Harry’s trib­ute to the fallen

The joy of peace in 1918 soon gave way to anger as mil­lions of sol­diers des­per­ately waited to get home. When they got there, the ‘land fit for he­roes’ they dreamed of was blighted by eco­nomic and so­cial woes, writes Ali­son Camp­sie

The Scotsman - - Front Page -

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sus­sex, salutes af­ter plant­ing a me­mo­rial cross at the Field of Re­mem­brance ser­vice at West­min­ster Abbey yes­ter­day

The war was won – but life as a sol­dier back in Scot­land felt far from glo­ri­ous.

Sol­diers spent months try­ing to re­turn to their loved ones fol­low­ing Armistice Day on 11 Novem­ber, 1918. Kept in camps and of­ten forced to do me­nial jobs for low pay, un­rest broke out across the coun­try as the gov­ern­ment and army fig­ured out how to re­turn up to 3.8 mil­lion men to civil­ian life.

When home, the men faced new chal­lenges. Scot­land was re­cov­er­ing from the af­ter­math of the Span­ish Flu out­break of 1918 and 1919 which killed an es­ti­mated 70,000 peo­ple. Mean­while, high rents, high cost of liv­ing and low wages blighted a “land fit for he­roes”.

Mike Hally, a Phd can­di­date at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity who has ex­am­ined de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion, says: “My over­all im­pres­sion is that both the mil­i­tary and the gov­ern­ment just weren’t ready for peace and so the men were not pre­pared ei­ther for what was to come next.

“They thought that when the guns stopped fir­ing they could go home but it was far more com­pli­cated than that.”

The pol­icy of al­low­ing men who had jobs in key in­dus­try roles to go home first also proved un­pop­u­lar.

Mr Hally says: “These men typ­i­cally joined the war later on. As a re­sult, those who had fought the longest found them­selves stay­ing the longest in uni­form.

“These men were left be­hind. They thought it was one thing be­ing out there to fight but now they just wanted to be home for Christ­mas.”

A series of sol­diers’ strikes broke out across Great Bri­tain in 1919 as ser­vice­men were put in me­nial jobs and sum­moned to do drill and form pa­rades at church ser­vices.

They viewed them­selves as “civil­ians in khakis”, Mr Hally says.

A let­ter to go on show at the Na­tional Li­brary of Scot­land in its win­ter ex­hi­bi­tion,

A Bet­ter World? Scot­land af­ter the First World War, high­lights the frus­tra­tion of ser­vice­men.

Writen by Ge­orge Dott of Mus­sel­burgh in Jan­uary 1919, Mr Dott queried the view that the dis­con­tent was caused by an ig­no­rance on the part of the rank and file of the army’s plans and in­ten­tions.

Mr Dott wrote: “It is a dis­trust of the in­ten­tions of the army as a gov­ern­ment depart­ment cou­pled with the re­sent­ment at the … de­sire of the mil­i­tary oli­garchy to pre­serve a sort of mys­tery around the plans.

“The root cause of the dis­con­tent in the ranks all through the war has been the ar­chaic idea held by the hi­er­ar­chy that the sol­dier be treated like a child and un­der no cir­cum­stances have his feel­ings taken into ac­count by that hi­er­ar­chy.”

The un­rest was par­tic­u­larly ugly in parts of the UK where de­mo­bilised sol­diers from the do­min­ions were stuck wait­ing for trans­port to get home. There was a mutiny at a camp for Cana­dian sol­diers in Rhyl in March 1919 which ended in a num­ber of deaths.

De­mo­bil­i­sa­tion also ex­ac­er­bated so­cial ten­sions in var­i­ous Bri­tish ports. A series of ugly race riots took place in Liver­pool and Cardiff dur­ing June 1919, as the lo­cal white pop­u­la­tion clashed with black work­ers and sea­men, many of whom were left un­em­ployed at the end of the war.

Scot­land, too, had its flash­points.

In Jan­uary 1919, 700 men of the 3rd Re­serve Bat­tal­ion,

Seaforth High­landers – some who had been in­jured two or three times dur­ing war – marched from their camp in Cro­marty in protest at de­lays in de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion.

On 9 Jan­uary, all 700 re­fused to go on pa­rade as a protest against the con­tin­ued slow­ness of the process to get the men home. A fur­ther de­mon­stra­tion was held.

