Lloyd George as a public orator, speaking outdoors in Wales in  1919

The Ministry of Munitions Act, which received Royal assent on 9 June 1915, was followed by an Order in Council which transferred the main functions of the War Office in ordnance contracts, supply and inspection to a discrete department of government headed by the man who wanted it most, David Lloyd George. The Defence of the Realm Act of 1915 (No. 2 March 1915) also allowed his ministry to take over any factory and its labour force to prioritise war production. Keen to be remembered as the man who saved the day by rescuing munitions from its ‘crisis’, the egocentric Lloyd George described his task as politically, ‘ A wilderness of risks with no oasis in sight’. [1] In reality, he had the full backing of the powers that operated behind the scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. In the process of advancing his political career, the once principled Welshman comprehensively sold his soul and proved himself devoid of all moral qualities. [2] Let there be no doubt, Lloyd George was in the political ascendency and through him, the Secret Elite expanded their stranglehold on output and production. The one-time pacifist was indecently eager to give them the chance to make huge profits providing they gave him the shells. [3]

In moving from his stewardship of the nation’s finances to master of munitions, Lloyd George entered a world where he was free to spend unlimited amounts of money on provisions of war which were never subject to targets or upper limits. The public perception was that more shells equalled certain victory, and any voice contrary risked accusations of treachery. He is reputed to have estimated the shell requirement by the following proposition; ‘Take Kitchener’s maximum; square it, multiply that by two; and when you are in sight of that, double it for good luck’. [4] What he did went well beyond the wildest dreams of the Armament’s Trusts. He once again cast himself in the role of the friend of big business and the industrial-financial elite whose favour he had curried at the Board of Trade in 1906. [5]

Lloyd George gathered round him men from business and industry, including Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith, a Ruskin-adherent and old Oxford University acquaintance of Secret Elite leader Alfred Milner. Smith had been responsible for the system of war-risk insurance to protect shipping company owners, and in 1915 played a crucial role in wresting munitions supply policy from the War Office. He later developed Lloyd George’s wartime manpower policy [6] into a shape approved by Milner. Sir Percy Giraud, managing director of the Elswick Works of armaments giant Armstrong, Whitworth, became director-general of munition supply, and was succeeded by Sir Frederick Black, Director of Naval Contracts. It was to Black that George Macaulay Booth had reported when he advised that J.P. Morgan should be appointed sole purchaser for Britain in the American market. [7] Morgan, as we have seen was a close associate of the Secret Elite. While so many names may at first be overwhelming, they demonstrate the links between influential businessmen, American bankers, trusted high ranking civil servants and Secret Elite agents who pervaded Lloyd George’s munitions department.

Heavy ordnance shells being produced in 1916

His supporters in the national press, especially Northcliffe’s, hailed Lloyd George’s appointment as a decision that would ‘satisfy the country’, [8] and the owner of The Times sent him a personal note dramatically claiming that he (Lloyd George) had taken on the ‘heaviest responsibility that has fallen on any Briton for 100 years.’ [9] A Punch cartoon depicted the Welshman boldly controlling the twin horses of capital and labour as he rode to the army’s rescue with a carriage full of the munitions of war, under the banner of ‘Delivering The Goods’. [10] The general perception was put about that, in terms of the provision of shells for the western front, it was, ‘War Office, Bad; Ministry of Munitions, Good’, but the legend that Lloyd George saved the day in 1915 and the early months of 1916 is preposterous. [11] Raw statistics appeared to justify this self-proclaimed achievement. He took up office on Whit-Monday 1915 and by 31 December shell deliveries totalled 16,460,501, the vast majority of which arrived late in the year. In fact 13,746,433 of these had been ordered beforehand by the War Office [12] and had nothing to do with the rush to ‘rescue the situation’ as painted by Lloyd George’s friends and sponsors. In truth, these impressive statistics were the result of the steady conversion and expansion of war industry since August 1914,[13] an expansion that was primarily set in place by Lord Kitchner.

shell-wastage by 1916

Unquestionably Lloyd George appointed some able organisers. Sir Eric Geddes, who epitomised his ‘man for the job’ approach, became  deputy director of munitions supply, responsible for rifles, machine guns, field guns, motor lorries, field kitchens, and innumerable other items. As head of the gun ammunition department he earned undying gratitude for improving shell output in time for the opening of the Somme offensive. [14] The additional supplies of heavy artillery enabled the generals to continue their awesome wastage and ironically it was Lloyd George’s radical drive which enabled the orthodox military policies to continue. [15] Over six days almost two million shells were fired at German positions at the Somme before the doomed infantry attack.You might even believe that it was a striking victory  if viewed in terms of the profligate use of munitions rather than the awful carnage and wasteful sacrifice of mutilated armies.

