Sometimes, things become so common in our everyday lives that we forget to question where they came from. When we looked around us, we were surprised by just how many things we found that we still do today that actually came about during WW1.
Here’s 10 of the most ubiquitous things that owe their place in our everyday lives – in whole or in part – to WW1… and some are not quite as British as you’d think!
1. British Summer Time
The most wonderful time of the year! When the clocks roll backwards, allowing us a few months of long, not-dark days (to say sunny would probably be over enthusiastic for England). But why do we do this, I hear you cry on March 29th (when the clocks go forwards, losing an hour of vital sleep)!?
Well, the idea was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, to The Journal of Paris in 1784, popping up again in New Zealand in 1895 and in the UK in 1909- But the idea didn’t really catch on until World War One. Germany was experiencing a coal shortage, and so on 30th April 1916, the clocks moved forward to allow an extra hour of daylight as a measure to reduce the amount of coal needed.
England was quick to follow suit, putting their clocks forward on 21st May 1916 as established in the Summer Time Act 1916. The act meant that fewer resources were needed to produce light in the evenings, whether that was coal, gas or candles- and it’s a tradition we’ve stuck to ever since with the exception of 1940 only.
2. The British Passport
Essential for travel in and out of the country (and an essential for any of us lucky enough to luck under 25 in any venue serving alcohol…), the passport was not an original British idea. The concept of travel papers stems back to the rule of king Artaxerxes in Ancient Persia (approx. 450BC), granting the prophet Nehemiah safe passage to Judah.
There are references to “safe conduct” documents in England in 1414, with the term “passport” in use by around 1540. But these papers were not necessary for international travel at the outbreak of WW1 in 1914.
The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 resulted in the issue of what we might recognize as a passport today. This allowed for the restriction of movement during a period of paranoia as far as ‘aliens’ were concerned. A folded carboard cover housed a single sheet of paper folded into eight, containing a photograph, signature and personal description. It was valid for two years. This would later be replaced by “old blue” in 1920, issued in an effort to standardise passports- and would eventually evolve into the modern burgundy European passport in 1988.
3. Street Parties
A street party is something my generation of twenty-something’s might associate with Royal affairs, such as the Royal wedding, or the Queen’s Royal jubilee… but this very British Tradition actually has a much more humble background.
‘Peace Teas’ were introduced in 1919 as a special treat for children as a form of peace celebration after the war. These events were organised on a mass basis by local residents, in celebration of the Peace Treaty. If you do a quick image search of these Peace Teas, you’ll see that bunting was essential for any street event, even then!
Everyone’s favourite fizzy orange beverage (lemon if you’re lucky) might seem a bit of a boggling one to have on this list. But even Fanta would not exist without the occurrence of World War Two.
Nazi Germany experienced problems importing American Coca-Cola syrup into the country during WWII due to issues with international trade. Head of Coca-Cola Deutschland, Max Keith decided to create a new product, using ingredients that were easily available within Germany at the time, as the German plant had now been cut off by headquarters. Enter Fanta! Keith encouraged his team to use their imagination, or “fantasie” in German, which was abbreviated to Fanta by salesman Joe Knipp.
5. Last orders at the bar
As gender roles changed rapidly on the Home Front, concerns about war productivity ran high within the British government. Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George ran campaigns against alcohol, declaring that Britain was “fighting German’s, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see, the greatest of these foes is drink.
As Russia outlawed the production of vodka in 1914, other governments also put measures in place. The Defence of the Realm Act was passed on 8th August 1914. One of the issues addressed in the act was alcohol, which was to be watered down, and pub opening times were restricted. This law was intended to keep morale and production high, preventing soldiers and labourers from drinking their wages, and preventing “inappropriate sexual behaviour” in public houses. And that’s still the reason why you can’t call in to your local for a pint at 3am in 2015- and most probably why clubs and bars became so popular. Us rebels know how to bend the rules!
