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Demobilisation and recovery

Demobilisation and recovery

The archive collections at the Modern Records Centre contain sources relating to different aspects of the post-war world, including the attempt to find work for demobilised soldiers, the care of the wounded, the economic depression, and the growth of the 'No More War' movement. Some of the highlights from the hundred documents digitised to commemorate the First World War centenary are described below.


War Office Demobilization Committee: Draft scheme of demobilization, 9 November 1916

HIS MAJESTY THE KING expresses to all ranks His appreciation of the services rendered by them to their country

In 1916, the first year of compulsory conscription, the War Office's Demobilization Committee drafted this scheme of demobilisation - planning the logistics of getting hundreds of thousands of men out of the army and back into civilian life (at "an assumed average daily rate of demobilization of 20,000" men), as well as planning the disposal of horses ("at the rate of 10,000 per week") and stores. The scheme includes draft copies of forms and a map of the UK showing "dispersal stations".

[From the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/4/29]


The future of our disabled sailors and soldiers, 1917The future of our disabled sailors and soldiers

A long view must be taken unless a vast number of these men are for the rest of their lives to sigh for what might have been, and the whole community is to lose for the greater part of one generation a valuable quota of “output,” to use that word in a broader than the strictly industrial sense

This illustrated booklet describes "the training and instruction classes at Queen Mary's convalescent auxiliary hospitals, Roehampton, and at Queen Mary's workshops, Pavilion Military Hospital, Brighton, for sailors and soldiers who had lost their limbs in the war". The facilities at Roehampton and Brighton provided occupational training, as well as medical care, in recognition that "men slowly recovering might easily degenerate and gradually come to despair as to their future" unless there was a practical scheme in place to retrain them for civilian employment.

[From the archive of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation; document reference: MSS.36/D24]


'Get ready for demobilisation' - 'Get ready for the six hour day and the five day week', November - December 1917

TO THE WORKERS OF EVERY GRADE AND BOTH SEXES. "Whether you work by the piece, Or work by the day, Reducing the hours Increases the pay." GET READY FOR THE SIX HOUR DAY and THE FIVE DAY WEEK

These leaflets were written and published by the socialist and trade unionist Tom Mann, as part of his campaign to improve conditions for ordinary workers. He argued that preparation was needed by the workers, as well as the government, to successfully reintegrate servicemen and war workers back into post-war work without mass unemployment - "be clearminded as to how the men and women returning to civil life are to find an adequate outlet for energy without upsetting those already at home. In other words, those who are to come home will require work, and those who are already here will require work. It can be shown that there will be plenty of work for all, and good remuneration for it, if only the workers are sensible in deciding how the work shall be done, and insisting that all shall have a share".

[From the archive of Tom Mann; document reference: MSS.334/4/GEN/4]


'Old King Coalition', 1918

"A land fit for heroes" - peopled by slaves!

On 14 December 1918, just over a month after the armistice was signed, the first UK general election for eight years took place. This collection of cartoons by Will Dyson was published by the Daily Herald. It attacks the ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and calls on the electorate - including, for the first time, women - to vote for the Labour Party ("don't be snobs - vote Labour').

Another collection of cartoons by Will Dyson (on the debate over compulsory conscription in 1916) is also available online.

[From the archive of the Transport and General Workers' Union; document reference: MSS.126/TG/238/1/2]


Demobilisation as a political battleground, c.1918

Who promised a land fit for heroes, but gives an unemployed ticket instead? The Coalition Government

The speed of demobilisation and the employment prospects of ex-servicemen were, unsurprisingly, key issues during the 1918 general election. These two Labour leaflets - 'To the soldier, serving and discharged' and 'What the coalition government has done: A catechism' - promote the wartime work and post-war policies of the Labour Party, and attack the actions of the ruling coalition.

[From the papers of Reg Groves; document references: MSS.172/LA/1/1 and MSS.172/LA/1/8]


'The unemployed ex-serviceman's appeal', undated

I worked hard enough in the Service, Defending the old folk at home; But to find work just now is much harder, And so I am forced thus to roam

'The unemployed ex-serviceman's appeal' was a song sheet designed to be sold by unemployed, destitute ex-servicemen for a penny, as an alternative to openly begging on the streets. It included an appeal for work and emphasised the idea that the seller is not a 'shirker' but has long "applied, and still appl[ies] for work, both far and near". Another song sheet, 'A copy of verses on the unemployed and the great distress in England', included more pointed comments on the post-war economic depression and behaviour of the wealthy, whose "sovereigns they nurse and they keep a full purse, So the poor man can’t get a share".

