Author Blog by Alan Allport: The British Demobilisation Experience, June 1945 – June 1946

Starting on Thursday, 18 June, 2009, I’m going to attempt to post-blog the day-by-day British experience of military demobilisation after the Second World War.

This project is a companion piece to my book Demobbed: Coming Home after World War Two, which is being published by Yale University Press in October 2009.

Article by Alan Allport

Day 118

Saturday, 13th October, 1945

Lieutenant-Colonel R.A.C. Radcliffe, the Directorate of Army Welfare Services’ man at the Ministry of Labour, comments on the problems of ex-servicemen reintegrating into the civilian workforce to John Bull:

I have heard one or two [employers] hold up their hands and say, ‘what can we do with men who have developed like this’? Instead, they should be thanking heaven that they’ve got such men to use … the very thing is to let your men and women know you’ve got them in mind, and that when you interview them and find out about their new qualifications you will fit them into the right job where you can make use of them.

“Even so,” says John Bull, “it’s not going to be easy for the men. They will have to make an effort themselves, and put up with civilian inefficiency and blundering as they have put up with the well-known incompetence of brass-hats for the last six years.”

Meanwhile, Picture Post listens in on the gossip in Cutler Street, the East End’s ‘Loot Alley,’ where servicemen go to barter black-market goods smuggled into Britain from the continent:

Six pounds? Six pounds! Why I give four quid for one with the mainspring broken … listen, I don’t sell junk. I got good pends – I got a Schaeffer – I got a Parker – these is a good pens to you I say thirty-five … Listen! Listen! When he came here first he couldn’t speak English, and now he’s got a ruddy car and he wants forty quid for this camera. Forty pounds! Forty p- I’ll give you twenty-five, take it or leave it … Yeah, ‘e’s made 370 quid on the first three races and then … Sure, these are U-Boat binoculars, look at the rubber, that’s for the spray … Listen to ‘im, is it a Jerry knife; say, what d’ya think the swastika means, made in Sheffield? … every unreasonable offer refused, I sell watches, I tell you, not junk; for this one thirty quid, 24 jewels; this is a watch I tell you … You here in five minutes? I’m gonna get some dough. No kind, twenty-two you said …

Day 117

Friday, 12th October, 1945

A reader of the Manchester Guardian questions the government’s insistence that it is sticking to the principles of the Bevin scheme age-plus-length-of-service order of release: “Surely the statement is a patent fallacy, with age and service so widely subordinated to the chance of the branch of the Services in which a man was enlisted?”

H.W.F. Charles, formerly of the Eighth Army, writes to his mother from Thirsk demob camp. “By tomorrow morning I will have spent three nights here, each in a different hut and with a different set of blankets and I shall have been packed and ready to move twice! It’s a good job we have a sense of humor in the army.” By accident yesterday he was almost sent out on a Far East replacement party …

Day 116

Thursday, 11th October, 1945

I Wanna Go Home: The Demob Song (Sid Ridley & Syd Alldridge, 1945)

The blokes what’s in the Forces
From the country town and city
Where e’er they be
can join with me
And sing this little dittie:

I wanna go home
I wanna go homed
I think this war is a frightful bore
‘Cos there’s no place like home
I’m saving my pay
For a holiday
I want to see the wife and kids
And the bloke that owes me quids
I’ll book a house down by the sea
And ask old Winston home to tea
I’ll tell the sergeant what to do
And say to Naafi, toodle-oo!
And when I’m back in Lambeth Way
There won’t be any need to say:

I wanna go home.

Day 115

Wednesday, 10th October, 1945

Punch October 10 1945 306

A Short Stirling heavy bomber crashed into houses in the village of Tockwith, near Wetherby, Yorkshire, yesterday, killing all six airmen and one civilian, reports the Times. It took  hours for National Fire Service units from the surrounding region to successfully douse the many fires caused by the wreck. Mrs. Denis Robinson, a local farmer’s widow, was found badly burned and lodged in her chimney, with only her feet protruding at the bottom.

Troops abroad (other than those in the Far East) are to have their food rations cut to the same level as those serving at home from November onwards, reports the News Chronicle. This is part of an effort to alleviate the general shortage of food for the civilian community in Britain, which currently enjoys considerably smaller food rations than servicemen and -women.

Day 114

Tuesday, 9th October, 1945

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

The Times reports that Royal Naval personnel in Wilhelmshaven are helping to oversee the detention of the 225 remaining warships of the Kreigsmarine, including the cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nurnberg. No final decision has yet been taken by the Allies as to the ships’ final fate [Prinz Eugen will in fact end her days many thousands of miles away in Bikini Atoll]. “The Germans are hard at work keeping effective these ships, which are for many men their only homes and the only link with the past. Even now there is great pride taken by the vanquished in the quality of the work they do for the victor – not to mention many applications which have been received from German sailors anxious to join the British Navy.”

A soldier’s jealousy of a “man in civvies” over an ATS girl was stated to be the reason for the shooting that led to a murder charge heard at Southend yesterday, reports the Daily Herald. Sergeant James McNichol mistook RAF airman Jerry MacKay, who was wearing mufti, for a civilian, and became incensed when he danced with McNichol’s estranged girlfriend at a dance in Thorpe Bay, Essex. “When I entered the dance hall I saw Jean and the civvy,” he told the court: “This made me mad to think of her going with a civvy chap while I in the Forces was left out. So I threw a pint of beer straight in the fellow’s face.” Two army sergeants intervened on MacKay’s behalf, and McNichol, “angry and mad,” left the dance hall, grabbed a rifle from his station’s command post, and shot and killed one of them. The trial continues.

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

The Times reports that Royal Naval personnel in Wilhelmshaven are helping to oversee the detention of the 225 remaining warships of the Kreigsmarine, including the cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nurnberg. No final decision has yet been taken by the Allies as to the ships’ final fate [Prinz Eugen will in fact end her days many thousands of miles away in Bikini Atoll]. “The Germans are hard at work keeping effective these ships, which are for many men their only homes and the only link with the past. Even now there is great pride taken by the vanquished in the quality of the work they do for the victor – not to mention many applications which have been received from German sailors anxious to join the British Navy.”

A soldier’s jealousy of a “man in civvies” over an ATS girl was stated to be the reason for the shooting that led to a murder charge heard at Southend yesterday, reports the Daily Herald. Sergeant James McNichol mistook RAF airman Jerry MacKay, who was wearing mufti, for a civilian, and became incensed when he danced with McNichol’s estranged girlfriend at a dance in Thorpe Bay, Essex. “When I entered the dance hall I saw Jean and the civvy,” he told the court: “This made me mad to think of her going with a civvy chap while I in the Forces was left out. So I threw a pint of beer straight in the fellow’s face.” Two army sergeants intervened on MacKay’s behalf, and McNichol, “angry and mad,” left the dance hall, grabbed a rifle from his station’s command post, and shot and killed one of them. The trial continues.

Day 113

Monday, 8th October, 1945

An RAF Corporal writes to the Manchester Guardian: “So long as the present emergency lasts, and men are being kept behind their turn, there must be no foolish spit-and-polish, lessons in saluting, and all the other fads of the military mind when it does not have a war to keep it thinking realistically . Tempers will remain frayed until the men are home; things should not be made worse by stupid discipline.”

Flying Officer Charles Crichton, based in Egypt, is equally distressed at service conditions, according to a letter to his mother:

We have read with disgust here of the ‘speed-up’ of RAF release groups. Release proper does not start until 25 group and then they have the nerve to slow down the rate to a group every two months. At the present rate I shall be due for release in December 1948! The army releases are twice as fast and the Navy about six times as fast … so much for the justice of Mr. Bevin’s age and service plan. It leaves us at the mercy of the staffs of our respective services. Our hope our faculty of democratic criticism, at times embarrassing during the war but now our only hope, will come to our rescue.

Day 112

Sunday, 7th October, 1945

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

Sunday Express October 7 1945 3 “Men returning from the Forces are not ready to go back into coalmining,” according to Minister of Fuel and Power Emanuel Shinwell, reports the Sunday Express. “We must face the fact that the mining industry is not regarded as an attractive proposition,” he added. The number of men on colliery books has fallen by 13,000 during the last year, and there are fears that unless enough demobbed ex-miners can be persuaded to return to the pits that Britain’s coal industry will not be able to keep up the necessary supply of fuel to the country’s industrial and manufacturing plants this winter.

The People continues to fret that British occupation troops are being manipulated by wily female Nazis. “It’s a pain in the neck to listen to Bill,” complains the pal of one supposedly bewitched squaddie. “He’s forgotten it was the Nazis who murdered our mates. He talks of our racial kinship to the Germans, of the bad treatment they got at Versailles, of the mistake we made in fighting the only friends we ever really had. Up to a month ago Bill had never even heard of Versailles … these bored, fit fighting men have never been taught to combat nature and subtle propaganda when they take the form of a good-looking girl.”

Day 111

Saturday, 6th October, 1945

October 6 1945

A 22-year-old insurance clerk was accused of propagating an “outrageous insult” to the RAF by Wealdstone magistrates yesterday, reports the Times. William Henry Brown, of Christchurch Avenue, Kenton, was sentenced to six months imprisonment for masquerading for 14 months as a highly decorated Wing Commander. Brown was apparently “terribly disappointed” at being turned down for service with the RAF on medical grounds, and having begun his charade was forced to continue it after the local branch of the Air Training Corps began requesting his “first-class” service on more and more onerous duties. On one occasion Brown accepted a consecrated banner from the Vicar of Harrow at a Battle of Britain Thanksgiving service. But after sentencing, his mother told the Daily Mirror: “I think none the worse of him. He has been a marvellous son.”

Day 110

Friday, 5th October, 1945

Captain Raymond Blackburn, MP for Birmingham King’s Norton and columnist for the Daily Herald, complains about an insidious loophole in the Army’s family welfare system:

The ordinary soldier serving overseas who deserts his wife and children is made to pay a reasonable sum towards their maintenance. But not the officer.

Any soldier who decides never again to live with his wife and children can stop their allowance. But the wife then receives 28 days’ warning and the opportunity to write to the War Office and apply for an order for a compulsory stoppage of the soldier’s pay so that she and her children do not starve.

But there is no power for the War Office to make a stoppage of an officer’s pay for the benefit of his wife and children. The officer can please himself whether he looks after his own kith and kin. The tragic part of it is that the wife has no means of redress if he is overseas. She cannot bring legal proceedings against him because a summons cannot be served on him. So she can do nothing to save herself and her children …

There are more tales of marital woe in the Daily Mirror. “My story is a common one these days,” complains a recently returned sailor:

I came home to England just a few months ago after two-and-a-half years’ service in Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific. I’ve had my share of war …

I arrived in England laden with gifts from all over the world. [My wife] was waiting at the gate as I always wanted it to be. I held her close to me and kissed her, but the pretty speech I had planned just faded out. I thought for one foolish moment that all my dreams had come true. Then, quite calmly, she said: “I am in love with an American” …

Day 109

Thursday, 4th October, 1945

George Isaacs, Minister of Labour and National Service, broadcast on the BBC last night a somewhat prickly defence of the government’s track record on demobilisation, reports the Times. “The man who is sitting in this country, as he puts it, ‘twiddling his thumbs’ feels that he could be doing a better job if he could be released straight away. But what about his friends in the Far East? What would they think about it? …

It would have been easy to go round this country and release from the Forces everybody who had not got a full-time job after the Cease Fire. But that would completely destroy the fairness of the release plan … let us remember that the vast majority accepted this scheme. We could change it easily it we cast equity and fairness away – and that we will never do. I hope we shall avoid hysterical demands for releases which are plainly impossible.

Also in the Times: In consultation with the various Dominion and colonial governments, the Imperial War Graves Commission has decided to continue the precedent of the last world war and not repatriate bodies of men of HM Forces killed overseas. Shipping shortages and the geographically scattered nature of Britain’s battlefields preclude the possibility of a mass repatriation, and it is has been decided not to allow privately funded returns on the grounds of equitable treatment for all men. “Real consolation is derived from the knowledge that the last resting-places of of the dead are so honoured and made sure.”

Day 108

Wednesday, 3rd October, 1945

A leader in the Manchester Guardian reflects on the recent demobilisation controversy: “Everyone knows how much discontent there has been at the comparison between our own efforts so far and the lavish transport provision of the Americans, especially their use of British ships with famous names … the figures of Class B demobilisation seem extremely small and can hardly be said to have much relation to the essentials of industrial recovery … it is little wonder that employers everywhere are complaining of their difficulties in restarting civilian production. The release of the older men is an excellent thing, but often it is found there is little employment for them until their younger colleagues also come back.”

Meanwhile, LAC Brian Poole vents his feelings in a letter to his American penpal: “How I shall stick this winter through I cannot possibly imagine. There’s nothing to look forward to in the spring … it is such a blow to fellows such as myself. I realize the flow into industry must be regulated or else we’ll get mass unemployment … I’ll never have these years back again – a wasted young life, there is no other way of explaining it all.”

