Monday, 4 January 2016

Liquor and the War

IV.—Liquor and The War
By Lacey Amy
From the column, England in Arms in The Canadian Magazine, August 1917. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, January 2016.
 
PREJUDICE, in a study of the drink question in England is disastrous to conclusions that are either sound or safe in this time of war. The temperance “crank” is faced at the start by a great problem of expedi­ency which concerns the co-operation of the very public he presumes him­self to be considering. It is not mere­ly a question of “reforming” a people against their will but of avoiding their antagonism at a time when even public carelessness and lack of active sympathy may be more disastrous to the Empire than the worst imaginable effects of the present extent of drink­ing alcoholic beverages in England. On the other hand, the noisy suppor­ter of “liberty” has against him a volume of figures and unassailable re­cords of the effects of liquor on the heart of the Empire that takes the ground from under his feet.
So tremendous is the problem, so ex­tensive its side issues, that no maga­zine article can attempt more than a mere cursory consideration. Especially is this so in any presentation of the facts to Canadian readers, who have first of all to understand conditions in England before even reaching the general question of prohibition or abo­lition.
A concise review of the complica­tions that overthrew instantly the stock arguments of both sides may be the best preparation for a calm con­sideration of the existing legislation touching on the consumption and manufacture of liquor. At this mo­ment the immediate problem in Eng­land is the supply of food necessary to sustenance and strength, to which is added the corollary of the demand for man-power. Apart from the world’s shortage, which would presuppose in countries the recognition of the wis­dom of applying all food stuffs to their most complete uses, victory to the Empire depends upon the main­tenance of the United Kingdom’s share for the United Kingdom’s peo­ple and armies. And that maintenance is almost entirely a matter of ocean tonnage, since eighty per cent, of the food of the United Kingdom is im­ported. The Government can reason­ably depend upon a certain propor­tion only of the tonnage space of ocean vessels reaching English ports; and since the available tonnage is al­ready insufficient it is most important that every inch of it should be of the greatest concentrated food value. It is for that purpose that the importa­tion of luxuries has been prohibited, that our newspapers are reduced to the minimum size, that even complete foods like nuts and fruit have either been cut from the lists or limited.
Under this heading I quote figures that have been used in the public press and presented officially in the House without contradiction, so that their reliability is unchallenged, especially when the press and the House are against abolition. The beer produc­tion of the United Kingdom in 1914 was 36,000,000 barrels, with almost an equal amount of spirits—one and three-fifths barrels for every man, woman and child. In 1915 it fell to 34,500,000 barrels of beer alone, with the spirits almost the same, and dur­ing 1916 the beer was reduced another million. The materials used in 1914 (barley, hops, sugar, etc.), amounted to 2,100,000 tons for distilling and brewing, the former being one quarter of the whole. For the transportation of this material there would he re­quired almost 1,200,000 net register tons of shipping (2,700,000 measure­ment tons), more than the capacity of ten boats of 5,000 tons size a week, or one hundred and ten boats continu­ously making five voyages a year—more boats than the Germans were able to sink during the first two months of submarine ruthlessness.
Taking last year, 1916, as an inter­esting example of the martial years: During that year there were a million and a quarter tons of barley turned into liquor, 305,176 tons of other grains, 67,578 tons of rice, maize and similar preparations, 134,000 tons of sugar, and 41,115 tons of molasses. All that in the third year of the war. What this vast quantity of food ma­terials since the beginning of the war means in human sustenance is best explained by the estimate that it would make two billion two-pound loaves of bread and the sugar would support the entire army. And the ships required to transport it would have a total tonnage in the same period greater than the entire sinkings by the enemy up to the middle of 1917. At the end of 1916 there were still 1,800,000 tons of shipping in such employment.
Selecting sugar as the commodity of greatest stringency thus affected, the brewers have faced therein their strongest opposition, since the greater part of England has been on short sugar rations since early in 1916.
