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This extract from my book The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy is from the start of chapter 6 Wartime Imperatives …

While sport and other outdoor activities were often the reasons people put forward for wanting daylight saving time in the years before World War I, the potential for fuel savings in wartime became the overriding motive for a time change by the mid 1910s. In the House of Commons on 16 February 1916, Basil Peto, member for Devizes, Wiltshire, enquired of the need to conserve oil and gas for Britain’s war effort. More questions were asked about saving time and power a few weeks later on 7 March. Prime minister Herbert Asquith held firm in his objection to altering the clocks, pointing out that other policies to save energy were already in place:

“The joint effect of the darkening of the streets and the early closing of places where intoxicants are sold has probably contributed more towards shortening the interval between sunset and bedtime than would the adoption of Central European Time as the standard time during the summer.”[1]

While England continued to debate the issue, the German Empire was doing the same. In 1912, Henry Böttinger, industrialist and member of the Prussian House of Lords, proposed a daylight saving system where the working day would start and finish earlier reducing demand for artificial light. The Conference of Chambers of Commerce advocated daylight saving and a member of the Lords proposed a bill in 1913. The Enabling Act 1914 was put through the German parliament, the Bundestag, on 4 August, a week after the start of the war, and this Act allowed the government to implement various economic policies in wartime, such as food rationing, asset seizures and time changes.

A British blockade of Germany from 1914 cut off imports of all sorts of goods, including petroleum and paraffin. And local coal supplies were needed to produce electricity for weapons and other industries and gas for city lighting. The country suffered a fuel shortage by 1915. It knew that redirecting fuel from domestic and normal business use into war industries would be to its advantage and that the quickest and easiest way to do this was to reduce the use of artificial light. The German Federal Council decided on 6 April 1916 to implement summer time, or Sommerzeit, as a wartime economy measure. The government estimated that the scheme would result in energy savings over the summer of 900 million marks. Clocks were wound forward an hour on Sunday 30 April at 11 p.m. and were to be put back an hour on Sunday 1 October at 1 a.m. The new time applied across most of the empire and included Germany itself, most of Poland, part of what is now the Czech Republic, and Kaliningrad.

For the first day or two, many people turned up for work at the wrong time and traffic was busy. But there was no serious opposition to the move, with most people either agreeing with the change or perhaps too scared not to agree. The government warned it would crack down on any firms found not operating on summer time. Some clothing shops included the new time in their advertising, announcing to the public that summer fashions could be bought an hour earlier. In the city of Bremen, households and businesses used less electricity and gas, and thus coal, but energy providers complained of a reduction in revenue of 40,000 marks, which the city made up by increasing income tax.

… [details of the start of daylight saving time in various European countries on both sides of the war.]

Meanwhile, at home, food prices rose while Britain had only six weeks of wheat left, and bread was a staple. Coal too was in short supply, with many miners having enlisted to fight in the war. On 4 May 1916, the War Saving Committee stressed the need to economise. Home secretary Herbert Samuel said that the government favoured daylight saving to conserve fuel. Also, the railways were strongly in support of the measure.

On 8 May 1916, after much discussion, member for Blackburn, Henry Norman, an advocate of daylight saving throughout its long and bumpy ride in the British Parliament, asked that a bill for the scheme be brought into the House of Commons. The motion was carried 170 votes to 2. Samuel introduced a Summer Time Bill the next day and it was read a second time on 10 May. Unlike previous bills, debate concentrated on economic issues rather than recreational advantages. He spoke of the coal shortage and the need to reduce artificial lighting and save fuel. Owen Philipps pointed out that ship builders would be able to work an extra hour and increase the country’s shipping capacity without fear of the night-time attacks of the German Zeppelin airships that had resulted in the death of around 550 British civilians up to May 1916.

Apart from Herbert Asquith, who still wasn’t interested in daylight saving, one of the bill’s few other detractors came from the House of Lords, where Lord Balfour of Burleigh called the bill ridiculous and absurd. As an example of a disadvantage, he asked what would happen if on 1 October a twin was born just before summer time ended and the clocks went back before the other twin was born. The births might be 10 minutes apart but the second twin would be born 50 minutes earlier in the eyes of the law and be deemed the elder. This “might conceivably affect the property and titles in that house”, Balfour said. But there wasn’t much he or other lords could do, even if a majority had been against the bill, as the Asquith government had abolished the power of the House of Lords to reject legislation when it passed the Parliament Act 1911.

The bill was approved on 15 May 1916 and royal assent obtained on 17 May. After eight years of bills and parliamentary debate, daylight saving time had become law, just over a week after the latest bill had been introduced. The Summer Time Act 1916 came into effect three days before Empire Day, on Sunday 21 May at 2 a.m. when clocks were put forward an hour, and would end on Sunday 1 October at 3 a.m. when they would be wound back an hour. The Act was enforceable each year for the duration of the war and applied to all public institutions, railways, post offices, police stations, banks, shops and other businesses in Great Britain and Ireland. The only exceptions were astronomy and navigation, where Greenwich Mean Time would continue to apply. In the end, the main reasons for the Act were arguably to save coal and to increase the hours available for work. The British overseas territory of Gibraltar had daylight saving for the same period as the United Kingdom.

The first day of daylight saving time was bright and sunny in London and elsewhere in England and people took advantage of the extra hour of light. Parks of the Office of Works and the London County Council didn’t close until dusk although many people were turned away from Kew Gardens as they closed by the same clock time as before. Tennis courts and bowling greens were open late. Evening concerts were able to start in May rather than waiting until June. Folk were seen dashing to hotels for a drink before closing time, forgetting they were open for another hour as their legislation was based on standard time. Bradford and Nottingham reported reduced gas use.

… [Further details of daylight saving time in the UK and Europe during World War I]

[1] Parliament of the United Kingdom, Hansard, House of Commons, 7 March 1916, at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1916/mar/07/daylight-saving-bill

The Great Daylight Saving Time Controversy is available from Amazon, Kobo Books, Google and Apple.

DST book cover