Day 107

Tuesday, 2nd October, 1945

An ex-POW liberated from Germany reflects on life after release in the Manchester Guardian today:

[Back in Britain] I found all the relief I had been looking forward to. Everything, even a London street, seemed unnaturally clean. I slept in a comfortable bed. I could eat as much and as often as I liked. I saw women. I enjoyed meeting people. I could be alone whenever I liked. And yet as I wrote the words ‘it is over’ in my diary I had a sense of misgiving. In Germany I used to feel I was being reshaped by my experiences. There is a certain detachedness and an increase of sensibility which is one of the few compensations of a prison camp. I had hoped to carry this through with me into normal existence. I felt that I should be the richer for it there.

I had only been back in England a few days when I found that there was a conspiracy to make me feel unchanged. I was one of the chief conspirators. I did the old things easily, unself-consciously, as if I had never been away. On the first day I was constantly catching myself at not being surprised at my own normal behavior. Then even this stopped and I was prepared to take everything for granted. People gave every help to the conspiracy. They told me about their little worries until I too began to see them as important. They told me about the ‘doodle-bugs’ until it was difficult to remember that I had been a prisoner during that time. They asked people I had known before to dinner to meet me, and they came, sometimes a little grayer, but always talking in the same way about the things they had always talked about before. And I talked back as if I was the same person as I had been then.

Sometimes I fought furiously against what was happening to me, like a naughty child being dragged backwards through a crowd. I wanted desperately to hold on to what I had found. I now see that it was a hopeless struggle. To live satisfactorily in the ordinary world you have got not only to act but to see things much as the other people who live in it. I just haven’t learned to do it yet, that’s all … be sympathetic to [PoWs] minds as well as their bodies and don’t just think that because a man is behaving normally he is perfectly at ease.

Day 106

Monday, 1st October, 1945

October 1 1945

John Boyd-Carpenter, Conservative MP for Kingston-upon-Thames, voices the complaints of many of his service constituents in a letter to the Times. “Many of my correspondents do not know why they are being kept in the Forces at all. This lack of information leads to sinister speculations as to the reasons for their retention …

Many of [them] are infuriated by being told that it is lack of shipping that delays their return to the United Kingdom when they read in the Press of the departure of such ships as the two ‘Queens’, Aquitania, etc. … with large numbers of American troops on their way to their homes.

Field Marshal Montgomery showed in war that you get the best results from troops by telling them facts and the reasons for what they are called upon to do. Why cannot the government do the same in peace? ‘Theirs not to reason why’ is as dead as Karl Marx.

Meanwhile, the Daily Express reports that the RAF is under fire for its less-than-subtle attempts to retain some demobilising men in uniform. Its pamphlet ‘Civvy Street,’ distrubted to airmen at RAF Membury, near Lambourn, presents an unflattering (and, according to the Air Ministry, unauthorized) view of civilian life:

Civvy Street today is very similar to the old Gold Rush of Yukon fame: there won’t be enough to go round. Yes, some will stake a claim, and make good; some will arrive without getting anywhere; but many will fall by the wayside. The Yukon was cold, so will Civvy Street be … so think it over and decide which it shall be. The intoxication of uncertain Civvy Street with its sudden deflated hangover or stolid security with a chance to utilise your skill for advancement in the Royal Air Force – Chums, choose!

Day 105

Sunday, 30th September, 1945

“British soldiers are secretly marrying German girls,” insists People correspondent Evadne Price in her latest fratting-scandal headline. “The secret wedding ceremonies are being performed in Roman Catholic churches,” she continues, “and men openly boast that no power on earth is going to put their marriages aside …

Many of the soldiers with whom I talked were faintly disgusted and rather cynical about the matter. What do they want to marry them for? All these girls need is a good chocolate and cigarette ration …

On the other hand, I met several unmarried men who mean to marry their frauleins the day the law permits it. And I met two British soldiers who were actually trying to get their wives to agree to a divorce so that they could marry their Germans – one of them had three young children in London. I asked him what his wife had done. He answered: Nothing. I just like this one better.

End of month accounting: on June 30, 1945, there were 4,653,000 men and 437,200 women in His Majesty’s armed and auxiliary forces.

During September, 1945, 102,856 men and 19,000 women were released under the Class A scheme; 9,815 men and 39 women were released under the Class B scheme; with 131,543 men and 22,293 women being released in total (including miscellaneous discharges on compassionate and medical grounds).

Overall, since the start of demobilisation, 351,984 men and 96,549 women have been discharged from HM Forces.

Data from Fighting With Figures: A Statistical Digest of the Second World War (HMSO, 1995).

Day 104

Saturday, 29th September, 1945

Picture Post looks at the demobilisation experiences of the Soviet soldier discharged from the Red Army:

The Red Army man, returning from Germany, travels back along the way he came, past forests and fields that are just beginning to grow again and cover their scars with leaves and grass. What he sees is mostly burned-out villages, with new huts going up on all sides. Many of the peasantry are wearing German uniforms, taken from the depots after the Germans had cleared out.

At all the big stations where the demob trains halt, the local schoolchildren still turn out with drums and banners to greet the men. They have been doing so since the end of June, and so far their enthusiasm has not flagged. The halt stations have big dining rooms, especially for returning soldiers where they can get a hot meal. Bath houses and barber shops have been temporarily rigged-up on the platforms, and decorated with slogans of welcome such as work is waiting for every demobilised Red Army man …

Meanwhile, the New Statesman imagines a sardonic episode at a military court-martial in Hamburg, given the strictures of Field-Marshal Montgomery’s recent revised non-fratting order (which bans marriages with German civilians):

Prosecutor: “You have heard the evidence of this young woman that … you intend to make her your wife.”

Defendant: “Whatever I may have said, sir, in a moment of some excitement, I can assure you now that my intentions are strictly dishonourable.”

Judge: “You give me your word, then, that you will not legitimise the child?”

Defendant: “I do, sir.”

Judge: “Case dismissed!”

Day 103

Friday, 28th September, 1945

The Times reports that the first of 40 ships carrying 60,000 former Far East prisoners of war and civilian internees from Singapore docked in Suez yesterday. “It was a memorable scene when the ship docked at the gaily decorated pier, where a band played ‘Rule, Britannia’ … as they filed down the gangway, all the men and women received a special news pamphlet, ‘News from Britain.’ They then boarded a train consisting of first-class coaches for the short trip to a rehabilitation camp on the fringe of the desert at the foot of barren Mount Ataka. Here they were guided through reclothing depots.”

More than 1,000 War Office soldier-clerks, some with 10-20 years of military service, have been ordered to learn to salute again, reports

Day 102

Thursday, 27th September, 1945

Daily Herald September 27 1945 3

The Times’ military correspondent ponders some of the competing demands on transportation that are slowing down repatriation and release of British servicemen based overseas:

The governing factor is shipping … apart from the British Army, there is a large Canadian force, together with small Australian and New Zealand forces, awaiting repatriation from Europe. There is another large Indian force, chiefly in the central Mediterranean, to be sent home, though the ships which take the Indians east can be used to take the British troops west. There are great numbers of colonial troops all over the world, including the Africans who have done such valuable work in Burma. African troops are known to suffer exceptionally from home-sickness, but these are being given no privileges in repatriation or allowed to get out of their turn. On top of all this there is the maintenance of the ‘PYTHON’ scheme which in the Far East means repatriation after service of three years and four months …

“Wear your best frock, use lots of lipstick,” suggests Diana Gibson of the Daily Mail to wives and sweethearts of homecoming ex-Far East POWS who are expected in Britain soon. “There is nothing wrong with th vast majority of these men that good food, quiet, and a quick return to normal home life will not put right … let them eat what they want and do what they like. Let them talk of their experiences without encouraging them to dwell on them, and above all help them to forget the whole thing as quickly as possible.”

Day 101

Wednesday, 26th September, 1945

LAC Brian Poole writes to his American penpal: “I think some of the married men will miss the freedom they got in the services. Steady home life will take some time to get accustomed to.”

Not just the men, if Ray Allister’s postbag in Modern Woman is anything to go by:

My husband, discharged, has got his old job back. His salary at present is less than what I have been earning every week for four years. Our home was bombed and we live in two rooms with little prospect of a house for a long time, yet he wants me to give up my job and stay at home. It’s not as if we could have a baby in two rooms, or as if I were keeping work from an ex-serviceman or woman … the post was created during the war … I can’t face now, after independence and the interest of working with other people, the dreary monotony of keeping house on inadequate money. My husband’s attitude has almost spoiled my joy at his homecoming …

Day 100

Tuesday, 25th September, 1945

September 25 1945 British troops in Paris are living like “poor relations” compared to their Allied colleagues, according to the Daily Mirror. While American servicemen (who already receive much  higher wages than their British counterparts) receive a 850 franc per month subsidy from the French government, British personnel get not a penny; the cafes and theatres of the French capital are full of Americans “spending lavishly,” while British soldiers and RAF airmen “wander disconsolately about the streets, or stay in NAAFI clubs … they feel they are forgotten men, humiliated in the face of their friends. For them the cheapest meal in a cafe costs more than a day’s pay.”

Day 99

Monday, 24th September, 1945

Having been beset with inconsistencies and confusion over the past several months, a single (and much-relaxed) non-fraternisation policy for Allied forces in Germany will now be uniformly applied to occupation troops of all nationalities and in all zones, reports the Times. Allied servicemen and -women cannot be billeted with German families without permission of their zone commanders, and they cannot marry German nationals. Field-Marshal Montgomery appeals to members of the British armed forces to “conduct themselves with dignity and to use their common sense when dealing with the Germans, twice our enemies during the last 30 years.”

Day 98

Sunday, 23rd September, 1945

According to reports from Montreal, The News of the World says, demobilised Canadian servicemen are being blamed for a post-war crime wave across the Dominion. “Two armed and masked robbers who have been raising houses of well-to-do people here are suspected by some of their victims to be returned officers …

These robbers, who have made several important hauls, have not scrupled to draw revolvers or uses violence on householders. One woman was injured when she tried to scream and was stunned and locked in a bedroom cupboard … when the robbers had got away with jewelry and money the husband received a telephone call. An ‘educated voice’ informed him: if you are wondering where your wife is, you should look in the bedroom cupboard …

Day 97

Saturday, 22nd September, 1945

“Unfortunately, as we all know, during the past few years the standard of morality and faithfulness has fallen grievously low,” lamented Mr. Justice Tucker at the Old Bailey yesterday, during his summing up of the case of Private Frederick Hooker of Shoreditch, father of 11, who stabbed his adulterous wife to death with a knife in August:

We know there are numerous cases of men returning from the war who have found that their wives have been unfaithful, and wives have found their husbands have been unfaithful. It remains the law, subject to certain aspects of provocation, that no man and no woman is allowed to take the law into their own hands … that should be known by everybody. That is murder and nothing else. If Parliament thinks fit to pass an Act to say that soldiers who, on returning to find their wives unfaithful, may kill them, and if they do it, it will be manslaughter, it will be the law of the land; but until that is done it is not.

“I would like to draw attention to the perfectly disgusting way that service people are treated in restaurants and cafes,” complains an RAF airman in Picture Post:

Recently my friend and I walked into a restaurant and sat for over half-an-hour waiting to be served. Meanwhile ten civilians walked in and were attended to immediately …

Day 96

Friday, 21st September, 1945

Mr. Attlee is not the only public figure feeling the heat over demobilisation, reports the Times. Stung by Congressional criticism, General George Marshall has made a personal statement assuring House and Senate members that “all speed” is being maintained in releasing men from the US Army. The point system for discharge (currently, American servicemen need to have earned 85 points through cumulative war service) will be progressively reduced throughout the Fall so that the number of releases per month will rise from 450,000 to 800,000. As in Britain, there have been complaints that men on home service are being held for an unecessarily long time in uniform because soldiers with equivalent discharge criteria overseas cannot be transported home quickly enough.

The Times also comments on the special problems of ex-officers seeking employment. “Many officers are now leaving [the Forces] who, by reason of their youth, have qualified for nothing but war, but in a war which demanded youth at any price, have risen to senior positions of considerable responsibility and relatively high pay …

They have acquired experience and power of command and a sense of responsibility; and they have matured even beyond their years in the rigorous school of battle. But these personal assets and qualities will not usually be applicable to civilian tasks until there has been a process of adaptation and training … the time to make plans is now, while the sense of obligation to those who have served and fought is still fresh, and the need for men of character and resource is still great.

Day 95

Thursday, 20th September, 1945

In comparative demob news, the Government of India has decided to begin discharging wartime volunteers from the Indian Army on October 1, reports the Times. The initial plan calls for the release of 850,000 men during the first eight months. British Other Ranks serving in the Indian Army will be discharged according to the same Release Group system as that in the regular British Army, but their repatriation back to the UK will be more protracted. The challenge of resettling large numbers of Indian veterans will be significant. It is believed that about four in ten want to return to the land, but farming prospects in many parts of India are currently poor. It is also unclear how men who have enjoyed a relatively high standard of living whilst in uniform will readjust to the more spartan conditions of Indian civilian life.