But there is other wastage attribut­ed to the manufacture of liquor in wartime. The expenditure by the United Kingdom in liquor during the war is estimated at more than two bil­lion dollars, or sufficient to provide all the expenses of war for more than two months of the most expensive period. More than 30,000 acres were devoted last year to the growing of hops. Sev­enty-five hundred trains were requir­ed to haul the materials (and the train shortage is one of the problems of the war), and four million tons of coal were used in the breweries; and the Navy, the munition works, the dock­yards, the Allies, and the people have suffered seriously during the winter from lack of coal. For the mining of this coal more than a whole brigade of able-bodied men are required; and the man-power represented in the brew­eries, the addition trains, the porter­age, has never been estimated save in the form of being the equivalent of the entire nation standing idle a month and a half every year.
The drinking habits of the English affect the progress of the war in other ways. What is called absenteeism is the habit of the average workingman to holiday on days not legally granted him. The English working year is, to the Canadian, a bewildering series of customary and legal holidays. New Year’s lasts for ten days in some sections in peace times, Christ­mas from three to five days, Easter from Thursday to Tuesday, Whit­sun in some places a week, but always three days, and so on through a list unknown in number and scope to American experience. Great manufacturing firms stop work in mid-summer to enable their em­ployees to spend a week of mirth and relaxation at Blackpool. And each legal holiday is rounded off by another one or two in recovery from the effects of the gaiety in which the working­man’s holiday-making leads him to in­dulge. No fewer than five million hours were lost by absenteeism in one war year by Clyde firms, the average in one firm employing 1,500 hands be­ing nine hours each man every week. Indeed, it was before the war custom­ary in many localities and occupations to consider work accomplished on Mondays as so much to the good, and large manufacturers tell me even to­day that their average working week is four days. For this liquor was either responsible or a contributory cause. The condition was generally recognized and accepted as unavoid­able—so much so that the improve­ment since the war began is taken as a matter for pride. Early in the war the figures concerning absenteeism were made public, but so startling and unendurable were they to English pride that Lloyd George almost sacri­ficed his political future in the public use of them. They constituted a fact that could not be contradicted, the ef­fect of which on the vital industry of war-waking dare not be permitted to continue.
There is the other side, of course, but it will not be so readily under­stood in Canada as it is in England. The main contention of the brewers— supported by many influential news­papers and writers—is forced to con­centrate on something more weighty than liberty of action. Wartime is in­dependent of such arguments; liberty counts only when it does not threaten the State. It will come as a surprise to Canadians to know that the defence for the manufacture of beer is that it is necessary. It is seriously contended that hard workers must have their beer. Large advertisements repeat it ominously. Letters to the daily press insist on it. The soldier is wont to pre­sent his experience as clinching the argument. The working people are unable to contemplate abstention any more than the English man or woman of a different class would submit to prohibition of afternoon tea, which is considered as essential a meal as breakfast. It is a question of how far a national habit becomes a necessity. The very seriousness of the claim en­titles it to more consideration than people accustomed to other ways might be inclined to give it.
The debate between the two parties to the question reached its keenest in­terest towards the end of 1916 when legislation was obviously necessary in view of the food and man-power needs. Availing themselves of the remark­able power of the English press, both bought space plentifully and present­ed their arguments for human diges­tion. On the one side was ranged a body of men among whom were many of England’s greatest. The Strength of Britain Movement they called themselves. The composition of the organization added to its strength, for it was not made up of temperance fa­natics or no prohibition advocates, but of men who normally took their glass but claimed to see in the exigencies of war sufficient grounds for prohibiting the manufacture of beer and spirits. On the other side were those to whom the liquor traffic meant wealth or a living. Even the brewers submitted to curtailment of production without serious opposition.
One day the Movement would give figures and draw deductions. The next day the opponents would criticize fig­ures and deductions. It was fair for­ensic pleading until the anti-prohibi­tionists resorted to an unfortunate form of deception. A page of mild tolerance or frank support of beer drinking would be arranged in the same form and make-up as the Move­ment advertisements, and would be concluded with the words “it is part of the Strength of Britain”, the last three words in a line by themselves in the same type as the same words in the Movement’s advertisement. To the casual reader it seemed like conces­sions from the Movement. But the scheme was too un-English to be pro­fitable in England.
