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Battles at Home

“for Great Britain was at war – and this tiny daughter in the azure sea; this self-ruled little kingdom of “Man” was bearing her share in the family suffering”

from "Muriel Cannell: A Manx Story of Wartime" by Emma Burgess, published 1916

Economic Impact

One of the most immediate and serious effects of the outbreak of war on the Isle of Man was the drastic fall in the number of tourists. 1913 had seen the peak of tourism, with over 650,000 visitors to the island and approximately 4,000 arrivals every day.

By the summer of 1915 however, there were only 400 visitors a day. The combined effect of the U-boat threat, the requisition of Steam Packet ferries for use in the war and less available railway travel in the UK meant that the industry that supported a huge section of the Manx population suddenly collapsed.

Unlike the English, Manx people did not receive National Insurance, old age pensions or any other benefits to help them through hard times. Sales of food and tobacco were taxed but income was not, which meant that poor people paid more of their money in tax than rich people. And Tynwald, led by Lord Raglan, refused to provide money to local boards who were trying their best to support the struggling population.

Some people suggested that the Isle of Man should consider annexation, and become part of Lancashire. Others wanted total independence. Lord Raglan’s unpopularity grew, leading to rows in the House of Keys and protests by the people. And Manx workers started to look for new ways to improve their standard of living and increase their power.

an “incompetent noodle of a Governor”…

Mr W Clucas of Peel, on Lord Raglan. Reported in the Mona's Herald, 12 July 1916

Political Clashes

After a few years of war, many Manx people were becoming desperate. The In 1915 boarding-house owners joined together under the leadership of radical local journalist Samuel Norris, and formed the War Rights Union of Tenants and Occupiers of Business Premises. They demanded fair rates, rents, and compensation for the effect of the war on their businesses. They were especially angry that taxes were raised through the sale of food, which meant that poor people paid more of their income in taxes than rich people did.

The unelected Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, Lord Raglan, was powerful, conservative and unpopular. He had blocked many reforms from Britain, such as health insurance and pensions, and prevented direct taxation that would have raised more money from the rich. By 1916 he was clashing with several members of the House of Keys over these policies.

While the Battle of the Somme began in France, the angry Manx people confronted Raglan at the Tynwald Day ceremony.

Shortages

Like the rest of the British Isles, the Isle of Man suffered shortages of food and supplies, owing to the German blockade of merchant shipping from February 1915. Coal was in especially short supply, as it was not produced on island and needed to be sailed across the treacherous, U-boat-infested Irish Sea. Manx towns were blacked out to conserve supplies of this precious resource.

Rationing was introduced on a voluntary basis in 1917 and an official one in 1918, with quantities of sugar, meat and bread carefully controlled. The Manx people also saw the price of basic supplies rise throughout the war.

“Great Victory for Manx Workers”

Mona's Herald, 10 July 1918

The 1918 Bread Strike

During the war, the supply of bread was carefully controlled in Britain. It was an important part of the diet of the poor, so richer people were discouraged from eating it. The British government paid bakers so that the cost of a loaf was no more than 9d, which meant that people could afford it no matter how bad the shortages were.

In 1918, Lord Raglan decided to end the government payments to keep the ninepenny loaf, as Tynwald would need to introduce income tax to afford it. However, this came at a time when many workers were earning just 4d an hour. However, more and more Manx workers had joined the Workers’ Union during the war, and they decided to take a stand.

On 4 July 1918, a General Strike began. Workers were angry not just about the ninepenny loaf, but also the lack of old age pensions and many of Lord Raglan’s decisions to withhold help from the island’s struggling population. The Steam Packet and railways stopped running, women refused to work in the knitting factories and schools closed down.

Tynwald Day was cancelled. There were angry scenes when Robert Moughtin refused to close his coal yard on South Quay in Douglas, and the police had to intervene. However, the strike was successful, Lord Raglan left the island and the ninepenny loaf remained.

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