Ex-FEPOW Captain Ronald Horner writes in his diary: “Really I do think we’re getting a raw deal, we’re still living in the same conditions as we were under the Japs. Food has improved considerably but it is the fact of being in the same surroundings, 13 miles from Singapore and having practically no money that is so galling.”

Day 94

Wednesday, 19th September, 1945

James Lansdale Hodson hears a story while traveling in Leeds: “An ex-Lieutenant-Commander, RNVR, became a local travelling cloth salesman. His first customer looked at his card: ‘Oh, and are you this Lieutenant-Commander? Well, wheer’s t’left thy battleship? On t’canal?”

Two RAF readers of Union Jack in Greece take issue with the griping of their comrades about the lack of preferential treatment for servicemen at home. “Why treat us servicemen different from anyone else? Many of the people back home have seen more action and suffered more injuries than a lot of fellows in the Services, so why make a fuss about us when we come back?”

Day 93

Tuesday, 18th September, 1945

Eighteen soldiers, including men recently returned from the Far East, were handed nine shovels and three brooms and told to sweep a 300-yard long cul-de-sac in Brentford, Middlesex, complains the Daily Mirror. It’s one more case of servicemen awaiting demob allegedly being given trivial or demeaning work in order to fill time during their last months in uniform. According to the men, they were being punished for their kits not being satisfactorily blancoed at inspection. “This is the first complaint about my kit in six years of soldiering,” insisted one Eighth Army veteran. “I have been in evacuations and three invasions. Never was I told about dirty equipment.”

Day 92

Monday, 17th September, 1945

In a BBC broadcast last night, reports the Times, Flight Lieutenant P.C.J. Brickhill gave the first uncensored account of a remarkable escape attempt that took place at Stalag Luft III on 24th March last year. After 15 months of preparation by over 500 Air Force officers, 76 POWs led by Squadron Leader Roger Bushell escaped along one of three tunnels (‘Tom,’ ‘Dick,’ and ‘Harry’) and dispersed across Silesia, seeking a route to Switzerland, Sweden, or Spain. In the event, only three airmen successfully made it all the way to Britain. Of the remainder who were recaptured, 50 were summarily executed by the Gestapo, including Bushell. The mass breakout is already becoming part of British wartime lore (though no motorbikes are believed to have been used).

The Manchester Guardian features a sardonic article about a soldier newly returned to Britain via a troopship. “As Colonel Somebody-or-other had explained to a meeting of officers in the lounge while we lay at the bar waiting for the tide, you chaps must realize that Things were Tricky at Home now. It wouldn’t all be beer and skittles, you know …

A certain amount of beer, of course, but skittles were definitely in short supply. It was frightfully difficult to get a taxi to the War Office; bus conductresses fainted on the platform and the buses wouldn’t go any farther; water was frightfully short in places, and if any of you fellows, or your men, had any pythons among your gear you’d have a frightful job to get them ashore … ha ha!

Day 91

Sunday, 16th September, 1945

“I was wrong about those demob suits,” writes a contrite J.B. Priestley in the Sunday Express:

In my new novel, Three Men in New Suits, I gave my three demobilised soldiers utility clothing of the type that civilians did not want. I was wrong … not only is the clothing itself good, solid stuff, but the whole organisation is so admirably planned, a whole world away from anything I remembered in the last war, that one felt that at last the serviceman was being imaginatively handled …

We are saying in effect to the demobilised men: ‘this is the very best we can find for you, and a better choice than the ordinary civilian has. And while you are deciding what you want, we shall treat you as good shops used to treat their best customers. We don’t care what rank you held -we are all the same here’ …

He is being treated not as if he were a nuisance but as if he were now an important citizen … in this matter of reclothing him, the country is doing its very best, indeed stretching its resources to the limit.

Day 90

Saturday, 15th September, 1945

“All the attention as regards demobilisation seems to centre on men in the Forces,” complains a civilian war worker to John Bull:

Few people give a thought to workers in munition factories and other war jobs who will soon be ‘demobbed.’ My own job is likely to be declared redundant in the very near future, and I shall be thrown out. There are hundreds of thousands of us in the same boat. There is such a shortage of manpower that people say Oh, you’ll have no trouble about getting another job. Probably they are right – but how do I stand if the Ministry of Labour decides to ‘persuade’ me or ‘direct’ me or whatever they like to call it into a job which I don’t like in a place situated a long distance from my home?

Woman’s editorial page also directs attention to the plight of another forgotten minority – the single female demob. “The married women have been getting priority releases from the services, married couples are getting first priority on available homes and furniture. Inevitably the single girl [being demobbed] begins to think that unless she’s a bride pretty soon, in everybody’s eyes she’s a no-account nobody.”

Day 89

Friday, 14th September, 1945

“The return to Singapore has been very depressing,” reports the Times’ correspondent, because “every day grisly stories are coming out, so well authenticated that there can be no doubting them.” He mentions an incident that took place at the Changi prison complex in September 1942, when senior British officers were assembled to view the shooting of two British and two Australian soldiers caught trying to escape:

One took all the blame and begged that he alone should be killed. All, when offered handkerchiefs, scornfully refused. The Japanese shooting was wild, and one man cried out, “for God’s sake shoot me. You have only hit me in the arm.” The Japanese continued firing until all were dead.

The Manchester Guardian records the first case in Salford of a returning serviceman attacking an unfaithful spouse. Twenty-nine year old Private Charles Brown of William Street, a repatriated prisoner of war, was placed on probation by magistrates on a charge of wounding his wife by stabbing her in the back with a pen-knife. Brown, in a statement, alleged that in his third year as a prisoner of war in Austria he received a legal notice from a Lancashire court that his wife had given birth to a child and was seeking to have it adopted. Matters were not improved on his repatriation in June by the fact that his wife, so far from being repentant, told him that she had “been having a good time with the Yanks”, and wanted him to “clear out.”

Day 88

Thursday, 13th September, 1945

September 13 1945 “It isn’t always service conditions that worry men and their families – sometimes their worries begin when they get home on leave,” suggests Mary Ferguson in the Daily Mirror. She describes the case of a sergeant based in Malta who found when he got home for ten day’s leave that his wife hadn’t been able to find a bed for them to sleep on: in desperation she bought a couple of single air-raid shelter mattresses for his homecoming. An appeal to the Board of Trade brought help. “What puzzles me is why servicemen’s wives don’t get this proper treatment in the first place,” complains Ferguson: “they are entitled to priority goods. Somebody isn’t doing a good job here … it’s high time the local people who deal with applications came off their high horse.”

The Daily Express reports on the rampant black market in occuped Germany. “Tonight the purchasing power of the ordinary cigarette reached a new high level on the barter markets of Germany following the news of a ban on duty-free cigarettes to troops on the continent. It rose within hours by 50 per cent … many British troops are disgruntled at the news. They feel the ban will deprive them of what has become the normal currency here. As one corporal said: ‘cigarettes did buy for us the little ‘extras’ we might need.'”

Day 87

Wednesday, 12th September, 1945

“It is no secret that the Japanese surrender came earlier than expected,” begins the Times’ special correspondent in Singapore (which the Japanese will formally hand over today) on the daunting logistical problems that the liberating British authorities are having. Over 227,000 people across South East Asia need prompt relief or repatriation, 144,000 of these (including 6,000 British and 2,000 Australian FEPOWS) on Java alone. Despite inevitable frustrations on the part of family members in Britain and elsewhere that their loved ones be dispatched home as soon as possible, “I am convinced that the whole problem is being handled on sound lines, with sympathy and common sense,” writes the paper’s reporter.

The Times also reports that the service departments have decided, given the extraordinary physical and mental ordeal that Far East prisoners have undergone, that should they wish it they will be immediately discharged from the Forces once their repatriation leave is over.

The TUC’s emergency resolution appealing to the government to speed up demobilisation was approved unanimously yesterday, the Thunderer notes. “A frustrated body of men will not be any asset to the country in the coming years,” one speaker insisted: “men will return with good heart if they recognize that everything possible is being done … they have an eye on people of high rank who have been unwilling to run any risk.”

An RAF corporal complains to the Manchester Guardian that his home leave was reduced because his overseas tour was just four days short of the necessary three years continual service. “It is just one of a thousand pinpricks inflicted on every Service man which makes those who relish civilian life want to leave the service at the first opportunity,” he fumes. “I am not surprised at the unrest about demobilisation.”

Day 86

Tuesday, 11th September, 1945

September 11 1945 The Trades Union Congress, meeting for their annual conference in the Blackpool Winter Gardens today, will debate a resolution urging the government to “vigorously accelerate” the demobilisation scheme, reports the Times.

The paper also has frustrating news for families of officers serving in the British Army of the Rhine: Field-Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters has announced that men in “certain technical arms” who would have been due for discharge in late September onwards may now be retained in the services due to “military necessity.” Montgomery’s spokesman in Hamburg defends the retentions on the grounds that if the officers had been sent home at the expected rate, many units would have found it impossible to carry out their occupation responsibilities. Affected men may find their demobilisation deferred for up to three months.

Day 85

Monday, 10th September, 1945

In a blow to repatriation efforts, reports the Times, the Canadian Pacific liner RMS Empress of Russia, which was about to begin service returning servicemen from overseas, was gutted yesterday in a fire at the Vickers-Armstrong yard at Barrow in Furness. Two crewmen burned to death in the blaze, and it is considered unlikely that the ship will now be repaired.

In a leader, the Manchester Guardian takes the government to task for its failure to rapidly demobilise doctors. “During war-time, in order to be prepared for heavy casualties in any unit, the Services had to employ on the average one doctor to every 435 men. One inevitable result was that for most of their time most medical officers had little or nothing to do. Another is that doctors left to look after civilians (at the average ration of one to every 1,430) were seriously overworked …

Service doctors (as their letters to the lay and medical press bear witness) are becoming exasperated as well as bored by their no longer justifiable underemployment … [but] the Army proposes to maintain its proportion of doctors at battle strength. The Navy has announced that the discharge of doctors “will probably still lag considerably behind” the release of other officers. In the RAF aircrew officers of group 22 will be demobilized by October 31, but some medical officers of group 18 will not be out until the new year. This sort of thing is unlikely to dispel the belief that arrangements for demobilisation … are dictated by the Service view of Service interests.

Day 84

Sunday, 9th September, 1945

“The Eyeties are getting nasty,” warns the People in a story from occupied Italy: “from Rome come reports of assaults on girls seen fratting with Allied soldiers, and from Milan news that British soldiers have been killed in ‘incidents’ with armed Italian civilians …

Gangs of Italian youths are roaming the quiet streets and public squares of Rome stripping and cutting the hair of Italian girls who go out with Allied soldiers; known as the Tosatori (haircutters), the men lurk in the darkened streets and pounce on the girls and their soldier escorts … meanwhile eight British soldiers have been killed because of trivial incidents in Milan last week. There is a general fear in Milan of a left-wing uprising, and the deaths of the eight, combined with the fact that they were all killed with picket-sized small arms, shows the bloodshed that must result if disorder starts.

“A Soldier Writes a Letter” in the latest Modern Woman:

While I’ve been abroad, my wife has written me the grandest letters (it’s odd, but for the war we might never have written to each other at all). In most of them she has told me all the local gossip, all the little things she has been doing – making an appointment to get her hair fixed; queuing up at the shops; what people said in her office; trivial little things like that. They made home very close to me. But I know that if I had to listen to all this at home I would soon get bored.

Will she realize that? Will she feel I’m impatient, not as attentive as I was? … The other day it suddenly occurred to me with all the force of a shock that at meals she always gave me the first cup, the first serving. I’d never given it a thought before … the awkward thing is that I shall go on wanting – no, needing this attention, even more than before, at least at first. In the Army you get into the way of putting yourself first. If you don’t, you have to carry the can back for someone else. Will she understand that? I can’t say: ‘darling ,thank you for you kind attention. Please go on doing it. I must have it!’ … ‘for four years, with a few breaks, I have had to try to be content with a photograph of my wife. I was not content. It is not in a man’s nature to live happily with men only as companions.

Day 83

Saturday, 8th September, 1945

Daily Mirror Sep 8 1945 p2 The Times reports that two workers at Woolwich Arsenal, recently demobilised, were killed yesterday in an explosion at the technical research department which shattered windows across Plumstead and shook houses two miles away.

Also in the Times: a detachment of the 5th Queen’s Royal Regiment, veterans of El Alamein, took part in the four-power Allied victory parade along the Charlottenburger Chaussee in Berlin yesterday. Marshal Zhukov and General Patton were amongst those in attendance.

