Local History Society

 The 'Mercury' and the Home Front in WW1



Prohibition or Moderation?

From an article on July 21st 1917:

Reading Town Hall was crowded on Monday evening, when a public meeting, convened by the Mayor at the request of some 2,000 persons, was held to consider the question of urging His Majesty’s Government to prohibit the use of grain in the manufacture of alcoholic liquors during such time as it is necessary to exercise frugality in the use of flour and the consumption of bread. [..]

The proceedings, though lively, did not degenerate into rowdyism, and, owing to the tact exercised not only by the Mayor, but the champions of rival views, good-humoured banter, impartially bestowed, was he only real breach of decorum.

The meeting ended in a fiasco, for so evenly divided were the two sections that neither the amendment nor the resolution was carried.

A large number of ladies were present and they voted almost solid for prohibition.

In the 22nd January 1918 issue of the Reading Mercury was a report on a meeting promoting Prohibition, plus a lengthy article by ‘A Correspondent’ arguing the case against.

At this time, the British Government had introduced strict Pub opening times in an effort to increase munitions production, but Canada and many states in the USA had gone much further.

On Monday 12th January, the National Prohibition Educational Campaign hit Reading, with afternoon meetings in churches, and a heavily-attended evening meeting in the Town Hall.

The Campaign had already conducted around 500 meetings elsewhere in the country. Many worthy Berkshire folk were listed as attending, but Arborfield’s Rector, Rev. J. A. Anderson, was conspicuous by his absence. He was prominent in the Church of England Temperance Society, which had funded a recreation hut at the Arborfield Remount Depot.

The meeting was addressed by two key speakers, Lieutenant-Colonel C. Seymour Bullock, of the Canadian Army, and Professor J. A. Nicholls of Boston University, USA. Here’s how the newspaper reported their speeches:

Lieut-Col Bullock:

  • Seven provinces of Canada had decided that they would have nothing to do with alcohol during the period of the war, and a law had been recently passed by which the importation of any alcoholic beverage was prohibited during the entire period of the war over the whole domain of Canada.

Professor Nicholls:

  • There were forty-eight stars in the American flag; 27 states had passed the prohibition law, and when 36 had ratified it, they would have a law, please God, which would stop the manufacture, sale, importation, exportation and transportation of intoxicating liquors upon every part of their territory, and a stainless flag waving over a saloonless land. (Applause.)
  • They had no wet canteens in the Army. (Applause.)
  • When they entered this war they decided to conserve all their man-power, so they passed a law by which they made it an offence to sell intoxicating liquor to any man wearing the uniform of the Republic. (Applause)
  • He wished they had a law of that kind on this side [of the Atlantic]. They had already done away with the grog ration in the Navy, and the wine mess was now abolished. They said they must conserve corn, so they had shut down every distillery. They were not fighting against liberty, but they were battling that there should be a chance for everyone to tread the streets of every city and town throughout the broad world free from the temptation of a dram shop.

The article from ‘Correspondent’ appeared on an earlier page in the newspaper. He spoke of the ‘futility’ of Prohibition, and of course history proved him right. He claimed that Prohibitionists in Britain tended to be 'Pacifists, cranks and faddists'. Among his points were:

  • There is not a responsible Minister in our War Government who is not well aware that even a further curtailment – not to speak of the total prohibition – of our present supplies of beer, etc., would at once cause such a recrudescence of that "industrial unrest" which occasioned so much alarm to the country in the summer of last year.
  • I beg our American and Canadian friends not to run away with the idea that our British working man, because he likes a glass of good ale, is either vicious or immoral.
  • The War Department has cut down the brewers’ barrelage from 36 million barrels in pre-war days to something under 14 million barrels at the present time.
  • Lastly, a very great number of people in Reading are exasperated, owing to the impossibility of obtaining even the smallest dram of spirits such as they are accustomed to, and the present Arctic conditions generally do not soften their feelings. It is incomprehensible to them why the Government should not release a further quantity of spirits from bond, where immense quantities of matured spirits are lying ready for consumption, and their being placed on the market would assuredly relieve the demand for other beverages not now obtainable.


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