Defence of the Realm Act 1914

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Defence of the Realm Act 1914
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to confer on His Majesty in Council power to make Regulations during the present War for the Defence of the Realm.
Citation4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 29
Territorial extentUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Dates
Royal assent8 August 1914
Commencement8 August 1914
Other legislation
Amended by
  • Defence of the Realm (No. 2) Act 1914
  • Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act 1914
  • Defence of the Realm Act 1915
Relates toSee below
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed in the United Kingdom on 8 August 1914, four days after it entered World War I and was added to as the war progressed. It gave the government wide-ranging powers during the war period, such as the power to requisition buildings or land needed for the war effort, or to make regulations creating criminal offences.

DORA ushered in a variety of authoritarian social control mechanisms, such as censorship:

"No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty's forces or among the civilian population"[1]

Anti-war activists, including John MacLean, Willie Gallacher, John William Muir, and Bertrand Russell, were sent to prison.

The trivial peacetime activities no longer permitted included flying kites, starting bonfires, buying binoculars, feeding wild animals bread, discussing naval and military matters or buying alcohol on public transport. Alcoholic beverages were watered down and pub opening times were restricted to noon–3pm and 6:30pm–9:30pm (the requirement for an afternoon gap in permitted hours lasted in England until the Licensing Act 1988 was brought into force).

Intention[edit]

Example of censorship under the Act of comments about Zeppelin raids in mail

The law was designed to help prevent invasion and to keep morale at home high.[citation needed] It imposed censorship of journalism and of letters coming home from the front line. The press was subject to controls on reporting troop movements, numbers or any other operational information that could be exploited by the enemy. People who breached the regulations with intent to assist the enemy could be sentenced to death. 10 people were executed under the regulations.[2]

Though some provisions of DORA may seem strange, they did have their purposes. Flying a kite or lighting a bonfire could attract Zeppelins and, after rationing was introduced in 1918, feeding wild animals was a waste of food.

The original Act, its amendment, and consolidation[edit]

Section 1(1) of the Defence of the Realm Act read as follows:[3][4]

(1) His Majesty in Council has power during the continuance of the present war to issue regulations as to the powers and duties of the Admiralty and Army Council, and of the members of His Majesty's forces, and other persons acting in His behalf, for securing the public safety and the defence of the realm; and may, by such regulations, authorise the trial by courts martial and punishment of persons contravening any of the provisions of such regulations designed—

(a) To prevent persons communicating with the enemy or obtaining information for that purpose or any purpose calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of any of His Majesty's forces or to assist the enemy; or
(b) To secure the safety of any means of communication, or of railways, docks or harbours; in like manner as if such persons were subject to military law and had on active service committed an offence under section 5 of the Army Act.

The original Act was amended and extended six times over the course of the War,[5] firstly on 28 August 1914 by the Defence of the Realm (No. 2) Act 1914,[3][4] and then on 27 November 1914 by the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act 1914 (which repealed and replaced the existing Acts).[4][5] This final Act contained the following:[4]

(1) His Majesty in Council has power during the continuance of the present war to issue regulations for securing the public safety and the defence of the realm, and as to the powers and duties for that purpose of the Admiralty and Army Council and of the members of His Majesty's forces and other persons acting in his behalf; and may by such regulations authorise the trial by courts-martial, or in the case of minor offences by courts of summary jurisdiction, and punishment of persons committing offences against the regulations and in particular against any of the provisions of such regulations designed:

(a) to prevent persons communicating with the enemy or obtaining information for that purpose or any purpose calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of any of His Majesty's forces or the forces of his allies or to assist the enemy; or
(b) to secure the safety of His Majesty's forces and ships and the safety of any means of communication and of railways, ports, and harbours; or
(c) to prevent the spread of false reports or reports likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty or to interfere with the success of His Majesty's forces by land or sea or to prejudice His Majesty's relations with foreign powers; or
(d) to secure the navigation of vessels in accordance with directions given by or under the authority of the Admiralty; or
(e) otherwise to prevent assistance being given to the enemy or the successful prosecution of the war being endangered.

(3) It shall be lawful for the Admiralty or Army Council:

(a) to require that there shall be placed at their disposal the whole or any part of the output of any factory or workshop in which arms, ammunition, or warlike stores and equipment, or any articles required for the production thereof, are manufactured;
(b) to take possession of, and use for the purpose of, His Majesty's naval or military service any such factory or workshop or any plant thereof;

Similar legislation[edit]

Emergency wartime/postwar legislation by era and jurisdiction
Era Jurisdiction Legislation
World War I  Australia War Precautions Act 1914
 Canada War Measures Act
 USA Espionage Act of 1917; Sedition Act of 1918
Post-WWI  UK Emergency Powers Act 1920; Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920
World War II  Canada National Resources Mobilization Act
 Ireland Emergency Powers Act 1939
 UK Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939; Treachery Act 1940

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Defence of the Realm (No. 2) Regulations, 1914, s. 4, at "No. 28887". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 September 1914. pp. 6968–6969.
  2. ^ Hansard, 22 May 1940
  3. ^ a b The Times Documentary History of the War. The Times. 1917. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d Defence of the Realm Act, The National Archives
  5. ^ a b Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) in The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History, Dr Spencer C Tucker, vol. 2, pp 341–2. ISBN 1-85109-420-2

External links[edit]