Sergeant Eve Dunlop of the ATS is asked about ‘The World I Want (and the One I Expect) after her demobilisation in the Daily Mail. She is looking for a world “in which there will be no interference, no coupons, and shops plentifully stocked at reasonable prices … she wants a decent, six-roomed house at a rent of about £150 a year … she wants to be able to buy a new family car for £250 with real – not imitation – rubber tyres … she wants to be able to buy 6lb. of tomatoes or a 6lb. joint when she needs it.” But she expects “no house of her dreams within five years; no freedom from rationing for two years [she is seven years too optimistic]; no cheap, good stockings (let along nylon) for at least one year.” So she is migrating to Malaya with her husband.

Day 82

Friday, 7th September, 1945

September 7 1945 In comparative demob news in the Times, John Snyder, US Director of War Mobilization and Reconversion, announced in a report to President Truman yesterday that the United States expects to demobilize 8.8 million men from the armed forces during the next ten months.

Garry Allighan devotes his demob column in the Daily Mail this week to the travails of the ex-officer. “He comes out noticeably handicapped. His wallet is wafer-thin. Expenses due to ‘appearances’ are high. Suitable work is scarce, and inclination to do other work well below zero. In many respects he is worse off than some of the other ranks … thousands of men left humble jobs, went into the Forces as privates, and by sheer ability, prospered to commissioned rank. They are far from keen on reinstatement [in their old jobs.] They have seen the stars …”

Day 81

Thursday, 6th September, 1945

In a statement yesterday, reports the Times, Minister of Labour George Isaacs announced that the service departments are now engaged “with all speed” on a fresh review of military requirements, with the aim of speeding up demobilisation. In a leader, the Thunderer cautiously welcomes the announcement, but warns: “when the next statement comes at the end of the month, it will have to contain either a revised and speedier demobilisation programme or a full and convincing account of the reasons why greater speed is not possible …

The government are wholly right in [sticking to Bevin scheme principles.] But inequities in the order of release are not the only possible cause of discontent. If release is slower, or is widely believed to be slower, than it need be, the scheme may be endangered by the sense of frustration of soldiers who do not see how they are serving their country by standing and witing in uniformed idleness.

“Young married heroes who return to their “little known” wives after years of separation would do well to get rid quickly of the phase of post-war glory hunting,” warns the Daily Herald in its review of Warren Chetham Strode’s topical new play Young Mrs. Barington. “Otherwise … there is trouble in store for the reunited couple … there could have been more skill in handling a theme that must interest masses of people,” the paper concludes, “but the author strove desperately for laughs, to which the audience certainly responded.”

Day 80

Wednesday, 5th September, 1945

“Stories of Japanese cruelty, bestiality and torture are becoming commonplace as prisoner of war camps are entered and cleared of prisoners,” reports the Times:

Commander Stassen, USN, who is in charge of these matters, has disclosed a grim side of the Japanese character completely at varance with the servile friendship being met with by the occupation forces. He says that not a single camp was run on what might be termed a humane basis, and the condition of prisoners is tragic, about 80 per cent of them suffering from tuberculosis, pellagra, dysentery or beri-beri …

A typical story is that of a colonel of a Superfortress shot down just over a year ago. During the first nine days of capture he was flogged unmercifully, and pencil-like rods were placed between his fingers, which were then squeezed … he was kept in solitary confinement for nearly seven months. He said he could have endured the flogging, filth and vermin if he had had food. But food was used by the Japanese as an instrument of torture.

The allies have discovered warehouses full of undistributed mail to prisoners. In Yokohama a pile of letters and parcels six feet high, 20 feet wide and 60 feet long dating back to August 1942 was uncovered.

It is believed that more than 115,000 Allied prisoners await repatriation in all, including 33,000 in Singapore and 35,000 in Siam.

In Union Jack, there’s a request for “Fair Play for the Black-Coated Workers” from a RASC Warrant Officer. “A firm requiring a junior clerk in pre-war days expected a combination of a King Solomon and a Beau Brummel, with all the qualifications and certificates a university could give him, plus a willingness to accept the responsibilities of a Prime Minister. In return they were willing to give him 17s 6d a week and a promise. As one who suffered all this, I am sure that I, now no mere youth, will never again travel on the 8.15, complete with ‘black coat and pin-striped’ morning paper and what-you-will, to present myself at the tomb of the Chief Accountant to be a non-productive necessary evil and slave.”

Day 79

Tuesday, 4th September, 1945

The first 500 liberated British prisoners of war in Japan, all in “comparatively good health,” sailed for home yesterday on board HMS Speaker, reports the Times. Meanwhile, Sir Arthur Power, commander-in-chief of the East Indies fleet, landed in Singapore last night with a detachment of Royal Marines. Royal Naval personnel have taken control of Penang.

In a broadcast last night emphasizing Britain’s continuing heavy global commitments despite the victory against Japan, Mr. Attlee (c/o the Times) called for the public’s patience despite demands for faster demobilisation:

We mobilized the whole of our resources to fight the war, and in no field where we more highly mobilized than that of manpower. Statements have been made from time to time with regard to demobilisation. I think some of those were over-optimistic … [the Bevin scheme] has been generally accepted as based on fair principles … I am certain that we should make a great mistake if we departed from it. It is quite easy to cite particular instances of where it appears that some individual may be released, but it is extremely dangerous to interfere with a broad scheme on account [of such cases] …

None of which is likely to satisfy men such as Frederick Hindle, writing in the Manchester Guardian. “It is quite obvious that a serious storm is blowing up on demobilisation. That it should be possible for a public demonstration to take place in the fortress of Gibraltar is significant [must find out about this!]. What is suspected is that the Ministry of Labour is not strong enough to fight Army and Air Force Ministries … the promised release of civilian directed workers has added a further injustice in the eyes of the Service men who feel, rightly, that these civilians will secure the plums of vacant industrial jobs.”

Day 78

Monday, 3rd September, 1945

September 3 1945 Onboard USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay, representatives of the Japanese nation signed the instrument of unconditional surrender yesterday in the presence of General MacArthur and other Allied leaders (c/o the Times). On ships of the British Pacific Fleet accompanying the Missouri, the order went out to splice the mainbrace in celebration; after witnessing the venerable ‘sunset colours’ ceremony, visiting Admiral Halsey, an honourary member of HMS Duke of York’s wardroom, bought six rums for Admiral Fraser and his colleagues. Royal Marine landing parties have occupied Yokosuka naval base. The Second World War is over.

There remains, however, an “immense task” for Allied forces in the Far East, notes the Times. “No war can ever have been concluded with the forces of the vanquished so widely dispersed and isolated as are those of Japan today …

Roughly speaking, it has taken four months in Norway to repatriate half of a German army consisting originally of 300,000 men. How long will it take to send home the last of the Japanese soldiers from the Pacific islands, from the Netherlands East Indies, from Burma, Siam, and French Indo-China, from China and Korea? … we may make up our minds that the aftermath of war in Asia and the Pacific is going to be a long one.

In happier news, the Times also reports that the stream of what it calls “joy cables” from freed prisoners in the Far East to their families at home is continuing. 500 had been received by Saturday at the Edinburgh office of Cable & Wireless, and more are expected this week.

Day 77

Sunday, 2nd September, 1945


More than 300 commandos who broke out of camp at Wrexham last week in a near-riot have been officially reproved by their commander, General Robert Laycock, though it’s unlikely that any more serious action will be taken, notes the News of the World. They were amongst 2,000 commandos confined to barracks indefinitely after the theft of 10s. from a collection box in the guardroom. Protesting at their punishment, the group forced their way through the main gate singing ‘Don’t Fence Me In.’ Later most of the men eluded waiting NCOs by creeping back into barracks under the camp barbed wire fence.

The paper also notes that a hunt is on in Horsham for a demobilised driver, Leslie Kefford, who did not turn up for his welcome home party to celebrate his recent repatriation from Germany. Kefford has been missing since last Tuesday. He left a note for his brother, saying: “Dear Reg – have gone for a walk. Cannot sleep.” He is said to have been suffering insomnia.

Day 76

Saturday, 1st September, 1945


John Bull Sep 1 1945 23 Three letters in the Manchester Guardian sum up much of the current popular feeling about demobilisation. One reader quotes from a letter recently sent by a soldier in the Far East: “After today’s news about repatriation … most of us out here are feeling like waving a few red flags. This morning the CO had the unpleasant task of reading the C-in-C’s order of the day on repatriation to the assembled mob. He, the CO, made it quite clear that the War Minister’s recent publicly announced decision to reduce the period of overseas service to three years and four months was made without previous consultations with the commanders out here, and he stigmatized it as a pre-election vote-catching trick … the ostensible reasons for the increase to three years and eight months are, of course, shipping (that good old standby), port facilities in India, and operational requirements. A pitiful handful, I think … our biggest troopers are known to be on loan to a country which can still keep its overseas service down to exactly half our forty-four months … the lads are hopping mad about the whole ‘set-up’, and the general opinion is that we’ve been victimized.”

A radio officer with the British Merchant Marine since 1940 mentions another, less-discussed dimension to the demobilisation problem:

If the slowness of demobilisation is causing despondency in the armed forces, I can only say the situation in the Merchant Navy gives rise to black despair. In general, of course, the personnel in the Merchant Navy are not concerned with demobilisation, for the sea is their livelihood … but several thousand joined the MN as radio operators “for the duration of hostilities”, as the signed contract expressed it, leaving businesses, professions, and studies in order to do so. They now have not the slightest indication when, or whether, they will ever be released, for the authorities treat the MN as “forces” or “civilians” according to which suits them best at the time. A schedule of MN releases was, however, produced in July and reached, I believe, the dizzy heights of group 9 for officers, group 15 for ratings. As for the Class B type of release, this is completely hopeless …

Lastly, reader Thomas Fernley compares US demob policy, “stimulating in its massiveness,” with Britain’s. “[There are] many ex-prisoners of war kicking their heels in idleness and wondering what use they can be to the army now. I myself, an ex-prisoner of war, have been on leave since my repatriation in May, and as my release group, 26, may not be reached until next spring, I seem to be faced with at least six more months of wasted time … until [improvement in release rate] is forthcoming most long-term army men will continue to chafe and tend to succumb to a rankling resentment of all authority.”

Day 75

Friday, 31st August, 1945

August 31 1945 Flying his pennant from the light cruiser HMS Swiftsure, Admiral Sir Cecil Harcourt led a joint British and Australian fleet into Hong Kong yesterday to accept the Japanese surrender of the Crown Colony, three years and eight months after its capture, reports the Times. “The tragic episode in the life of the colony which began with its fall on Christmas Day 1941 thus comes to an end … the curtain which for so long shut off Hong Kong from the rest of the world will be lifted.”

End of month accounting: on June 30, 1945, there were 4,653,000 men and 437,200 women in His Majesty’s armed and auxiliary forces.

During August, 1945, 88,629 men and 25,292 women were released under the Class A scheme; 6,492 men and 9 women were released under the Class B scheme; with 111,437 men and 30,232 women being released in total (including miscellaneous discharges on compassionate and medical grounds).

Overall, since the start of demobilisation, 220,441 men and 74,256 women have been discharged from HM Forces.

Data from Fighting With Figures: A Statistical Digest of the Second World War (HMSO, 1995).

Day 74

Thursday, 30th August, 1945

“British troops aboard a Malayan-bound troopship are living in a floating slum,” reports the Daily Mirror from Trincomalee. Over 350 Commandos are aboard the “reeking airless horror” of “Little Belsen,” as it has become known: a sergeant complains that

Since the war began I have been on nine troopships. This is quite the worst. The food has been shocking … weevils are in the bread and the potatoes are black. Each man gets less than one gallon of water a day for all purposes … there are no electric fans down here and the vents requently break down. The ship is alive with cockroaches … there is no hope of clean clothes, for there is no water allowed for laundry.

Excluding restricted trades such as the Accounting Branch, most RAF officers and men in Release Groups 22 and below will be discharged by the end of October, reports the Air Ministry (c/o The Times).WAAFs up to Group 33 will be released at the same time.

Day 73

Wednesday, 29th August, 1945

Captain Alan Harris, writes home from his post in the Allied Control Commission in Munster: “It is difficult to knuckle under to men promoted capriciously of whom you think very little …”

Added to that, there is not much work to do, what there is is dull … a rumour (well-founded) is going around that Control Commission [demob] will be frozen. If that does happen it will indeed be the last straw. Apparently they can’t get enough civvies to replace us, probably because they aren’t offering enough money. We feel that we have done our job in winning the war, and that to keep on those who have survived at wartime salaries to maintain the peace is iniquitous.

The idea is gaining ground that England regards the war as the soldier’s responsibility from beginning to end. People in England, it seems, pursue the normal functions of life making a packet of dough in the process behind the protection of our gallant soldiers who having beaten the Germans will be only too eager to continue taking it out them at nominal rates of pay. Obviously, of course, there are dangers of sudden release of large numbers of men, but why the million and a half munition workers released while a trickle of soldiers come home? … Apparently the army returns to find all the best peacetime jobs filled by the very men who got safely rich during the war.

