Monday, 27 January 2020

Beer, Britain, and the First World War

The First World War was a difficult time for beer in the United Kingdom. Ales, porters, and stout all had to make adjustments in pursuit of victory. They had to reduce their alcohol content, their hours of sale, accept much higher taxes, and other indignities. 

In part this was because, for some silly reason, leaders wanted to keep their soldiers and sailors relatively sober. In 1915 David Lloyd George famously declared that drink, not the Central Powers, was Britain's greatest enemy. "We are fighting Germans, Austrians, and drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these deadly foes is drink." 

The men at the front may have disagreed about that, but they had little say in the matter. They did mange to get weak French lagers and a rum ration. After the war, the medical officer of Scotland's 4th Black Watch Regiment told a hearing on shell shock, "Had it not been for the rum ration, I do not think we should have won the war."

Brewers were not too happy about the restrictions as well. Guinness managed to promote its beer and appear patriotic at the same time:


For Lloyd George, then Minister of Munitions, drink was if anything a greater foe at home than at the front. He and many others in authority feared that drunkenness would reduce workers' productivity, depriving the fighting men of needed war materials and supplies. 

The authorities were especially concerned about heavy alcohol consumption among munitions workers, for good reason. Mistakes and misbehavior in munitions plants could lead to deadly explosions and delays in production. Hundreds of munitions workers died in explosions, most of them women. (below: Charles Ginner, "The Filling Factory, 1918)

Starting in 1914, various Defence of the Realm Acts (DORA) gave the government sweeping powers to control many aspects of British life, including the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic drinks. One government order prohibited "treating" or buying a round for other patrons. All drinks had to be paid for by the person consuming them. 

Some changes had long lasting effects. One severely restricted licensing hours, the time when pubs could legally serve alcohol. Opening hours were limited to the early afternoon and early evening, from 12:00 to 2:30 and 6:30 to 9:30. Violation could lead to loss of the pub's license. These restrictions remained in effect until 1988. 

Government propaganda also encouraged individuals to restrict their own drinking times, as in the poster below: 

Other restrictions mandated that the percentage of alcohol in beer be lowered to reduce drunkenness. The average Original Gravity (OG) of beer in England and Wales dropped significantly, from 1059 to 1029, between 1914 and 1919.

The wartime government also significantly increased the taxes on alcohol. The price of a pint roughly doubled even as its strength fell. In 1918, a bottle of whisky cost five times its price in 1914.  The consumption of alcohol fell by about half during these years. Arrests for public drunkenness fell even more drastically. 

How much all these changes affected the war's outcome may be debatable, but they certainly saved some lives, and changed British social life in long-lasting ways. 

Monday, 13 January 2020

Anti-Fascist Cartoons in Punch, 1938-1941.

As World War II approached, the British satirical magazine Punch published numerous cartoons depicting its artists' views on the rising tensions. The cartoons reflect the shift from the policy of appeasement to the determination to stand up to Hitler and the Nazi regime, to the outbreak of war. Only a few are included here.

In "Still Hope" below, the artist depicts British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as an angel of peace flying to Germany at the time of the Munich Crisis in September 1938. Hitler was demanding that Czechoslovakia cede the Sudetenland, an area bordering Germany and inhabited by a largely German population. 

The demand followed hard on the heels of the German occupation of Austria, which Hitler justified on the grounds that the Austrians were Germans. Hitler himself had been born in Austria. The Western Allies, France and Britain, did nothing, hoping to appease the Nazi leader.

"Still Hope" reflects the view that Chamberlain's policy of appeasement toward Hitler might yet work. Appeasement flowed from the belief that Germany had legitimate grievances stemming from the peace settlement after the Great War of 1914-18. A few concessions to Hitler, appeasers argued, could satisfy him and preserve European peace. 

The British public seems to have agreed at this point. Few people wanted war, and many believed Germany had been treated too harshly after the First World War. At Munich, Chamberlain and the French Premier Edouard Daladier agreed to Hitler's demands. Chamberlain returned to Britain claiming he had secured "peace for our time."