About 100 men of the High­land Light In­fantry, who served in France and Me­sopotamia, marched on 8 Jan­uary to the Scot­tish Com­mand Head­quar­ters. They had been stuck in Hadding­ton for four weeks wait­ing for de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion but in­stead were kept on guards and pick­ets. They de­manded im­me­di­ate de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion or 14 days leave.

In the same month, around 200 men of the Scot­tish Ri­fles, mostly trans­port work­ers, were be­ing used on work in the docks at Leith Fort but re­fused to drill in protest at their liv­ing con­di­tions.

At Stir­ling Cas­tle, a dis­tur­bance was re­ported as sol­diers protested over be­ing “lent out to farm­ers at low wages”. Two of the sol­diers were ar­rested but their com­rades stormed the po­lice sta­tion and re­leased them.

A picket was sent by the mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties to re­store or­der. In court next morn­ing one man was given a two-month jail sen­tence and an­other fined, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Roth­stein’s book, The Solid­ers’ Strikes of 1919.

By Jan­uary 1919, dis­con­tent had been “seething for fully a month” in the minesweep­ing flotil­las on the Firth of Forth with some crews re­fus­ing to go to sea. Dis­con­tent had been grow­ing since the sur­ren­der of the Ger­man fleet, ac­cord­ing to ac­counts.

Win­ston Church­hill took over as Sec­re­tary of State for War on 10 Jan­uary, 1919.

Mr Hally says: “His im­pres­sion was that de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion was an ab­so­lute sham. I am no great fan of Churchill, yet the key thing he recog­nised was this un­fair­ness sur­round­ing those who had served the longest. He changed that and it changed the at­mos­phere.”

In Novem­ber 1918, the Bri­tish army had num­bered al­most 3.8 mil­lion men. Twelve months later, it had been re­duced to slightly less than 900,000 and by 1922 to just over 230,000.

But, of course, the re­turn­ing sol­diers found a coun­try bro­ken and changed.

So­cial ten­sions driven by the wartime eco­nomic con­di­tions were al­most un­bear­able by armistice, ac­cord­ing to Roth­stein.

Sol­diers wives were liv­ing on “beg­garly” sep­a­ra­tion al­lowances or get­ting low wages in fac­to­ries.

Con­scrip­tion con­tin­ued long into 1919 with some sol­diers sign­ing up to serve the army again for the money.

Real wages in mid-1918 were 75 per cent of the 1914 level and by Jan­uary 1918 the cost of liv­ing as a whole, tak­ing into ac­count food, rent, fuel, light­ing and cloth­ing was 85 to 90 per cent above the level of 1914.

Mean­while, union at­tempts in Glas­gow to cre­ate jobs for de­mo­bilised sol­diers by cut­ting the work­ing week

from 47 to 40 hours led to the Bat­tle of Ge­orge Square when be­tween 20,000 and 60,000 sup­port­ers were sur­rounded by army tanks.

While Lloyd Ge­orge wanted to build a “land fit for he­roes” the eco­nomic col­lapse of 1921 led to rapidly ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment with the gov­ern­ment’s am­bi­tious wartime pro­gramme of “re­con­struc­tion” shelved dur­ing the 1921 eco­nomic slump.

There was a fur­ther threat fac­ing sol­diers and their fam­i­lies on home turf – Span­ish Flu.

With liv­ing stan­dards and health of the na­tion sup­pressed by the cost of war, the out­break proved the most fa­tal epi­demic dis­ease of any form that has oc­curred in Scot­land since death reg­is­tra­tion be­gun.

There is some ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the UK pan­demic among civil­ians started in Glas­gow, spread through­out Scot­land, and then spread to Eng­land and Wales. It is said it was re­spon­si­ble for five times as many deaths as were caused by the war it­self, with huge crowds gather­ing to cel­e­brate the Armistice be­com­ing a breed­ing ground for in­fec­tion.

● A Bet­ter World? Scot­land af­ter the First World War will be on show at the Na­tional Li­brary of Scot­land, Ge­orge IV Bridge, Ed­in­burgh, from 16 Novem­ber to 27 April, 2019.

0 A tank flanked by troops at the Bat­tle of Ge­orge Square, Glas­gow, 31 Jan­uary, 1919

0 Re­turn­ing Bri­tish sol­diers at Water­loo Sta­tion in March 1919

0 De­tail of a let­ter by Ge­orge Dott of Mus­sel­burgh, which re­veals the frus­tra­tion re­turn­ing sol­diers felt at how they were treated

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