A Royal Engineers Lance Corporal, also in Germany, writes to the Manchester Guardian about the recent demob announcements. “After the ‘windfall’ of Japan’ surrender … the promise that groups up to 23 in the Army will be released by January, 1946, has created a feeling of dissatisfaction and disillusionment amongst serving men. It is not generally realized by the majority of people at home that it is not until groups 25 and 26 are reached that the first men called up with the first batch of Militia on July 15, 1939, become eligible for release. At the present rate, therefore, these men will not be released until about March, 1946, making a period of service of over six and a half years.”

Day 72

Tuesday, 28th August, 1945

Letters of protest pour into the Daily Herald’s office after the Ministry of Labour’s controversial announcement of the demob ‘speed-up.'”We all realise that to flood the labour market with millions of men would result in chaos,” writes an airman in Newark, “but what about men who have jobs to return to? The prospect of spending another six months hanging around this camp, cleaning and polishing floors and also officers’ cars is not very cheerful.” “May a mere wife who has often been very lonely waiting for her husband to be returned to her express her disgust?” complains Mrs. N.C. Hobbs of NW1; while ‘Had Enough’ of REME insists: “If there is anything more boring than some of the forms Army discipline takes when there is a peace on, then I haven’t come across it!”

Gary Allighan of the Daily Mail agrees: “MPs are visiting their constituencies to find themselves going head on into the fiercest blizzard of criticism since the ‘shell scandal’ of the last war … the stock of the government has taken a nose-dive – temporary, no doubt – during the past five days.”

Day 71

Monday, 27th August, 1945

Thirty-two-year-old Flight Sergeant Jack Alcock pleaed not guilty at an Uxbridge court-martial yesterday to having aided the enemy – specifically, providing German interrogators with information about RAF squadrons, aircraft, and radar equipment – while held as a prisoner of war in Germany, reports the Times. Alcock, who was shot down over Mannheim, admitted that he had dictated and signed a statement admitting guilt to RAF Special Investigation Branch officers, but claimed that he was “overwrought from mental strain” at the time he was asked to make the statement. “I may have said [to a Luftwaffe interrogator] in general terms that I was proud to be a member of a Halifax squadron,” Alcock told the court. “About Monica I may have told him it was for detecting night-fighters, but I knew no more about it.” The trial continues.

Also in the Times: In an early response to George Isaacs’ disappointing announcement about demob last week, a crowd of about 400 servicemen assembled outside Government House in Gibraltar on Sunday night singing ‘why are we waiting?’ Before dispersing peacefully, a civilian speaker encouraged the men to ask their wives back in Britain to write to their MPs demanding an explanation for their demob hold-up.

Day 70

Sunday, 26th August, 1945

“It’s enough to make a German laugh,” writes a Royal Corps of Signals telegraphist in the British Army of the Rhine to the Sunday Express:

It is Sunday evening in the German town of Minden. There are several hundred occupation troops walking round with nothing to do. These men look very grim. This is why. There are only two cinemas. Both are showing German films, verboten to British troops. Some try to enter, but are turned away by a German attendant who wears a smug look on her face. Passing Germans grin at the sight of British troops being turned away. One can almost sense what they are thinking: ‘We’ll teach these stupid and docile British that they cannot do as they like in our town.’

And there is more fraternisation-related grief for occupation troops, according to the Express: “a friend just back from leave told me that several girls he had tried to speak to had said to him: ‘sorry, I can’t speak German,’ and walked away.”

Two teams of Ministry of Labour specialists are experimenting with a scheme which aims at providing bright ex-servicemen with jobs leading to executive appointments, reports the People. 350 troops in occupied Germany have already been experimentally tested to see whether the Ministry’s men can successfully identify Britain’s future captains of industry. It is not essential for these executive candidates to be officers, notes the paper: “it is felt at Army headquarters that there are many men with high intellectual qualifications who were not necessarily those with the type of leadership required by the Army … but are likely to prove highly successful in business careers.”

Day 69

Saturday, 25th August, 1945

“World peace was another Atom Bomb,” writes Labour MP Hannen Swaffer in John Bull: “It came with dramatic suddenness … it made as old-fashioned many well-worked out demobilisation plans as were made big battleships … Atom Bomb no. 1, in destroying a town, caused millions of airmen, bluejackets and soldiers to say: ‘Boys, we belong to an era which is now dead.’ Atom Bomb 2 – the announcement that the war was over – made all those same millions ask: ‘when are we going home?’

But Swaffer complains that “already there are pouring into the postbags of every MP and every newspaper office in the land scores of letters from disgruntled servicemen.” He quotes one example from the ‘Lost Legion’ on a harbour hulk at Rosyth: “Our ship, which cannot go to sea, is just an overflow and transit base where men are held on to do useless and demoralising jobs over and over again. They have no value except to keep redundant officers who have been dug in for years in some sort of a job.”

Echoing a similar complaint in an open letter to George Isaacs in the News Chronicle, one RAF officer warns about alleged empire-building by the service top brass delaying demobilisation:

We are [the regular’s] empire. Take us away from him and he loses rank. You may find it hard to believe, but when news of the Japanese capitulation came through to the Mess a Group Captain said ‘Blast! And I wanted only a couple of months to confirm me in rank. Now it’s back to being a Wing Commander!’ They are nearly all like that …

We sank our individualisms while the war went on. We would do so for a while longer to see the country through what will be a difficult winter. But in the name of common humanity, do not leave our future in the hands of the empire-building service chiefs …

Day 68

Friday, 24th August, 1945

The Minister of Labour, George Isaacs, confirmed in the House of Commons yesterday (reports the Times) that the demob ‘speed-up’ following the end of the Pacific war will amount to another 250,000 releases by the end of the year (making one million releases in total). Army Release Group 22 will be out by this Christmas, with Group 23 discharged by January 20, 1946. The Times, while cautiously in favor of the acceleration, warns that with the sudden end of the war and the cut-off of Lend-Lease “reconversion has become an emergency operation in the fullest sense … there are bound to be frictions, maladjustments, periods of temporary idleness, and local pockest of unemployment.”

“Mr. Isaacs, I’m disappointed,” writes Trevor Evans in the Daily Express. “No evidence has yet been produced that the priority of peace needs has been asserted over war demands.” Evans echoes the commonly held suspicion that Isaacs is the passive pawn of service chiefs who are unwilling to release more men for their own self-interested reasons: “Mr. Isaacs is one of the key ministers of the peace. He would receive great backing if he asserted his right to set the pace [of demob] himself.”

Gunner John White and his comrades are equally unhappy about the announcement: “The Labour Party,” he writes home, “is being called all sorts of names by the fellows back at the billets!”

Day 67

Thursday, 23rd August, 1945

August 23 1945 “Men coming out of the Services are turning down indoor jobs,” reports Union Jack. “The army has taught them the joys of outdoor life, and they want to carry it into civvy street … one tailor, who wanted a salesman with Leeds as his headquarters, received nearly 200 applications – all demobbed servicemen. ‘In nearly every case’, he said, ‘men prefer outside employment and refuse inside jobs.’”

“Do you want to emigrate?” asks former Major Ernest Watkins in the News Chronicle:

It is odd, but one of the first reactions after release from the Army is a desire to get away, and it’s a very disconcerting one. The routine of civilian life seems petty. It stretches away indefinitely into the distance without any sign of a break. The people next door are strangers. The town is dull and the one thing that livens up an evening is the thought that you might meet someone else in the same boat and spend the time together talking over the good old days that have just finished.

Is it for you, you say, that I won the war? You will probably find yourself thinking loningly about emigration and a job in the Colonies …

Watkins cautions his readers, however, that “the days when a Dominion or a colony was a useful dumping ground for the unemployed or the unemployables here (if they ever existed) are definitely dead … no Dominion wants people will, so to speak, be mentally looking over their shoulder at England all the time. They want you to settle there, to become Australian or Canadian, or whatever it is. If you don’t fancy that, then don’t go.”

Day 66

Wednesday, 22nd August, 1945

Lend-Lease was formally suspended yesterday, writes the Times’ Washington correspondent. This sudden interruption of what has become a vital economic lifeline over the past five years will complicate Britain’s transition to peace in the weeks and months to come.

The Commander-in-Chief in India reiterates (c/o the Times) that the delays in repatriation from the Far East that he anticipated two weeks ago are unlikely to be altered by the end of the Japanese war. While military operations as such are now obviously suspended, the dispatch of troops to take over territorties formerly occupied by the enemy will place a great strain on the theatre’s transport capabilities; and the return home of tens of thousands of British and Indian prisoners of war must also take high priority.

CQMS Bill Points writes from the Middle East: “we languish hopelessly in the British Belsen, as we lovingly term it, this hellspot in the desert, sand-swept, oven-heated, blistering, waterless, green-starved, soul-killing stretch of nothingness … what kind of England are we exiles coming back to? I doubt if we shall find it a Utopia or anything approaching it. And if we did I doubt if we should recognize it after wandering for fifty-four months in the Desert of No-Thoughts which we call the Army.”

Day 65

Tuesday, 21st August, 1945

August 21 1945 Men from across the British Empire will face all kinds of social problems upon their demobilisation and repatriation, with the Askari of the King’s African Rifles amongst those with the most disorienting transition to peace, notes the Times:

The East African Command has given to thousands of  Africans a mental stimulus which they had never previously known. They have seen foreign lands and peoples, and garnered – in the slums of the Levant and some of them (as returned prisoners of war) in the streets of London – a hotchpotch of experience very strange to their parents, and not all beneficial.

In so doing, they have learned for the first time to regard themselves progressively not as members just of their own tribe, but of their particular territory, and finally of East Africa. Many thousands of them have been trained as drivers, medical orderlies, carpenters, mechanics, and some even as welders, lithographers, and Education Corps specialists. All of them have grown accustomed to a standard of living infinitely higher than any they previously knew. It is obvious that strong forces of disruption will be released upon demobilisation …

Day 64

Monday, 20th August, 1945

The military authorities in the Far East are, notes the Times, preparing for the daunting logistical task of locating, releasing and caring for the estimated 200,000 Allied military and civilian prisoners held by the Japanese at the end of hostilities last week.POWs and internees are scattered throughout Malaya, China, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan itself. In the last three years only about 10,000 prisoners, most of them civilians, have been successfully liberated from Japanese captivity.

Ella Rosaline Richards, wife of a Royal Navy stoker petty officer, was sentenced to six months imprisonment by Bath magistrates on Saturday for failing to properly look after her three young daughters, reports the Times. The NSPCC’s investigation revealed that the girls, aged six, five, and three, were living in “indescribably filthy” conditions. The convicted woman blamed the squalid conditions partly on stress caused by her husband’s return from sea: he “brought home a lot of worry from abroad,” she said. Petty Officer Richards said that when he went overseas in 1942 the house and children were well looked after. He blamed his wife’s health for the deteriorated circumstances.

Day 63

Sunday, 19th August, 1945

“I am a doctor,” writes a Captain in the RAMC to the Sunday Express …

I joined the Army three and a half years ago, and my first station was a field ambulance where I did all the medical work for all the doctors in the unit. It took me one hour a day; the remainder of the day I spent walking, cleaning out a fish pond, and worrying as to when I would get work. The next two years I spent in one of our northern islands and there my total work week never exceeded six hours per week. I was mess secretary there and did all the catering to help fill the time. I spent six months on the continent, half of which time I worked. The other half we played cards.

When I come home, my patients complain that they cannot get a doctor for love or money, and yet here I am wasting my time and the taxpayers are having to pay me for doing nothing.

Bombardier Leslie Scarboro returned home to Horncastle, Lincolnshire, after three years’ imprisonment in a German POW camp only to discover that his wife had spent the £180 he had sent her to bank for him, reports the News of the World. Lincoln County Court heard that Mrs. Scarboro had sent her husband a letter, saying that “I shall spend every penny of the money. I have had nothing to thank you for, so I do not see why I should bother about you.” In the witness stand she burst into tears, declaring: “I was given to understand friom my husband’s people that he was not coming back to me.” Regardless of Mrs. Scarboro’s guilt, however, the court found that the money was irretrievable, a husband being unable to bring an action in tort against his wife.

Day 62

Saturday, 18th August, 1945

The Ministry of Labour and National Service has announced (c/o The Times) that in light of the end of hostilities in the Far East an additional 250,000 personnel are likely to be released by the end of 1945, over and above the 750,000 originally estimated back in May. This official announcement ends speculation in the press that as many as two million men and women would be released by Christmas; but the conservatism of the new government’s ‘peace dividend’ will be a source of frustration for many servicemen over the upcoming weeks.

