Drink is doing us more damage in the War than all the German Submarines put together

April 29th, 2015

The following are again extracts from Hansard, it is a fantastic mine of interesting, prime source information. On this day 100 years ago, Lloyd George was sorely tested by the problems of alcohol and the effect it was having on the war effort at home. The introduction of the Defence of the Realm Act, DORA, had given the government the power to deal with it and the ensuing Parliamentary debate makes fascinating reading.

Take 3-4 minutes to read the extracts from a long speech below and, as Lloyd George himself describes it the ‘most remarkable’ final letter, it is jaw dropping!


Every Government that has ever touched alcohol has burnt its fingers in its lurid flames. Whenever you try to approach it, there are barbed wire entanglements on every road, with passions and prejudices and principles, all of the most explosive character, behind them.

It has been suggested that we have attached undue importance to the part which drink plays in the output of munitions of war, and that we have treated it as if it were the sole cause of the delays which have been experienced. That is exactly the reverse of the facts.

The enemy is still in Flanders and a large part of France. He has to be driven out. When the time comes for the great attack which is to accomplish this vital purpose, the expenditure of munitions and material must be on a scale hitherto unprecedented in any war in history. It is to enable our gallant Army at the front to carry through that enterprise without flagging, and, above all, without any avoidable loss, that we are straining every nerve to increase by every means in our power…. for complete victory. In this time counts, Time is essential. Time is vital.

The first step we took in order to increase the output of munitions of war was to introduce the Defence of the Realm Act, a very strong measure—I rather think the Leader of the Opposition referred to it as a “revolutionary” proposal, and it certainly is a very strong measure.

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.

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 drink….Drink is doing us more damage in the War than all the German submarines put together.

I will give some of the reports we have been receiving ….Here is one, and it comes from the Clyde:— From close observation the amount drunk by a section of the men in much greater than it was before the War and it is on the increase….The sole reason for this heavy drinking is that the men earn more money than they know what to do with. He gives the case of a ship which was sent in for repairs, and the work was so badly Carried out as to suggest at once on inspection that it, could not have been done by men who were sober. It was dangerous, and had to be condemned.

A similar report comes from the Tyne from the official in charge there. He says:— The money earned is sufficient to satisfy the men’s standard of living, and anything extra beyond ordinary wages encourages abstention to enable loafing in public houses, instead of doing their honest day’s work.

The Director of Transports says:— I wish to call attention to the fact that transport work is now being conducted under serious difficulties. … It is already taking three times as long to get ships fitted and ready to sail as it did when War broke out…. The root-cause of the serious congestion at some of the dock is not a shortage of labour, but the fact that the men can earn in two or three days what will keep them in drink for the rest of the week.

I have here a most remarkable letter from a man who read a speech made by an hon. Friend of mine, I will not say who he is, in which it was said that the workers were not drinking. This is a very remarkable document. It was so remarkable that I said it could not be true, and that a man who was really doing these things would not write at all about them, and so I made special investigation. I think it is really worth reading. This is a man from the Clyde who says he is one of the workers.

As late as Friday the 2nd April I got my pay, as thousands of others. I, as the rest, got pretty well full up—went to work next day at 7.30, the 3rd. I did not do my work, nor way able to do so, owing to my condition, nor even able to clean my machine either. At 12 we stop work. I went again, got pretty well royal. At 6.30, I went on purpose for a country walk, met a friend, got his company, went for a three-mile walk. But three miles from home we got helplessly drunk, never knew where we parted, but on Sunday I had a skinned cheek bone and eyebrow. My friend had his bottle of whisky broke, and a dislocated nose. None of us knew how we came by it, owing to our intoxicated state. On Sunday, I could not leave my bed. I was so bad under its influence, and my sore which I got on Saturday night. On the Monday, the 5th, I was so bad I could not do my work at all. If anybody will look at the time-sheet, he will see blue marks and little red marks against the men coming in after the first quarter. But I will tell you something that is not on the sheets, and that is the kind of work they do when they are in that condition. The letter continues:— I tried to get my mates to stop at 12 noon, but they did not. At 12, I had two glasses of whisky and one pint of beer, went back to work not caring how things went. At 5–30, I had three glasses of whisky, one pint of beer before going home—after that a good deal. Tuesday was so bad after effects, did not go to work at all, drinking all the time. Wednesday, the 7th, was so weak and helpless was an agony to put in nine hours. Thursday, the 8th, had a few drinks to soothe the others; but Friday, the only day for twelve, I was not myself, or able to do my bit.