1916 alone.

  • 9. White flour

    Female workers pack flour in a mill at the works of Rank and Sons, Birkenhead, September 1918.
    Female workers pack flour in a mill at the works of Rank and Sons, Birkenhead, September 1918.
    Q 28268

    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.

  • 10. Foreign nationals

    Poster, Notice to Alien Enemies, 1914.
    Poster, Notice to Alien Enemies, 1914.
    Art.IWM PST 8365

    DORA put restrictions on the movement of foreign nationals from enemy countries. The freedom of such ‘aliens’ was severely restricted, with many interned.