The anti-prohibitionists claimed that the sugar for beer was entirely unfit for public consumption. The other side countered by reproducing an order from the Port of London au­thorities forbidding a large London caterer to remove from the docks a shipment of sugar consigned to him, because it was needed by the brewers. The yeast by-product of the beer was necessary, said the brewers. Look at Canada and Russia, replied the Move­ment. The trade was necessary, local­ly and for export. The answer was that its prohibition was necessary for the winning of the war, according to the Prime Minister. It was pointed out that from every ton of barley used for beer there was a large quantity of excellent cattle food upon which the milk of the nation depended. The statement was met by the counter one that the offals fed to cattle was infi­nitely less valuable than the whole barley. The demands of the army were emphasized, and on that the Move­ment was silent. The place of alcohol in munition making had to be admit­ted. The revenue from beer taxation was made much of, and was faced by the million and a half dollars a day paid by the public as its drink bill over and above the tax receipts by the Government. The brewers contended that tea and coffee occupied more space in the tonnage than the materi­als for beer; and that, too, the Move­ment ignored.
Two incidents embarrassing to the advocates of continued production oc­curred in the House, and England’s sense of humour was tickled. The brew­ers had rashly contended that a given quantity of barley and sugar, etc., produced more than their weight in beer, a food product. Intended only for the consumption of the unthink­ing, it was brought up in the House. The Secretary concerned tartly asked where the extra food value came from. When the brewers ran a series of ad­vertisements contending for beer as of real food value, the Secretary agreed with a questioner that if that were so then the imbiber should elim­inate other food in order to come with­in the rationing orders of the Food Controller. That argument died sud­denly.
It was a merry fight while it lasted, and the arguments were a mirror of the peculiar conditions existing in England. The odds were unquestion­ably with the prohibitionists, but. only because of the war. Under peace Eng­land would not have concerned itself to read or listen. But barley is food, and food is a big factor in the Eng­lishman’s life, in bulk and frequency. The movement against liquor was strengthened by several factors of sen­timental effect. The King’s abstin­ence for the duration of the war spread to thousands of wealthy and middle-class homes. Insisting purely as a matter of expediency in which the way had been shown by a beloved Sovereign, the strongest advocates of abolition were those who were known to have no tendency that way under normal conditions.
Lloyd George’s well-known princi­ples and opinions have produced an interesting experience. As has been mentioned before, his over-frank ad­vocacy of prohibition in the early stages of the war almost cost him his highest place in English history. The public outcry at that time against his bluntness in supporting his opinions was so loud that the most fearless man in English public life was silenced. For two years he uttered not another word on the subject, and when he be­came Prime Minister he for several months permitted himself merely to hint at his feelings, confining expres­sion to a connection between the ma­terial consumed in liquor and the sub­marine menace. Indeed, as Prime Minister, with an eagle-eyed opposi­tion studying his every move to dis­countenance him, he realized the wis­dom of leaving prohibition statements to his subordinates.
In this public outcry is that which brings to a thoughtful halt those who would, without pause, close the saloon doors and dismantle the breweries. As an initial caution to walk warily is the backing the manufacture of liquor has long had in England. When a great church draws a large part of its revenue from the traffic, when a consider­able portion of the wealth of England is locked up in it, there is cause for consideration whether the ammunition is sufficient at the moment for making the attack. There is in England no sentiment against the brewer, the pub­lican, the drinker. Rather, the non­drinker is an object of ridicule. Among the most influential men in England are the brewers, and the publican is a citizen of rank ex-officio. Bishops not only have money invested in breweries but preside over Associa­tions that own public houses. The bar is not a place for a man to sidle into, and for women to avoid. Men and women enter one of the three or four entrances that feature the English saloon as a Canadian would enter a store to make a purchase. Since the selling hours were limited there is al­ways a line-up at the doors before the time of opening. Young men take their girl friends in as to a Canadian ice-cream parlour, and women and men spend the evening therein as the great club of the common people. Before the doors, especially on Sundays, stand baby carriages and wee children awaiting the re-appearance of mother. In England and Wales there are 90,000 public houses.
The greatest surprise in England to the average Canadian is the unlimited patronage of the bars.
The result of this licence is a men­tal attitude that forms an essential feature in any fight for prohibition even in war time. In peace the pro­hibitionist has a hopeless vision.
