The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) came into force in August 1914. It entitled the government to exercise wide-ranging powers over the population, including censorship of newspapers and publishers, imprisoning of suspects without trial and the commandeering of resources for the war effort. Licensing hours were also restricted. The unpopular decision to not repeal this legislation became a subject for debate during the December 1918 General Election campaign.
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The outbreak of war brought many new rules and regulations, the most notable being the Defence of the Realm Act, (DORA), passed on 8 August 1914 'for securing public safety'. It regulated virtually every aspect of the British home front. Though it was originally intended to control sensitive military information, as the war progressed its scope greatly expanded.
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. Press censorship was introduced and the freedom of movement curtailed. People were forbidden to loiter near bridges and tunnels, and even whistling for London taxis was banned in case it should be mistaken for an air raid warning. Conditions of work were strictly controlled and a blackout introduced in certain towns and cities. In May 1916, British Summer Time was instituted, a measure that is still in practice today.
DORA also intervened in British drinking habits. By the spring of 1915 claims were made that war production was being hampered by drunkenness, leading to pub opening times being reduced and alcohol strength reduced. And in July 1916 DORA Regulation 40b was passed making possession of cocaine or opium, other than by authorised professionals such as doctors, a criminal offence.
During the First World War state regulations established a control over the British people which, although relaxed in peacetime, was never to be removed.
German-born George Kenner moved to London in 1910 and was interned at Alexandra Palace in North London during the First World War. The Defence of the Realm Act was intended to protect the country against enemy action, but it discriminated against foreign nationals living in Britain.
Female workers pack flour in a mill at the works of Rank and Sons, Birkenhead, Cheshire, in September 1918. Flour was an important but restricted commodity and under DORA there were fines for making white flour instead of wholewheat and for allowing rats to invade wheat stores.