Lloyd George achieved the Secret Elite ideal to replace politicians and traditional career civil-servants with businessmen who, in his own words, ‘had touched the industrial life of the country and of the Empire at every point.’ [16]  The War Office caution was cast aside in favour of business managers and innovators. The ministry of munitions conducted a national survey of engineering resources, divided the country into manageable regions and put the issuing of contracts into the hands of local boards of management. While Lloyd George appeared to nationalise the munitions industry, he did nothing of the sort. A number of state factories were established with considerable fanfare but most of the local boards opted for a system of contracts placed under the management of the major arms firms. [17] This was a clever move because the ministry’s relationship with the Armaments Trusts remained mutually positive and productive. In many cases the national factories were integrated with or attached to existing firms, and prices still remained excessively high.

The Secret Elite’s need to control went deeper and further than the issue of armaments.  Powerful trades unions had to be brought into line. Lloyd George began a campaign to convince the country that war work was second only to that of the fighting forces of the Empire. Brooking no objections and fearing no-one, he set out on a crusade to tame industrial unrest, backed as ever by Northcliffe’s newspapers. The Times naturally supported his call for a relaxation of trades union practices and the employment of women in munitions. [18] In the full glare of national publicity he rapidly visited factories and Town Halls in Manchester (3 June 1915), Liverpool (4 June), Cardiff (10 June), and Bristol (12 June), knowing full well that every word he uttered would be front page news. Sometimes, as in Liverpool, he had private and unreported meetings with employers first, before addressing the massed battalions of dockworkers and declaring that there was no room for slackers. [19] Though he was cheered to the rafters, the Times noted three days later that there were just as many absentees from work in Liverpool on the following Saturday.

Lloyd George’s repeated warnings that he had powers under the Defence of the Realm Act that he might be forced to use, presaged the action he intended to take. A special conference was convened in private on 10 June with 75 representatives from 22 major workplace unions at the new ministry, and on 16 June a second conference at the Board of Trade was held with over 40 representatives from trade union associations. Lloyd George had the courage to make it personal, to meet the workers and their leaders and, in his own words, ‘tell you the truth’. [20] The truth and Lloyd George had long been distant bedfellows, but his rhetoric appealed to the masses and thrilled the employers.

National shell-filling factory at Chilwell

He went to Cardiff to set up a national munitions factory in South Wales and, though he always found room to warn about the necessity of compulsory powers, Lloyd George urged his audience to ‘plant the flag on your workshop; every lathe you have, recruit it.’ [21] In Bristol the exhortation was to let the men in the trenches ‘hear the ringing in the forges of Great Britain, of the hammer on the anvil…’ [22] A deputation of workers from Wm. Beardmore and Co. and the Dalmuir shipyards on the Clyde had been sent to France to visit front-line troops and returned urging ‘more shells, and more high explosive shells.’ [23] Let it be clearly understood; Lloyd George was the only national politician who could have carried off the most all-encompassing restrictions planned on personal freedom and choice in Britain since Oliver Cromwell, without a revolt. He was an invaluable operator for the Secret Elite.

The Munitions of War Act (2 July, 1915) stamped an unprecedented control over the British worker. Despite its innocuous title, the new law introduced  draconian limitations on the rights of the working man and woman. Arbitration in disputes about wages, hours and conditions of work became compulsory. Factories could be deemed ‘Controlled Establishments’ whose profits were to be limited by a munitions levy or tax and no wage increases were allowed without the consent of Lloyd George’s ministry. While apologists hailed this move as evidence of a fair-minded approach, [24] the notion that profits were henceforth restricted to just 20% more than the average of the last two years of peace missed the point that pre-war profits were already exorbitant and the orders were now so vast that enormous gains continued to be made. However, on the face of it, the law appeared to demand an equal sacrifice from capitalist and labour, [25] and that was his message.

Strikes and Lockouts were prohibited. Workers could no longer move from one part of the country to another without explicit permission, and anyone attempting to relocate had to have a ‘leaving certificate.’ The Minister himself could organise war munitions volunteers, demand the removal of labour from non-munitions work and issue or withdraw badges identifying men who should remain in armaments production rather than volunteer. Workers were obliged to take certain jobs and work overtime, paid or unpaid.  Fundamentally, workers in the munitions industries remained civilians bound by quasi military restrictions on their personal rights. Munitions Tribunals were set up in the workplace to dispense local justice, and individual rights were taken by force of law and held in abeyance for the duration of the war. Not that it all went smoothly. [26] In more than a quarter of the cases where workers appealed to the Glasgow Tribunal against their employers’ refusal to grant them a  certificate to move to another workplace, the tribunal found against the employer. Almost immediately after the passing of the Act, the South Wales miners went out on strike and it took Lloyd George’s personal intervention to persuade them to return. Three workers at Fairfield shipyard on the Clyde were given prison sentences for the non-payment of a fine which led to a strike-call. It was only avoided when a mysterious donor paid the fines. Social unrest was not dispelled by the force of Lloyd George’s personality, and by August 1917 the provision was abandoned. [27]

