Business as Usual? Trade, Commerce and Ethics on the Home Front 1914-1919

When war was declared in 1914, it was decided that Britain should continue to follow the economic philosophy of Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government and its free trade doctrines. People could contribute to the country’s war effort by ‘carrying on’ as usual – or at least as far as possible.

Business as Usual? Trade, Commerce and Ethics on the Home Front 1914-1919

The catchphrase ‘business as usual’, generally attributed to David Lloyd George when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, was also used a good deal. He supposedly coined it in August 1914 in a speech to business leaders as a part of a plan to reduce the effect of the war on the economy. The big shopkeepers took up the slogan, as did manufacturers and representatives of industry.

Was it business ‘as usual’?

This one-day event seeks to investigate how businesses – big and small – national or local – did manage to carry on “as usual” – or whether they were forced to radically change their way of doing things during the war.

We want to explore some of the following questions:

  • How did manufacturers or retailers engage in what Leslie Midkiff DeBauche has termed ‘practical patriotism’? How did they `combine allegiance to country and to business’?
  • Could making a profit ever become profiteering?
  • How did the media treat these issues?
  • Did it matter who you did business with? What instances are there of companies trading with “enemy” partners? What was the consequence of this?

Two short plays from 1916 and 1921

Also part of the day will be a semi-staged performance of two short 1-act plays dealing with these topics: Howard and Son (1916) and Harold Brighouse’s satire Once a Hero (1921)

Free event

The event is FREE, but places are limited and therefore booking is required.  Places are limited and early booking recommended.

Complimentary lunch and refreshments will be provided. Please indicate any dietary or other requirements with your registration.

A more detailed programme will be made available closer to the event date.


(Image credit: IWM (Q 31059)


Film, Music & Media Building, College Lane Campus, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, AL10 9AB

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