Where the question of expediency enters is that, however convinced the ardent prohibitionist may be that the elimination of liquor would hasten the end of the war, he has first to con­sider whether the people would be with him. Failing their support there is the uncertainty of the effect of pro­hibitive measures. A nation convinced that it is doing no wrong is not going to see its pleasures cut off without dangerous protest. And the English workingman has a habit of expressing his displeasure in effective form. There is not the slightest doubt that thousands would prefer even to lose the war rather than to lose their beer; and the Government that attempted to introduce prohibition at this time would stare into a list of other conser­vation measures that might be enforc­ed with the consent of the people, without attacking the workingman’s entertainment. It is also feared by some prohibitionists that any attempt to enforce prohibition would meet with such opposition that the revolt would mean retrogression in any hon­est movement later towards that con­summation.
The general attitude of the people is not uncertain. A vote to-day would overwhelmingly defeat suggested in­terference. Whether there would be open revolt or repudiation of loyal sentiments no one is in a position to say with complete authority. Judging from the munition strikes now on, the experiment would be dangerous. What is desirable in effect is not always what is possible or wisest at the moment.
It is considerations such as these which have handicapped the Govern­ments of the United Kingdom since the first of the war. The wisdom or restriction was not associated in any way with decided predilection for pro­hibition. The early acts of Parliament forbidding treating and curtailing the hours of sale were intended to deal with a great waste in man-power more than in food. That they have done so to some extent is certain, but other in­fluences have cropped up that have discounted their effectiveness. The higher wage has enabled the heavy drinker to indulge himself, and the more thrifty one to open his pocket. The effect of army life, too, has been to throw liquor into the way of those who had never before fallen seriously under its influence. The drinking among women has varied in the ex­perience of different sections. In a general way the wife’s allowance has provided her with resources for drink­ing previously denied her; and the missionaries of London say that con­ditions among them are terrible. On the other hand the report of the Con­trol Board casts doubt on such an opinion. Some investigation which I have given the matter myself reveals the existence of more drinking at home, partly because of the shorter open hours, largely because there is money to purchase in greater quanti­ties for organized orgies.
The official figures are so easy to misinterpret. The convictions for drunkenness in London and forty other cities and towns in Great Brit­ain of a population exceeding 100,000 amounted in 1913 to 119,000 men and 40,000 women, in 1914 to 115,000 men and 41,000 women, in 1915 to 126,000 men and 38,000 women, and in 1916 to only 53,000 men and 24,000 women. That these figures are misleading may be gathered from the fact that the consumption of absolute alcohol de­creased between the first and the last years by only twenty per cent. Of course several million men were out of the country in 1916, and the absence of relation between the number of convictions and the amount drunk is explained by the greater latitude al­lowed the drinker. The Home Office had issued an order—which was with­drawn in January of this year—that soldiers’ wives were not to be charged for a first offence; and drunken sol­diers are very leniently dealt with, while officers are disciplined only by the military courts. It is admitted by the magistrates that there is more drinking but fewer convictions.
At the same time it is due the sol­dier to say that very few are visibly drunk on the streets of London; and unfortunately the number of Overseas men, Australian and Canadian, has been greater than their proper pro­portion. This is explained partly by the eagerness of the English to “en­tertain” the Colonial, partly by Cana­dian inexperience with English beers.
The early efforts of Lloyd George to effect prohibition having failed, and the anti-treating and short hours reg­ulations having proved ineffective, the taxation on liquor was increased. But the increased wage of the munition maker rendered that move abortive, and a Liquor Control Board was appointed. The duty of this body was to control the interference of drunk­enness with munition making, and for this purpose they had absolute power over the public houses of certain de­fined munition areas. The effects of the drastic measures it enforced were immediate. Some bars in dangerous districts were closed, the open hours of others limited, and model public houses were set up. The weekly aver­age of convictions within their terri­tories in six large cities showed a re­duction of almost sixty per cent., and students of the figures found a direct connection between the open hours and the number of convictions. In England, up to the middle of Febru­ary of this year, the Board closed eighty-five licensed premises in Great Britain. As the members of the Board are not prohibitionists there can be no criticism by the antis of their honesty in enforcing that which they consider necessary for the maintenance of the output of munitions. Sunday selling was forbidden, but mineral waters and soft drinks were permitted, the pat­ronage under such conditions proving that the bar is more of a club than a welcome opportunity for dissipation, a fact emphasized by the Board in its report.