The News Chronicle reports on a street battle in Soho this morning between black and white GIs [one of many violent racial confrontations during the period] which left three men and a woman stabbed. A crowd of up to one thousand watched the melee, which apparently began after an exchange of words between two groups of American servicemen at the entrance to a nightclub. Pursued by a mob of white marines, the black soldiers took refuge a Gerrard Street bar before London policemen and MPs broke the virtual siege. One of the coloured GIs was “nearly lynched,” according to a police sergeant: “we beat off his attackers in the nick of time.”

Day 61

Friday, 17th August, 1945

James Lansdale Hodson visits Hatfield House Civil Resettlement Unit (CRU) for ex-POWs:

If we put ourselves into the position of a returned PoW we shall see how necessary this plan was. For months, or more often years (and sometimes five years) we have been isolated from normal life. This Britain to which we come back has changed greatly. We’re uncertain of our former skills as professional men or craftsmen; sometimes uncertain, too, of ourselves in company, or with womenfolk, for we haven’t been near them for so long. The new world we’ve plunged back to is a bit of a jungle. We’re worried about our health, for we’ve not had enough to eat; we’re worried whether we shall get a job, whether folk will be hostile to us because we’ve been PoWs; yet at the same time we feel that those who stayed at home had a better time in the war than we did. Each of us has his own troubles, maybe concerned with wife or children, or the need for a house – or a difficulty in concentrating or remembering. We’d rather like to be invisible spectators for a while of this strange world – see it and watch it without it watching us. The CO said … ‘It’s like coming out of a world where everything is dim to one where it’s floodlit – you see it, but don’t quite believe it’ …

A medical officer holds the view that soldiers returning from Burma, or say Persia, are very similar in certain psychological ways to PoWs. For one thing, they’ve usually built up an idealized picture of the country and home they had, and the harsher realities are found hard to grow accustomed to. After the first three or four weeks of festivities another ‘crisis’ period can develop. One reason may be that instead of being at once accepted as ‘cock of the walk’, the husband may find that his wife has gained new authority by adding war responsibilities – care of the children, struggling with the blackout and bombing, and perhaps on top of that, earning good wages in a factory. He may secretly or openly resent this. She, on the other hand, may be jealous of his life overseas, which, despite its hardships, strikes her as rather ‘glamorous’. Much tolerance and understanding are needed on both sides, so that in ‘resettling’ the soldier, it is important to resettle the wife and family, too.

Sapper Lawrence Shore from Wolverhampton “was so used to being able to ride in commandeered German cars while serving in the BLA in Germany that during his leave he could not resist the temptation to drive off in a car,” reports Union Jack. “‘I took it all right’, Shore told a policeman. ‘I was going to take the missus to Blackpool. I was getting browned off.’” He was fined 40s.

Day 60

Thursday, 16th August, 1945

Despite the worldwide celebrations that greeted yesterday’s news of the Japanese surrender, sporadic fighting continues throughout the Far East, reports the Times. Isolated pockets of Japanese troops, out of communication with their headquarters, continue to skirmish desultorily with Allied soldiers in Burma; Spitfires dropping leaflets with news of the surrender were met with anti-aircraft fire over Moulmein. The Red Army’s offensive in Manchuria continues apace.

Government schemes for the resettlement of disabled ex-servicemen are yielding too high a proportion of failures, according to a survey published yesterday by the policy think tank Political and Economic Planning, says the News Chronicle. The Ministry of Labour’s Disablement Rehabilitation Officers are singled out for particular criticism by PEP; “the wrong type of people” are being appointed to the job. The survey recommends abolishing the Ministry of Pensions and transfering its responsibilities to the Ministries of National Health and National Insurance [this didn’t happen until 1968].

Day 59

Wednesday, 15th August, 1945

“Japan has surrendered,” notes the Times soberly. All allied armed forces have been ordered to suspend offensive action following the Japanese emperor’s broadcast to his people early this morning (London time). Negotiations to determine what precisely happens next are being handled courtesy of the Swiss diplomatic mission in Washington.

Modern Woman has advice for the careful handling of returning husbands and fathers, c/o Dr. Harold Dearden:

Active service engenders a craving for change and excitement. It encourages habits of extravagance and a tendency to live, as it were, from day to day. Its whole atmosphere is no abnormal as to be calculated to unsettle the best type of fellow and make the routine and tedium of a civil environment seem a burden almost too wearisome to be born …

Mothers must take all reasonable precautions lest the child come to regard his father as an interloper, as someone who deprives him of the company of his mother, usurps his unique position in her eyes and, in addition, to make matters still worse, is encouraged by her to exercise authority over him …

Day 58

Tuesday, 14th August, 1945

As many as 27 Allied troops are believed to have died yesterday, and scores were injured, when two leave trains crashed head-on at 2.30 this morning on a single track line near Cleves, reports the Daily Mail. Most of the injured were apparently British. One officer who had boarded the train at Munster after being discharged from hospital told reporters that he had just fallen asleep when a terrific crash woke him. “We were thrown into confusion. We were afraid the train would burst into flames, and then we heard the cries of the wounded. We did not know whether it was sabotage or not.”

“Frederick James Hooker, aged 47, of Tealestreet Dwellings, Shoreditch, father of eight children, was remanded at Old-Street yesterday, charged with murdering his wife Lilian May,” writes the Daily Herald. Hooker, about 5 feet tall, wore Army uniform with the bade of the Pioneer Corps … when told he would be charged with murder Hooker replied: ‘It’s too late now. I don’t want to blacken her, but she drove me to it. I begged her not to tell me about the other man and she would not.'”

Day 57

Monday, 13th August, 1945

August 13 1945 In Singapore, FEPOW Captain Ronald Horner continues his diary: “People very irritable, having bottled up likes and dislikes for months, this extra strain finds them venting their spleen when previously they would have held themselves in … this is farcical … as there’s no intimation from the Nips, we have to carry on as usual.”

Back in Britain, the Ministry of Labour made a formal announcement on Saturday (reports the Times) warning the public not to anticipate dramatic alterations in the military release arrangements in light of Japan’s surrender:

It is understandable that the news … should have given rise to speculations regarding the rate of demobilization. But until the war in the Far East is definitely over, and until the government have had an opportunity of reviewing the whole manpower situation and the requirements of the fighting services, it is impossible to announce whether any change can be made.

Day 56

Sunday, 12th August, 1945

Lieutenant Sidney Beck writes in his War Diary from occupied Germany:

“There is much confusion here. Some of our men in age groups 1-26 were posted to other units not going to SEAC. They left us on Friday and had many tearful farewells all round … however they came back yesterday as their new units refused to accept them for the time being … what we are to do with the men in the weeks to come, I do not know. We have no vehicles, no equipment to practice on or to maintain, and our resources in this village are quite small. We have no direction either – I suppose the CO is equally at a loss to think of things to do.”

In Singapore, FEPOW Captain Ronald Horner records the dramatic news of victory in his own diary: “An air of complete quiet today … somehow one can’t help but feel anti-climax, a sweeping victory would in many ways have revenged Feb 42 … in the meantime we wait and hope that there will be no hitch.”

Day 55

Saturday, 11th August, 1945

August 11 1945 As the world digests with relief the news from Tokyo yesterday (see left), Eighth Army veteran H.W.F. Charles writes to his mother from Austria: “[The press rumors in UK about demob and leave schedule] have caused a tremendous lot of confusion at home, raised many false hopes and are actually being the cause of dissension between the men out here and the relations who have not seen them for years. The official army newspapers have taken the matter up on behalf of the many personal complaints they have received, quite often from men who are being asked by their relations ‘don’t you want to come home’? Our newspapers accuse yours point blank of publishing unofficial rumors and prophesies in such a way as to imply an ‘official’ atmosphere about them – all with the sole objective of selling their papers.”

Three servicemen, led by John Dempsey, an ex-POW who was captured along with the rest of the 51st Highland Division at St. Valery in June 1940, have formed a copycat Vigilante group and occuped a spacious mansion in Fife. Dempsey came home to find his wife and three children living in an attic room. “We looked for a home for months,” he said to Daily Mail reporters. “I was surprised that such a house as this should be empty when so many are living under bad conditions.”

Day 54

Friday, 10th August, 1945

Yesterday’s second atomic bomb attack on the port of Nagasaki receives surprisingly low-key attention in the national press; far more attention is given to the rapid Soviet advances in Manchuria.  The Times does however ponder the future of military aviation in light of the pioneering new ordnance, making the hair-raising claim that “the new weapon is so small and light … that in future the emphasis in bomber design is likely to be on the small, fast aeroplane … the British-made de Havilland Mosquito was adapted to carry a 4,000 lb. bomb, so it has ample capacity to carry several of the new type of atomic bomb.” [In reality, Little Boy weighed 8,900 lbs, and yesterday’s Fat Man 10,200 lbs.; The estimate the Times has been given is about ten times too small].

“‘Ex’ men are not finding it easy to settle into civilian life for several reasons,” writes Garry Allighan of the Daily Mail. “They experience – or think they do – a general tendency to be segregated into a community separate and distinct from the permanent civilians …

Whether that feeling is justified or not, its existing is menacing to a ‘Civvy Street’ that should lead to national prosperity. Blame for this attaches to both sides … if each can see each other’s point of view, the trouble may be remedied.

When the ‘ex’ man gets home he finds himself facing two problems: the change in himself: the difficulty of adapting himself to civilian conditions with which years of service life has made him unfamiliar …

Lieutenant-Colonel T.M. Main of the RAMC adds: “Boredom, isolation, and loneliness have been fought by creating mental pictures of the old, lost life: of the familiar scenes, the favourite seat by the fire, working in the garden, darts in the ‘local,’ Saturday night at the pictures, the tumult of home – forgetting that the reality of that idealised life included a soap-sudded atmosphere on washing day and dirty dishes in the kitchen sink every day … now he comes back. And that dream is punctured by the sharp-pointed facts. He must be helped away from the cynicism of a lost illusion.”

Day 53

Thursday, 9th August, 1945

Russia declared war on Japan yesterday. “The war has moved to its climax,” suggests the Times: “The futility of continued resistance is plain … reason imperatively demands surrender. The men who govern Japan may well turn to the Potsdam manifesto, clinched as it now is by the message which reached them from Moscow yesterday.”

The Times reports that at its annual meeting in Westminster yesterday, The National Association for Employment of Regular Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen urged the government to maintain, and if possible extend, preferential consideration for ex-servicemen in public vacancies. The Post Office, amongst other state employers, plans to offer half its established positions as postmen and porters to the demobilised.

The paper also reports that opportunities for home leave will be extended for British personnel currently serving in Italy. Since leave passes to the UK were first introduced last November, 26,000 men in all have been able to take advantage of the scheme. Initially only transit by air was possible, the land and sea routes still being closed. Now as many as 50,000 soldiers will be sent home on leave during August alone. Personnel in Army Release Groups 1-13 have already been sent back to Britain to await demobilisation.

Day 52

Wednesday, 8th August, 1945

“An impenetrable cloud of dust and smoke, standing over the ruins of the great Japanese arsenal at Hiroshima, still unveils the undoubtedly stupendous destruction wrought by the first impact in war of the atomic bomb,” writes the Times in its first breathless leader on Monday’s attack. “The issue of the Japanese war, already certain, must be greatly hastened …

Whether the rulers of Tokyo acknowledge by surrender the demonstration that the allies hold them in the hollow of their hand, or insist on immolating their country before the irresistable power of the new weapon, which is amply acknowledged in their latest broadcasts. If they choose the second alternative, it seems likely that the allies may be able to accomplish what Rundstedt is said to have expected to achieve against Britain, the destruction of Japanese resistance in the home islands by air power alone …

The atomic attack has brought little consolation to homesick British servicemen in the Far East; The commander-in-chief in India, after consulation with SEAC’s commander Lord Mountbatten, has (the Times reports) announced that repatriation under the ‘PYTHON’ theatre rotation scheme will be delayed for operational reasons. General Auchinleck says in an official communique to the troops that he regrets the decision, but “unless we abandon future operations which are necessary to hasten the defeat of Japan, the railway and port capacity in India will not allow us to send home more than a limited number of men .. till November and December.”

Day 51

Tuesday, 7th August, 1945

August 7 1945 Naturally, today’s newspapers are dominated by news of the atomic attack on Hiroshima yesterday. What effect this stunning development in the Pacific War will have on the outcome of the conflict, and thus ultimately on Britain’s demobilisation arrangements, are as yet unclear.

Ernest Watkins, a just-demobbed Army major, writes of his first experiences as a civilian in the News Chronicle:

I am now in a world in which a ration book gets you nowhere unless you have some cash as well. No longer is a plain but substantial meal served up three times a day, with no financial contribution from me, while the 56 days leave, plus an additional time for overseas service, over the exact length of which I am sure that the War Office and I will quarrel, will be gone in a flash. It seems so long at the start, but experience teaches differently. And then? In short, I am exactly where a great many others like me have been and where far more will be during the next few months …

Day 50

Monday, 6th August, 1945

In what they call an “Appeal to the British Press”, the editors in chief of the Union Jack service newspaper complain about the unsubstantiated gossip and rumor about the demob process allegedly being published  by Fleet Street. “British newspapers are constantly publishing as ‘news’ important items which are nothing more than garbled half-truths or faulty conjectures,” they insist. “The result is that acute mental distress is caused to serving men and to wives and families who are anxiously awaiting the return of the men to civilian life … wives accept these forecasts as the truth. They write to men abroad saying: ‘I believe you don’t want to come home.’”

