Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis in Britain during World War One

Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis in Britain during World War One

Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis in Britain during World War One

Pubs and Patriots: The Drink Crisis in Britain during World War One

Excerpt

A journalist writing in 1916, in the midst of the First World War, on the subject of ‘Belligerents, Neutrals and the Drink Problem’ observed that ‘the historian of the future whose concern with the Great War is chiefly its contemporary social life will find some of its most wonderful phenomena centred round the drink problem.’ As the battle of the Somme raged, why did contemporaries concern themselves with what people were drinking?

A pint of beer in the First World War was a controversial thirst quencher. Attacked by temperance critics, whilst being the livelihood of those involved in the trade, drink was the subject of much acrimonious debate throughout the tumultuous years of 1914–18. Lloyd George wrote in his war memoirs that ‘during the first five months of the war drink became a serious element in the struggle to avert defeat … on the home front alcoholic indulgence shared with professional rigidity the dishonour of being our most dangerous foe’. Sir James Crichton-Browne, a leading British psychiatrist, noted in 1915 that ‘when the history of the present great and terrible war comes to be written, it will be found that alcohol has had a not inconspicuous part, both actively and passively, in its progress and final issue.’ The war politicised the

1 Dundee Courier 21 January 1916.

2 David Lloyd George, War Memoirs: Volume One (Nicholson & Watson, London, 1933), p. 323.

3 Sir James Crichton-Browne in Rev. Mathias Lansdown, Our Allies, Ourselves and the Drink Problem (Congretional Union of England and Wales, London,1915), p. 25.

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