In August, 1916, the output of the brewers was restricted to 85 per cent. of the quantity produced during the previous year. On December 27th, a Defence of the Realm regulation per­mitted the naval or military authori­ties, or the Ministry of Munitions, to close altogether or curtail the hours of licensed premises. That this power was confined to an unproductive impo­tence is shown by the demand of the authorities at Aldershot, the great military camp, to close fifty per cent. of the surrounding public houses. The Licence Commissioners first consulted the brewers and then refused.
On January 3rd, 1917, when food shortage loomed in the near distance, it was promulgated that spirits should be reduced to thirty degrees under proof, the regulation not to apply to liquors bottled before June 6th, 1916. It was throughout this period, when further restrictions were certain, that was waged the newspaper advertise­ment debate, the Government standing—as it does in England during news­paper discussionsto see how the public stood before taking action.
On January 24th, the Food Control­ler, head of the new department called the Ministry of Food, founded but not peopled in the time of Asquith, an­nounced that after a careful investiga­tion of the resources available for food for the people he had come to the con­clusion that the materials used in the manufacture of beer must be curtailed. After April 1st the output was to be further reduced to 70 per cent. of the output for the previous year. Thus the brewers had two full months to increase their output so that their licence for the coming year might be as liberal as possible. A correspond­ing restriction was applied to the re­lease of wines and spirits from bond.
The effect of this legislation was that an output of 36,000,000 barrels before the war was reduced in two stages to 18,200,000. It would mean a reduction in the use of barley of 286,000 tons, 36,000 tons of sugar, and 16,500 tons of grits. Lord Devonport also pointed out that it would set free for the use of agriculturists a greater percentage of offals than was previ­ously produced from brewers’ grains. Whereas the brewers returned 25 per cent. of the barley as offals, the farmer would now have 40 per cent, after the other 60 had been made into flour.
Three weeks later it was decreed that no new contracts must be made for the delivery of malt to brewers nor must brewers make it for themselves. At this time it was shown that prac­tically no spirits were being distilled except for explosives. The query as to why the 140,000,000 gallons then in stock was not drawn upon instead of using new materials was replied to in the House by the official statement that it would not pay, although that step would be taken if found neces­sary. Ten days later the manufacture of malt was entirely forbidden except with the consent of the Food Control­ler.
During these few weeks there had been much public discussion of the waste of food stuffs in the manufac­ture of beer, and the submarine men­ace was opening the eyes of the people to the seriousness of the shortage. The Government took notice of pop­ular feeling by revising the regulation issued only a month before, to come into effect in another month. The out­put of beer was cut down to 10,000,­000 barrels, thus saving 600,000 tons of food stuffs. Towards the end of March, the sinkings of merchant ves­sels having become alarming, the vari­ous restrictions seemed justified. Some attempt was made, both in England and France, to exempt French wines from the limitations, but the condi­tions did not admit of argument even on behalf of allied nations.
As the law now stands there are 367,000 tons of barley, 21,420 tons of grits, and 44,700 tons of sugar being utilized for the manufacture of beer. Whether it is possible to convince the public that much of that vast quan­tity of food can he better directed de­pends to a great extent on the future record of submarine sinkings. The demand for further reduction, and even for prohibition, is undoubtedly louder, although as yet not one of the powerful London papers has advocat­ed the latter. It is a peculiarity of the standing of the English press that no such startling change could be effected without newspaper support.
For many months there has been a strong agitation for State purchase as the only feasible method of controlling the waste of food and the menace of drunkenness at such a time. The brewers resist it, probably because they know the temper of the Prime Minister, but they have lent them­selves, with almost every other influ­ence, to past restrictions and do not seriously oppose further steps in that direction. The most stubborn sup­porter of beer as a national stimulant is silenced by the Food Controller’s statement that even the malt at pres­ent in stock would, if diverted to the manufacture of bread, supply the en­tire civilian population of Great Britain with the approved ration for eleven days.
State purchase has the official ear. It has the only public support of real weight. The fact that it was consider­ed in 1915 and discarded as too heavy a financial burden has little effect on thought of to-day. That something must be done, and that pro­hibition would entail a risk the coun­try does not wish to assume in mid­war, seems to point to State purchase as the solution. And with it would go local option. Probably before this is read England will be expressing itself by local balloting upon a question which the greater part of Canada and the United States has already settled to its satisfaction.


The next article of this series is entitled “Education and the War.”

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.