6. Plastic Surgery
Industrial war brought with in horrific injuries, mutilating men in ways that no one could ever imagine. Facial injuries were common, not only due to the effects of war, but due to poor dental hygiene, which led to many men being sent home from the Front Line. These issues meant that facial and dental surgeries developed- and fast. Facial reconstruction methods were developed, aswell as skin grafts and the fitting of prosthetics – all rather common surgeries in our day and age.
7. Blood banks
Blood transfusions were first introduced to the British Third Army troops as a treatment for shock during World War One. The risk of Haemorrhage was significant in any war injury, where only limited medical supplies where available, any significant loss of blood would mean help was needed to transport oxygen around the body.
The benefits of this treatment were evident to all. By 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, over 9,000 litres of blood were administered.
In 1940, the “Blood for Britain” program was introduced, aided by the American Red Cross, who collected blood from donors living in New York, exporting the plasma to Britain. In 1943 the first American “Blood Banks” began to take shape. As scientific knowledge of blood and plasma developed, dried plasma became an essential in any medical kit on the front line. By the end of World War Two, over 6,000,000 Army-Navy Plasma packages had been collected for treating war casualties. This developed into the system that we are so familiar with today.
Chemotherapy is a word that gives us all the shudders. The dreaded treatment for the dreaded condition. Chemotherapy actually originated not through medical science, but as a result of chemical warfare.
WW1 saw the use of mustard gas as an agent of warfare on a mass scale. Mustard gas incapacitated the enemy, chemically blinding anyone exposed to it, causing blistering of the skin and air passages.
Following the war, scientists began studying the effects of gas, in order to minimise the effects and develop treatments. And as they studied, they noticed a reduction in white blood cell count. In World War Two, doctors noticed that these chemicals could alter cell development in bone marrow. This theory was rested upon cancer cells of the lymph nodes- known as lymphoma, and they found that the gas could actually shrink the cells.
The treatment was harsh, and many chemical combinations were tested, in order to target specific types of cancer. Chemotherapy is a treatment commonly used today in order to fight disease and prolong life. Though the proverbial war against cancer rages on to this day; it turns out that this brutal form of physical war fare that claimed the lives of so many, has actually helped to save millions more.
9. Votes for Women
As men left in their thousands for the Front Line, women now ruled the Home Front. No longer tied to the role of mother and housewife, women worked in munitions factories, on farms, in chemical works, and in public services. Women now earned their own money and could run a home in their own right. But yet they still didn’t have the right to vote. The 1918 Representation of the People Act gave a voice to women in British government for the first time. As men returned from war, and women were forced from their jobs, the Suffragette movement began to gain momentum.
After a decade of campaigning, women over the age of 30 were allowed to vote in 1918. This seems horrendous to our modern selves, but this was an outstanding breakthrough for the time, and a bold step in the movement for equal rights, which continues around the world today. This is especially poignant as we celebrate International Women’s Day this Sunday (8th March).
10. The Tea Bag
Us Brits love a good old cup of tea, don’t we? Though oddly, neither the practise of drinking tea, nor the mighty teabag is of British origin! The paper tea bag was invented in 1908 by an American tea merchant, who would send small bags to his customers. Prior to this, hand sewn fabric tea bags can be seen from around 1903.
Tea was a staple in any British soldier’s mess kit. Per day, each soldier would be allocated 5/8 ounces of tea. This wasn’t only a comforting reminder of home, it kept soldiers warm, it softened their hard rationed biscuits (which were notorious for cracking teeth!), and most importantly, it concealed the taste of the stagnant water which often transported in petrol tins.
It seems that it wasn’t only us Brits that saw the importance of tea, though. German company, Teekanne took on the idea of the paper tea bag, supplying their troops with small measures of tea held in cotton bags. Known as “tea bombs”, the common teabag has become an essential item around the world, most favoured in England (and most likely up in Yorkshire- it’s not called Yorkshire tea for nothing, you know!).
So there you have it! Ten things that are so common in our everyday lives that we forget to even question where they came from. Got another to add? Tell us in the comments and we’ll add them to the list!
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