How World War I Changed Pub Culture, and Beer Itself


The First World War ended 100 years ago. It was a cataclysmic event in more ways than one—not just on battlefields in Flanders. Back in the UK, drinkers suffered, too. And their woes lasted long after the Armistice. The war transformed pubs and even beer itself. Not in a good way.

In August 1914, London pubs were open from 5 a.m. until 12:30 a.m., a total of 19.5 hours. It was commonplace for workers to nip in for a quick pint on the way to the factory. That ended when the Defence of the Realm Act (D.O.R.A.) became law in August of that year.

The government worried that munitions workers would spend their days in the pub rather than making artillery shells. Lloyd George, then Chancellor and later in the war Prime Minister, expressed concerns in a speech in Bangor in February 1915:

“Most of our workmen are putting every ounce of strength into this urgent work for their country, loyally and patriotically. But that is not true of all. There are some, I am sorry to say, who shirk their duty in this great emergency. I hear of workmen in armament Works who refuse to work a full week’s work for the nation’s need. . . What is the reason? Sometimes it is one thing, sometimes it is another, but let us be perfectly candid. It is mostly the lure of the drink.”

“The Control of the Drink Trade” by Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1919, page 47.

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