Defence of the Realm Act (DORA)

The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) became law on 8 August 1914, five days after the war began:

  • It authorised the government to do almost anything it thought necessary to help the war effort and protect the country.
  • It allowed the government to pass laws and avoid the drawn-out process of having bills proposed, voted on and ratified in Parliament.
A cartoon of a man censoring newspapers
A cartoon showing a man censoring newspapers

Laws were designed to protect sensitive information, maintain morale and maximise production:

  • Censorship of newspapers and correspondence to and from the trenches was introduced to maintain morale and keep troop movements secret.
  • Striking was outlawed to protect production of goods in the factories.
  • The working day was extended in many sectors and wages were either lowered or kept at the same level. The aim was to increase production without increasing expense.
  • Pub opening times were limited, as was the strength of drinks, which were watered down. The buying of drinks for others was banned. This aimed to tackle lateness and loss of productivity at work.

No-one was allowed to:

  • talk about naval or military matters in public places
  • spread rumours about military matters
  • buy binoculars
  • trespass on railway lines or bridges
  • melt down gold or silver
  • light bonfires or fireworks
  • give bread to horses or chickens
  • use invisible ink when writing abroad

At first, the public accepted the need for increased security and control over areas seen as vital to the war effort. However, as the war went on people objected to the way that DORA undermined their basic freedoms. Most people thought many of the rules were trivial and inconvenient.