That time proved short. Within a few months, Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia and began making territorial demands on Poland. The British and French governments stiffened, announcing they would defend Poland against a German attack.  The shift is reflected in "An Old Story Retold" from the Spring of 1939. Hitler assures his skeptical ally Mussolini that the British, represented by the dog guarding the gate, are all bark and no bite.

In "-- -- and the Seven Dwarves" the same artist, Bernard Partridge, presents Hitler in the guise of Snow White, the title character of Disney's wildly popular animated film of 1938. "Adolf White" already has "Czechy" in hand and is beckoning to the other six dwarves to follow him. Each of the dwarves represents one of the states of Eastern Europe.

The next cartoon, "Popular Misconceptions (in Germany) -- the English," is also from April 1939. The artist is reacting to German accusations that the English are trigger happy warmongers. 

Another cartoon from early 1939 "Germany Shall Never Be Encircled" portrays Hitler as a megalomaniac intent on world conquest. Hitler was ready for war over Poland but he wanted to avoid the First World War scenario of a two-front war with France and Britain in the west and Russia (now the Soviet Union) in the east. 

Hitler's top generals were insisting that he find a way to avoid having to fight all its World War I enemies at once. Hitler often ignored his generals' advice but in this case, he sent a delegation to Moscow, headed by Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. The British and French were already wooing Stalin to help defend Poland. "The Calculating Bear" (Russia) is considering the offers made by both sides.

In the end, Stalin accepted Hitler's offer: Stay out of the war and help yourself to eastern Poland. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 was quickly followed by the German invasion of Poland on September 1. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later, honoring their commitment to Poland. It did nothing to help the Polish, whose armies were overwhelmed swiftly by the German Blitzkrieg. 

In the Spring of 1940, German armies overran much of Western Europe, including France. Britain was now facing Germany alone, as well as Italy, which joined the war once France's defeat was certain. 

During the battle for France, Winston Churchill replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister. In the summer and autumn, Britain narrowly survived the air war known as the Battle of Britain and avoided invasion. 

As the new year 1941 dawned, Punch published the rather optimistic cartoon, "The Dragon-Slayer," with Churchill as the title character. One would almost think the war was near its finish, but it had more than four horrific years to run. Churchill himself said of the British victory in the Battle of Britain, that it was "not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning."

As it happened, 1941 was to prove a turning point for Britain, as it acquired powerful allies. In June Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded Russia. In December German's ally Japan attacked the United States base at Pearl Harbor. 

For an interesting, blackly comic take on the events leading to World War II: Eric Vuillard, The Order of the Day (2017). 

Friday, 3 January 2020

The Previous Lives of Pubs: The Knights Templar, Chancery Lane

Fancy a pint down at your local bank? These days you might be able to satisfy that fancy. Quite a few bank branches, closed due to the upsurge in online banking or other reasons, have found a new life as pubs.

A prime example is the Knights Templar. Located just off Fleet Street on Chancery Lane, London, it occupies a former branch of the Union Bank (now NatWest). Its original function is emblazoned on a relief above the entrance at the corner of Chancery Lane and Carey Street.   

The pub derives its name from a crusading order of warrior knights with a local connection. The Templars established their English headquarters in the nearby Temple precincts during the 12th century. Fans of the Da Vinci Code may recall that a scene in the novel and film takes place in the Temple Church. The images of the Temple Church below date from c. 1862 and c. 1810.

The Temple area later became the location of two of the Inns of Court, the Inner and Middle Temples. The other two, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn, are also nearby. In order to become a barrister in England, one must be a member of one of the Inns. 

The d├ęcor reflects the name and locale, with paintings, pictures, and engravings of Templars in and out of battle. Other pictures connect the pub to its proximity to the law courts and Inns of Court, including a large painting of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), considered to be the most influential jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. 

The bar and seating area.

Be forewarned: The Knights Templar is closed on Sundays. Surely not because of rigid sabbatarian views, but because traffic is light in this part of London on Sunday.