A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 71


DEFENCE OF THE REALM ACT


men, it was found that it was hardly possible for the Yorkshire mills to turn out all the khaki, for Sheffield to produce all the guns required, or for Birmingham to find all the small arms. Every firm which catered for the soldier in any way was quickly overwhelmed with orders. Firms that had never done military work before transformed their plant. The Birmingham steel pen maker turned to the manufacture of buttons by the million, and cartridge cases by the ten million. The Hawick manufacturer of fine tartans began to make khaki. At first traders sought for government work. After a time the government came to them, with directions that they were to turn out certain amounts in a given time, and with the stern intimation that if they did not do so they might expect military representatives to take control of their mills. This threat was rendered possible by a remarkable measure, passed in the early days of the war, the Defence of the Realm Act.

The Defence of the Realm Act was in many ways one of the most extraordinary legislative measures ever passed by the British Parliament. It specified a number of acts for which civilians could be tried by court martial. These included communicating with the enemy, spreading false reports or reports likely to cause disaffection, giving assistance to the enemy or endangering the successful prosecution of the war. The person deemed by the military authorities guilty of any of these offences could be arrested and tried just as if subject to military law, and as if he or she had, on active service, committed an offence under the Army Act. In other words, the military authorities could arrest any persons they pleased and, after court martial, inflict any sentence on them short of death. In addition, the military authorities were allowed to demand the whole or part of the output of any factory or workshop dealing with military supplies, and to take possession of any factory or workshop they required. They were also allowed to take any land they needed. This, in effect, made the civil administration of the country entirely subservient to the military administration.

The Act created surprise, and while the majority of people were willing to accept it, believing that the powers under it would not be abused, a number of eminent peers, including several famous judges, among them such men as Lord Halsbury, Lord Parmoor, Lord Loreburn, and Lord Bryce, objected. Lord Halsbury declared that he saw no necessity to get rid of the fabric of

← 70   ·   71   ·   72 →
(page index)