The Times reports from Washington on the developing plans for the invasion of Japan. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff have extended General MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area command to include the Ryukyu islands (including Okinawa), implying his likely command of the invasion force. Meanwhile the preparatory air assault on Japan and its crumbling empire continues. In the past 35 days B-29 Superfortresses have dropped nearly 50,000 tonnes of bombs on the home islands, and yesterday naval Liberators attacked coastal vessels and shore installations along the Shantung peninsula in China. USAAF fighter-bombers have been reported strafing targets in the Tokyo area. “If the powerlessness of the Japanese fleet to strike a blow fails to move the Japanese people, it can only be inferred that addiction to suicide is not confined to the military caste,” comments the paper’s leader. Nothing, it seems, can stop the invasion now …

Day 49

Sunday, 5th August, 1945

A chaplain to an Army garrison in Germany writes to the People about the fraternisation problem:

At present the soldiers are as little anxious to talk to German girls as the girls are to talk to them. I am not so ignorant of human nature as to imagine that there are not some sordid ones who stray off the roads and streets; but these men would do the same at home. I would like the women of Britain to know that I am proud of their men and to assure them that the dignity, justice and correct behaviour of the British Tommy still makes him the greatest ambassador of his country.

A gunner adds: “send us our wives (or send us home) and let the ATS wear pretty frocks so they can compete with this new competition and fratting will die a natural death, for, believe me, the best of the English girls are second to none in looks or in virtue – and the Germans, methinks, are quite a way down the list.”

Day 48

Saturday, 4th August, 1945

Food – and more precisely, the disparity in civilian and military rations – is on the mind of John Bull’s readers. “I am one of many wounded soldiers in this civilian hospital,” writes Trooper R.H. in a Midlands infirmary. “The food has been awful. Instead of getting our Army rations we get the civilian allowance and that is badly cooked. The limit was reached the other day when the ward orderly came in to ask if we had anything to be cooked for breakfast. I had nothing so I was offered the choice of bread and butter or bread and jam.”

A sergeant from Devon writes: “I left Germany a week ago and have been telling my wife how much better off for food the soldier is than the civilian. BLA daily rations included 12oz. of bread, oz. of boneless meat and 2oz. of bacon or 4oz. of sausage as well as jam, cheese, cooking fat and dried foods. Any civilian would gladly change places.”

Day 47

Friday, 3rd August, 1945

August 3 1945 In Canberra, reports the Times, Australia’s newly appointed Minister for Immigration Arthur Calwell has announced to the House of Representatives that the Dominion and Great Britain have come to an agreement allowing, in principle, demobilized UK servicemen and -women free passage to resettle in the Antipodes. “Australia wants and will welcome new, healthy citizens determined to become good Australians by adoption,” Mr. Calwell said.

The Times also reports that British aircraft sank a Japanese destroyer and three other enemy vessels in the Tokyo area on Monday. Three aircraft and their pilots were lost in the attack.


Day 46

Thursday, 2nd August, 1945

August 2 1945

In a letter to the  Manchester Guardian, a Mrs. A.E. Barnett quotes recent correspondence from her husband in SEAC:

Up to the end of June we knew that repatriation was three years eight months, and I and thousands of others out here were reconciled to that … then at the beginning of June Sir James Grigg announced that he had given orders for service in the theatre to be brought down to three years four months … that, of course, made everyone happy. In my particular case we had made plans for my homecoming at the end of September. All our thoughts and hopes were based on that time. A couple of weeks after that it was announced in our forces newspaper, ‘SEAC’, that what Grigg had actually said was that three years four months is not a pledge, but only a target. Now we have been told that we shall arrive home in December.

Troops in Burma

Day 45

Wednesday, 1st August, 1945

A Times leader reflects on the ambivalence demobilizing servicemen feel towards the loss of their military uniforms:

Restlessness is known in peace-time to many a soldier and sailor who feeling himself to be in his prime, is assured by the rigid time-table of authority that he is past his job. It is known today to innumerable men and women who are putting off uniform and going back to civilian dress. There is nothing bellicose about the feeling, even in the fighting man. It is not love of warfare that sets the soldier longing to go ‘Back to the Army Again’ and makes the naval officer so reluctant to order his bowler hat .. it is simply that civvies do not identify the wearer with any organized and collective service. It is still possible to tell a road-mender from a draper’s assistant, but not much more. The restlessness is, in truth, loneliness.

Day 44

Tuesday, 31st July, 1945

The Times recounts a shore bombardment of the Japanese coastline near Hamamtsu by HMS King George V:

As the line of warships moved down the coast red and white tracer shells arched through the night sky to the shore, where spotting aeroplanes dropped flares which showed up through the outline of the flat, blacked-out coast through a slight haze. After a fast and undetected approach the bombardment opened at 11.15pm, and soon parts of the coastline showed a red glow. A former musical instrument factory, now believed to be one of Japan’s main sources of aeroplane parts, was soon in flames

[This is in fact the last time that a British battleship will ever fire its guns in anger.]

“Souvenir pistols killed 47 pals,” bewails the Daily Herald’s headline. “Everybody ran to the tent from which a pistol shot was heard – it is the usual story. A British soldier lay dead on his bedding. His best friend,  a comrade through a dozen campaigns, stood crazed and rocking beside him. He had been demonstrating his souvenir German automatic pistol once too often …” 146 soldiers have been accidentally shot by comrades in occupied Austria since V-E Day. 47 have died. 24 men are awaiting court martial for manslaughter.

End of month accounting: on June 30, 1945, there were 4,653,000 men and 437,200 women in His Majesty’s armed and auxiliary forces.

During July, 1945, 59,919 men and 28,771 women were released under the Class A scheme; 2,051 men and 5 women were released under the Class B scheme; with 76,884 men and 32,330 women being released in total (including miscellaneous discharges on compassionate and medical grounds).

Overall, since the start of demobilisation, 109,004 men and 44,024 women have been discharged from HM Forces.

Data from Fighting With Figures: A Statistical Digest of the Second World War (HMSO, 1995).

Day 43

Monday, 30th July, 1945

The City today

The Times publishes the first aerial photographic view of central London permitted since the war began, showing the devastation surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral (click for a full view):

Also in the Times: the Ministry of Labour has announced that 4,500 undergraduate arts and theological students will be shortly released from the Forces under Class B conditions. As the paper notes, university arts education in Britain effectively ended in the last years of the war against Germany, and there is now an urgent need for qualified men to fill posts in the public services, the professions, and in the administrative branches of industry and commerce.

The paper provides a eulogy for the Eighth Army, the headquarters of which has been officially wound up (though its troops remain of course in situ, garrisoning their occupation zone in Austria):

No British Army has so forcefully impressed itself upon the imagination of the world or so deeply endeared itself to the British public. It was fighting, with variable fortunes, at times when there were no other British armies in the field. From the moment when the initiative returned to our arms it never knew defeat … it campaigned always in climates where, in spite of the intervals of snow, rain, and mud, an army becomes “supple as steel and brown as leather.” And as such it will ever be remembered.

Day 42

Sunday, 29th July, 1945

More on fraternisation, this time by a BLA sergeant in the News of the World:

When we first invaded Germany it was a natural and expected thing that we should not be allowed to speak to the Germans, and most of us did not want to anyway. Now the picture has changed and Germany has been cleaned up – and surprisingly quickly – of the worst Nazi elements, and we can roughly divide the Germans into two classes:

(i) The majority of the people – politically ignorant, disgustingly servile, and willing to be led in any direction, and all more or less infected with Nazi ideas and propaganda; (ii) the few Germans who really were anti-Nazi (and they do exist) who waited with anxious hope for our victory.

It is not enough to punish the Germans – we all know that. We must try to re-educate them as well to democracy and all its ideals. How can we do this? Only by talking to Germans, reasoning with them, telling them the truth, proving to them how they have been lied to for a dozen years – in a word, by fraternising with them …

Day 41

Saturday, 28th July, 1945

The Daily Herald reports on the more than 50,000 applications for help processed by the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA) in Germany since October last year: “We had so many requests for houses that we had to put out a notice, not a house agency,” according to Desmond O’Neill and Mrs E. Robertson, the BLA organizers. “We can’t find them houses because there aren’t any. But we give them advice, telling them to get their wives to go to the local council … most soldiers’ marriage troubles would never have happened but for the soldier’s long exile away from home. We never obtain evidence for a divorce. Our aim is reconciliation. But if both the soldier and his wife want a divorce we pass him on to the legal aid department run by the Army and Air Force next door.” There are between 600-700 new cases a week for SSAFA to handle. The number is increasing.

An RAF Flight-Lieutenant writes in John Bull about ‘What They Want When They Leave the Forces’:

First, the serviceman wants a job. Not necessarily the job he left four or five years ago, because in many cases his service career has been the means of his discovering new possibilities in himself that he did not previously suspect he possessed. The ex-servicemen expects a grateful government to help him develop these new-found talents either by providing education or technical training.

Men in the lonely parts of the world have dreamed for years of their wives and families. Now they wish to settle down with them in the place of their choosing and expect to be provided with decent houses and household facilities.

The soldier has seen at first hand what a determined Britain can do at war. He is in no mood to quibble with politicians or government departments who cannot or will not provide him with a good place in which to live …

Day 40

Friday, 27th July, 1945

July 27 1945 The papers describe Labour’s historic victory yesterday in the first general election since 1935. Labour’s 159-seat majority in the new parliament will provide an instrument for sweeping change. What extent the switch in government will have on the demobilisation process is not yet clear, however. Certainly, with R.A. Butler’s brief occupation of the Ministry of Labour now over, a new man will be in charge; but it will not be Ernest Bevin, the architect of the original plan, who is expected to hold one of the great offices of state in Mr. Attlee’s new administration. Could Bevin’s fellow trade unionist, Southwark MP George Isaacs, be the man for the job?

Sweeping Labour victory

Day 39

Thursday, 26th July, 1945

British carrier aircraft attacked the east Shikoku-Okayama-Fukuyama area yesterday, says the Times. 21 Japanese aircraft were destroyed on the ground, with another 57 others damaged, and other targets such as hangars, radio and radar stations, and a factory were strafed. The British forces lost eight aircraft and twelve airmen in the operation.

The Daily Mirror reports on more complaints from servicemen in the civilian building trades that they are being denied release under Class B because of red tape. For example, one REME private, 36, medical category C2, a licensed builder with sixteen years experience, has allegedly been refused Class B categorization for obscure administrative reasons … “Keep at it,” says a letter to the paper from ‘The Boys in Germany’: “We’ll be back soon and then we can say a word for ourselves.” An RAC trooper, also in Germany, predicts “trouble in a big way when the lads come home … we’re passing the time by blancoing webbing and polishing boots and buttons like we did in 1939.”

Day 38

Wednesday, 25th July, 1945

Heavy fighting has been reported in Burma, says the Times. More than 1,300 Japanese troops have been killed and 80 taken prisoner after retreating enemy forces attempted to cross the Mandalay-Rangoon road eastwards and reach the Sittang river. Spitfires and Thunderbolts have been strafing Japanese positions, destroying many bridges and villages.

‘I am a serviceman who has just returned to this country after four years overseas, and my first expected reactions were mapped out for me by the overseas newspapers as terrible! Almost hopeless! Very heavy rationing! No this, no that, no the other!” writes a Daily Herald reader:

Why must people grumble? Things might be better, but all the grumbling in the world will not put us back to pre-war standards … I may be a serviceman without the worries of ordinary rationing, but I have been home for 28 days and the only place I have had to queue for necessities has been in service clubs … if more people would realise that, like an anthill which has been crushed by a heavy heel, we are only starting to rebuilt a smashed country, they would follow the example of the ants and pull together instead of as so many do in opposite directions.

Day 37

Tuesday, 24th July, 1945

A thousand square miles of the bed of the Firth of Clyde are being dragged by 26 minewsweepers in a search for three German moored magnetic mines which were laid by a U-Boat when she penetrated the waterway three weeks before V-E Day, reports the News Chronicle. The search began on 20th April when the 200-ton fishing trawler Ethel Crawford blew up, one of the very last victims of the Battle of the Atlantic …

A Times reader on ‘fratting’:

The photographs in the press of British soldiers ‘fraternizing’ with half-naked smiling German girls are somewhat astonishing if one reflects that all over liberated Europe women have had their heads shaved and their clothes torn from their backs by their own countrymen for smiling upon the invader. What can they and their accusers think of these pictures?