[From the Miscellaneous Collection; document reference: MSS.21/4571]

Newspaper reports from 1920 about a riot of the unemployed (including ex-servicemen) near the Cenotaph in Whitehall are also available online.


A cenotaph souvenir, undated [1919?]Cenotaph souvenir

The monument was not of a funereal character. It was decorated with flags and [bore] a fitting inscription. A military guard of honour was set over it. When the head of the column reached the monument, it was split up into two columns marching on either side. The idea was that those who took part in the pageant should turn aside for a minute from rejoicing in respect and honour for the fallen

The original Cenotaph (Greek for "empty tomb") in Whitehall was a temporary construction of wood and plaster, built for Armistice Day commemorations in 1919. Public enthusiasm for the memorial led to the commissioning of a permanent stone structure which was unveiled in 1920. This commemorative paper napkin was produced by a printer in the nearby Strand, perhaps as a souvenir for visitors on the first Armistice Day.

[Included in the papers of George Patrick Sarsfield LaGrue; document reference: MSS.345/7/3/2]


'A National Scheme for the Employment, on a Percentage Basis, of Disabled ex-Service Men', 1919

It is estimated that the number of disabled ex-Service men (including those yet to be discharged from Army hospitals, etc.) represents about 5 per cent. of the total number of workers in the country

The government's scheme to encourage the employment of disabled ex-servicemen is outlined in this memorandum and its accompanying letter. The scheme urged that "every employer in the United Kingdom who employs 10 or more workers [should] undertake to employ as many disabled ex-Service men as possible, with a minimum of 5 per cent. of his total establishment".

[From the archive of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation; document reference: MSS.36/D24]


'A speech on behalf of mentally disabled ex-service men by the Rt. Hon Winston Churchill', 1934

The full consequences of the War to individuals are in some cases only now making themselves apparent in their after-effects upon the mind. It is melancholy and alarming to reflect that where there were 2,500 ex-Service men in our mental hospitals and asylums in 1919, that there are nearly 6,000 there to-day, and this figure of 30,000 border-line cases is more formidable and impressive still

The Ex-Services Welfare Society was formed in 1919 to provide support for members of the armed forces affected by "shell shock", now more commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder or combat stress. This speech by Winston Churchill at the Mansion House, London, was made during his 'Wilderness years' outside the Cabinet. In it he appeals for public funding to help "a rearguard whose distress mocks our achievements" and supplement the war pensions paid by the state.

[From the Trades Union Congress archive; document reference: MSS.292/107/4/11]


Broadcast appeals by an unknown soldier, 1935 and 1938

Some of you may have fainted at the sight of a street accident — but what of the men who saw horrors unspeakable during those four-and-a-half years? Can you wonder at their losing their reasoning power and mental poise?

During the 1930s, the BBC broadcast radio appeals by "an unknown soldier" on behalf of the Ex-Services Welfare Society. The broadcasts include comments on the disparity between public donations to charities for soldiers with physical injuries (who have "the empty sleeves or the sightless eyes to excite your pity") and to those who are "wounded souls" "unable to express their misery and depression in words".

[From the Trades Union Congress archive; document reference: MSS.292/107/4/11]


'No More War!', 1934

No More War

As you look upon these frightful pictures, these terrifying scenes, these atrocious mutilations, and these pitiful human wrecks, remember that the same fate awaits all of you, especially you young workers, on the day when war comes again

Twenty years after the outbreak of the First World War, at a time of rearmament in Europe and war in the Far East, the International Federation of Trade Unions published this multi-lingual booklet in an attempt "to place before the public a true picture of war as it really is" and to encourage them to "prevent at all costs the recurrence of the unspeakable calamity of war" and fight fascism, then "the chief inciter of war". The message is emphasised through the use of very explicit photographs of the wounded and dead.

[From the Maitland Sara Hallinan collection; document reference: MSS.15X/2/232/3]

A booklet published by the Communist Party of Great Britain to mark the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War - '20 years after! The real story of the war in pictures' - is also available online.