The importance and purpose of Censorship during the First World War

The Defence of the Realm Act enabled censorship during the First World War. The following quotes from the Defence of the Realm Act show what the government was trying to ensure:

“to prevent persons communicating with the enemy or obtaining information for that purpose or any purpose calculated to jeopardise the success of the operations of any of His Majesty’s forces or the forces of his allies or to assist the enemy.”

“to prevent the spread of false reports or reports likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty or to interfere with the success of His Majesty’s forces by land or sea or to prejudice His Majesty’s relations with foreign powers;”

“otherwise to prevent assistance being given to the enemy or the successful prosecution of the war being endangered.”

Censorship was then a crucial part of the war effort. Information could not be written down that could help the enemy if it was intercepted, nor could anything be written that was ‘likely to cause disaffection’. This meant that, for example, soldiers writing home could not state exactly where they were, what actions they had been involved in, anything about losses or poor morale. Newspapers had to be careful in the way that they reported the war: good news was fine, anything that may lead to disaffection, wasn’t. As a result, the nature of warfare on the Western Front was not reported during the war, and was not mentioned in letters that were sent from the front.


Key Stage history – lesson plan and resources on Censorship in the First World War.

National Archives – Espionage, propaganda and censorship

First World War Homepage
Causes of the First World WarAssassination of Franz Ferdinand
Schlieffen PlanPublic Reaction to the Outbreak of War
British Expeditionary ForceInteractive Timeline of the First World War
Simulation: Life in the TrenchesStatistics
Changing role of WomenWar Poetry
British Contribution to Western FrontDevelopment of New Weapons
Creeping BarrageWestern Front in 1918
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