Postcard showing rent strikers in 1915 remembering the Glasgow Councillor, Mary Barbour

Towards the end of 1915 the Glasgow Rent Strike erupted into a popular protest against greedy landlords who abused the housing shortage by raising rents in seriously sub-standard tenements whilst the family breadwinners were fighting and dying on the Western Front. That landlords and their factors could treat the suffering poor with such heartless war-profiteering and widespread evictions, stirred resentment to action. Protests were widely supported by left-wing groups in and around Glasgow and Clydeside including the Labour Party and trade unions, but mainly women left to protect their own. [28] Forced by the impact the protest was having on the massive armaments workshops, engineering factories and ship-yards arrayed along the banks of the Clyde, where imminent disruption to production was threatened in favour of the women’s resistance, the government  passed a Rent Restriction Act. [29] This once liberal government was moved not by social justice, but by the threat to war production.

Lloyd George suffered the embarrassment of being summoned to Glasgow to meet with three thousand exasperated union officials and armaments workers crammed into St Andrew’s Hall on Christmas Morning 1915. Problems of labour dilution by which less skilled workers were permitted to take on more skilled work,  and  their consequent loss of status, was a serious concern throughout the engineering industry. But the Minister of Munitions was determined to drive forward his plans for 80,000 new workers in ‘state-owned, state-erected, state-controlled, state equipped factories with no profits for any capitalists.’ [30] What arrant nonsense, but it sounded good. He faced down the cat-calls and the singing of the Red Flag with typical self-assurance, and earned praise from the Northcliffe papers. What cannot be denied is that lies and propaganda from a fawning press ensured that Lloyd George emerged from his time as Minister of Munitions as a national hero, basking in the success of his business colleagues, and fortunate in his dealings with the unions. His public profile was such that he outshone everyone else in the government, including Kitchener, and his stock rose even further with the Secret Elite. It certainly propelled him from offices in Whitehall Gardens to Downing Street.

What was studiously covered up, however, was his disreputable relationship with the international arms-dealer and merchant of death, Basil Zaharoff an agent of a different kind, whose contribution we will consider in our next blogs.

[1] David Lloyd George, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, p. 144.
[2] George H Cassar, Kitchener, Architect of Victory, p. 343.
[3] Donald McCormick, The Mask of Merlin, pp. 100-101.
[4] Hew Strachan, The First World War, Vol. 1 The Rush To Arms, p. 1077.
[5] McCormick, The Mask of Merlin, p. 102.
[6] Rodger Davidson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36147
[7] Kathleen Burk, Britain, America and the Sinews of War, p. 18.
[8] Daily Mail, 26 May, 1915.
[9] J. Lee Thomson, Northcliffe, Press Baron in Politics, 1865-1922, p. 242.
[10] Punch 21 April 1915.
[11] George A B Dewar and J H Boreston, Sir Douglas Haig’s Command, vol. 1, p.69.
[12] Ministry of Munitions, vol. 1 , Pt. 1 p. 150.
[13] Strachan, The First World War, Vol. 1, p. 1069.
[14] Keith Grieves, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/33360
[15] Chris Wrigley, The Ministry of Munitions: An Innovatory Department, in War and the State, edited by Kathleen Burk, p. 39.
[16] David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, p. 150.
[17] Strachan, The First World War, Vol. 1, pp. 1079-80.
[18] The Times, 1 June 1915, p. 5.
[19] Ibid., 5 June, 1915 p. 9.
[20] Ibid., 4 June, p.9.
[21] Ibid., 11 June, p. 9.
[22] Ibid., 14 June, p. 8.
[23] Ibid., 18 June, p. 5.
[24] R J Q Adams, Delivering The Goods: Reappraising the Ministry of Munitions: 1915-1916,  Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol.7 no. 3 (autumn 1975) pp.232-244.
[25] Rules For The Limitation of Profits In Controlled Establishments, PRO MUN /5/100/360/13.
[26] Conciliation And Arbitration, Monthly Labour Review, Vol. 10, no. 4 (April, 1920) p. 233.
[27] Niall Ferguson, The Pity Of War, p. 273 and ref. 123, p. 519.
[28] http://sites.scran.ac.uk/redclyde/redclyde/rceve5.htm
[29] T C Smout, A Century of the Scottish People, 1830-1950, pp. 268-9.
[30] The Times, 27 December, 1915, p.3.