The Bar Man - Raise a toast to Winston
I saw an article recently about Alan Choat, an ex-soldier trying to raise £2,000 to buy a beer each for members of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment on their return from Afghanistan.
How times have changed. Within three days of the start of the World War I, Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government had passed the Defence of The Realm Act, which granted the state control of the production and sale of alcoholic drinks, and shortly afterwards the Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restrictions) Act gave magistrates the power to limit the opening hours of pubs.
These measures proved to be insufficient, and in 1915 the teetotal Chancellor of the Exchequer, and future prime minister, David Lloyd George declared: “We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these deadly foes is drink.” Later Lloyd George set up the Liquor Control Board which cut pub opening times to five and a half hours per day during the week and introduced the afternoon break.
Beer strength was reduced and it was made illegal to ‘treat’, or buy a round. In Carlisle, site of a number of armament factories, the local brewery was taken under state control, along with some pubs. Similar schemes were also introduced in Enfield and Ross and Cromarty.
Britain was not alone in the fight against the demon drink. Russia banned the sale of vodka in 1914, despite the taxes accounting for a third of the government’s income, a move which some claim was one of the factors behind the 1917 revolution.
In 1915, absinthe was banned by military order in France, an injunction that would remain in place until 2011. Already some states of the USA were dry, in anticipation of the nationwide prohibition era which was to start in 1920.
In Australia and New Zealand it was decreed that pubs would close at 6pm, giving workers who knocked off at 5 just one hour to enjoy the notorious 6 o’clock swill.
Contrast this with the approach during World War II, where beer was considered essential to wartime morale. Although reduced in strength, supplies were maintained at home for the duration of the conflict, and Churchill declared that those at the front should be entitled to four pints per week. To supply this, experiments were carried out with mobile breweries on the back of 15cwt trucks in Burma, and plans were developed to construct breweries on ships. On the day of the Normandy landings Spitfires flew to France with barrels of beer strapped to their wings.
Even the Germans were looked after, as is evident in a report of an enemy airman parachuting from his damaged plane. When rounded up by the locals his first words were ‘What about a pint?’ at which point he was taken to the local pub and supplied with refreshment until the police arrived to take him away.
So was the abstemious approach of the Lloyd George correct? Or should we subscribe to the views of the one-time party of the brewers led by Churchill?
Ultimately , it seems to me that there are more statues of Churchill around than there are of Lloyd George.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 10 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North