Day 36

Monday, 23rd July, 1945

Aircraft operating from the carriers of the British Pacific Fleet are reported by the Times to have damaged 24 Japanese junks, destroyed 14 aircraft on the ground, and scored hits on sheds and other airfield installations north of Tokyo. Two British aircraft were destroyed, but their crews rescued.

A Daily Express report seeks to reassure British wives disconcerted by the fraternization rumors coming from Germany (though one wonders how successful he was):

The British soldier … is being libelled in letters from his womenfolk at home. They seem to think that because he can now talk to the Germans he has suddenly forgotten what the Germans have done to the world and is chiefly occupied in chasing German girls. This is complete nonsense …

Take it from me, the average British soldier in Berlin is behaving magnificently, though goodness knows he has enough temptations. If a driver, for instance, pulls his car up for more than five minutes, he immediately finds himself surrounded by a group of women. Looking as gay as butterflies against the backdrop of ruins, they come up to the troops, anxious to be friends … can you expect a healthy young man who has had months of hard fighting, not to find pleasure in the sight of pretty girls who are anxious to be friendly?

A letter from LAC Brian Poole to his American penpal: “It’s CO’s inspection tomorrow. We are real peace time airmen now. Polishing, cleaning and generally doing all the things soldiers do in peace time. It’s grim and I don’t like it at all. I’ve got to get on my hands and knees and make the bedspread gleam.”

Day 35

Sunday, 22nd July, 1945

People July 22 1945 3 “So Monty has lifted the ban, and within a few minutes our Tommies are chatting to German women,” writes a Croydon wife to the Sunday Express: “Nice reading for the women back home. If this is how our soldiers react after only two months of peace, I’d say right now we’ll lose it – for good.” An ex-ATS Londoner agrees. “It now only remains for the stockingless, utility-clad queue-ridden women of Britain to be asked to welcome here the ‘attractively gowned, glamorous’ German brides of our occupation armies …”

“All possible is being done to speed demobilisation and get men and women back to employment in civilian life,” insists a Ministry of Labour spokesman in the News of the World:

But we still have a big and serious man-power problem in such matters as finishing off the Japanese war as quickly as possible, meeting the urgency of housing … it was laid down by Mr. Ernest Bevin, when he was Minister of Labour, that the return of men and women from the Forces must be orderly and that everyone must get a fair deal.

It would be comparatively easy to let larger numbers out of the services than the 30,000 a week now being demobilised, but to do so would lead to gross unfairness, inequalities, and complaints.

civvy street

Day 34

Saturday, 21st July, 1945

The Admiralty reports (in the Times) that by mid-October male ratings up to Group 22 will have been released from the Royal Navy. The demob of officers will be considerably slower; by the end of October Groups 7 and below ought to have been discharged, though engineers, supply officers, and other key personnel will still be deferred. All remaining married WRNS officers will be released by the end of August.

Also in the Times: the British Chief of Naval Information in Washington has revealed that all major modern British warships not refitting in home waters are now in the Far East in support of military operations there. These include the battleships HMS Howe, HMS Duke of York, and the Illustrious-class aircraft carriers.

In the short story “Plan for Perfection” by Katherine Merson, in this week’s Woman, “Lauraine had made such wonderful plans for Robin’s homecoming – she couldn’t understand his unhappiness.” Lauraine overplans everything – assiduously reading pop psychology books like Marriage Under War Conditions: Its Physiological and Psychological Aspects; trying to set Robin up with a job, thinking she has his reunion with their young son Alan prepared. But Alan dislikes his father and Robin dislikes the job he is being elbowed into. Finally he rebels:

“I’m speaking plainly, Lauraine. You did too much planning, darling, and I hadn’t the guts to push you off the bridge and take command … do you know what finally brought Alan to his senses about me? The hair-brush, gently but firmly applied to his tough little behind. And the hair brush method goes for everybody in the house, whenever I consider it necessary. Is that understood?’ ‘Y-yes, dear.’ …

‘You know now that a man can have courage for himself and his wife and his children – but he hasn’t the courage to stand up to a wife who has no faith in him. But it’s working itself out.”

Day 33

Friday, 20th July, 1945

Dr. Charles Hill, secretary of the Central Medical Committee of the British Medical Association, warned at a BMA conference in London yesterday (according to the Times) that unless at least 5,000 doctors were soon released from HM Forces to work within the British civilian population, next winter a “grave situation” might arise in the event of an epidemic.

Six service families have been moved into empty houses in Brighton, London and Portsmouth by Harry Cowley’s vigilantes in he past twenty-four hours, reports the Daily Mail. They include Mrs. L. Marlow and her two young children, who had been living alongside relatives in cramped temporary accomodation; Mrs. Marlow’s husband is a petty officer serving on HMS Howe in the Pacific.

The worst deluge in two monsoons has broken over Burma. “Our men are completely drenched and seeking the shelter of bamboo matting, tin roofs and pagodas after 18 hours of ceaseless downpour,” writes the Times. “Flood waters are everywhere swirling round the stilts of wooden houses.” The situation of the 6-8,000 retreating Japanese forces in the Pegu mountain region is even more desperate; many are living off the land, and prisoners have been reported suffering from beri-beri and fever.

Humour from the Daily Mail. The scene: a demobilisation centre. One orderly to another: “I’d better get back to the door and control the milling mob – both of ’em.”

Day 32

Thursday, 19th July, 1945

July 19 1945The government, faced with complaints from civilian industries about a shortage of necessary manpower, has announced the possibility of increasing the total number of release from the services this year from the originally estimated 750,000 men and women, reports the Times.  “The service departments have the matter under individual re-examination, taking full account, of course, of the demands of the operations in the Far East and of the occupation of Germany … there is particular anxiety in the basic industries of reconstruction [and] a full acknowledgment of the urgent need for getting workpeople back to all the essential industries as rapidly as possible.”

Adds a recently demobbed Times reader:

“There have been many references, official and unofficial, to ‘orderly’ releases from the services … I am able to testify that it is orderly and courteous, but I think that many of those who have not yet been released would wish it was a little less orderly and a little more expeditious.”

Gillette in battledress

Day 31

Wednesday, 18th July, 1945

Yesterday, reports Admiral Nimitz’s headquarters (c/o the Times), HMS King George V,  HMS Formidable and a number of RN cruisers took part in the US Third Fleet’s first action against Japan proper, the bombardment of the eastern Honshu coast. In less than an hour they poured over 1,500 tons of shells on industrial centers along the Japanese shoreline near Hitachi. The Allies, Nimitz declared, have arrived at the “pre-invasion” stage of the Pacific War; hencerforth

“we must take a series of certain and progressive steps until the will and ability of the Japanese people to resist are broken.”

A Times leader excoriates the service departments for their failure to speedily release more doctors from HM Forces. “Letters to medical journals week by week insist with monotonous uniformity upon the overstaffing of Forces medical branches. Medical officers on leave speak with even more freedom of little work to do … so long as there is one doctor in the Army for 350 men and only one general practitioner in this country for 2,640 people, it is difficult to accept the plea that there is no over-staffing in the services.”

Day 30

Tuesday, 17th July, 1945

While most of the world’s eyes turned towards Germany and the opening of the Potsdam Conference yesterday, at the Anglican Diocesan Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury “drew attention to a disquieting aspect of the ‘reallocation of manpower’ [the current official euphemism for demobilisation] in Britain,” reports the Times. “Husbands and wives long separated by the war are coming together again, and with alarming frequency the reunion is not a success …

Partners meet only to part again or to seek legal separation; many more find their marriages imperilled by suspicions or misunderstandings. The enforced separations demanded by war service, war work, and evacuation have left their mark.

Many unions which could have survived all normal strains have been weakened or broken by these new disruptive forces … seldom have material circumstances been less favourable for the success of the reunions which are now occuring all over the country … hundreds of thousands of young couples who have never known a normal married life are now obliged to begin their life together in the homes of parents or relatives.

Dr. Fisher calls for a “ruthless” housing campaign to alleviate some of these hardships.

“The great labour muddle is forcing one half of the people in the country to sit about all day with nothing to do while the other half tries in vain to all the work,” complains the Daily Mail:

Hundreds of skilled and semi-skilled men and women in the Forces are being made to waste their time on useless jobs while they wait for their demobilisation group to come round. Only a trickle of men are passing through the government clothing centres … the biggest centre, at Olympia, could handle 1,400 men a day, but since it was opened the daily intake has never been more than 500.

Not far away, on the Hyde Park gun site, men are attending dancing classes, making wooden rocking horses, and cutting the grass …

Day 29

Monday, 16th July, 1945

July 16 1945 The Times reports from Field Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters in Germany that the fraternisation rules for occupation troops have been relaxed – slightly. Servicemen and -women have already been granted leave to talk to small children; now they may also enter into conversations with adult Germans in public places. But visits to private German houses remain forbidden for now. “The ban on fraternisation began by being a fully justified military precaution,” the Times’ reporter notes, “but policy in matters such as this can never be static.” It has been observed “in a spirit of discipline and loyalty” by the vast majority of British troops, according to the paper, though “an equally great majority want it brought to an end.”

In the Eighth Army newspaper Union Jack, Jack Alldridge complains about speculative  reports on future demob targets in the British national press. These ‘exclusives’ are “not only irritating, but downright harmful to the peace of mind of exiled men and their womenfolk at home. Let me quote one Royal Engineers sergeant: what excuse can I give to my wife for not being home on leave when, according to what she has read in the papers, I should have been home weeks ago?”

The Manchester Guardian includes a letter from an RAF accounting clerk complaining about the holding back of the release of certain trades in the air force. “So this is the great demobilisation scheme bringing fair play to all. One quite fails to see it, when one realises that these men, mostly in their middle forties, having already given two years of their life in the last war, are being penalized still further just because they happen to be in the wrong trade.”

The Desert Rats

Day 28

Sunday, 15th July, 1945

The ‘Man o’ the People’ in the eponymous Sunday newspaper reflects on the demobilisation experience so far:

The medley of muddle grows. It mocks the virility and sturdy independence of the race – the British people who for years have tolerated and endured sacrifice and iron discipline. What has come over the country? There is no initiative in government circles. While discontent rose, apathy in Whitehall to the public needs became more marked. Bureaucracy is strangling the country. Red tape wraps itself around every pressing problem. The octopus created by the exigencies of war still has us in its hateful grip.

‘Let the people suffer: let them queue. Let them wait for their house. Let them worry over their stupid football pools. Let them seek in vain for holiday accomodation!’ That seems to epitomize the attitude of government departments to the crying needs of the nation. ‘Let Tommy soldier on! Let him spit and polish and blanco! Let him contain his soul in patience! Let him drill and salute and do fatigues! That seems to epitomize the War Office’s attitude to the tired and weary men who are waiting to return to civilian life…

‘Really,’ runs the War Office comment, ‘the most striking thing about demobilisation is that the scheme is as good as it is.’ Few will deny that. But is it good good enough? Is it the best scheme? And is it elastic enough to adapt itself to the changing demands of the country?

Day 27

Saturday, 14th July, 1945

The Vigilantes have struck again: this time, according to the News Chronicle, in London as well as Brighton. Two service wives were installed in a house in Barnsdale Road, Paddington; they were Mrs. Ward, whose husband is in the Royal Engineers, and Mrs. Fleming, whose ex-POW husband returned to England on Friday.

Day 26

Friday, 13th July, 1945

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

The News Chronicle reports on the visit of the King and Queen to the first Civil Resettlement Unit (CRU) for 256 ex-prisoners of war, established at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. “The atmosphere there is half-way between army and civilian life – no guards, no fatigues, no reveille; but spring beds (with sheets), meals at separate tables, and plenty of freedom.” This is the first of 20 proposed CRUs around the country with specially trained staffs with whom the men can discuss their former jobs, their army experiences, and their ambitions. “The staff arranges with the men to go look at jobs, and if they feel they would be at home in them, they can consult a Ministry of Labour official.”

Day 25

Thursday, 12th July, 1945

how can you celebrate the victory

The Air Ministry has (reports the Times) announced releases for August and September. All aircrew officers and all airmen up to Release Group 18 should be demobilised by September 30. By this date all married WAAFs other than in the accounting branch will have been discharged.

Barbara Betts of the Daily Mirror uses the occasion to explain some of the apparent incongruities in the RAF’s release programme. “One of the greatest mistakes made in organising the release scheme,” she complains, “has been the failure to explain just how it will work in the RAF and the Navy …

Demob has started slowly in many RAF trades because it has been part of the government’s manpower policy to staff sedentary jobs in the RAF almost exclusively with older men. This means that if all these men were released when their age group was reached, some trades would be stripped of almost all their workers, and the whole RAF machine would be thrown out of balance.

It may well be, however, that the RAF, which is slow in getting off the mark in the beginning, will outstrip the Army in its rate of demobbing the later age groups …”

In Brighton Vigilante news: the society tried and failed last night to install servicemen’s families in three empty houses, says the News Chronicle. The owners had securely fastened their properties with padlocks and staples on the windows.

c/o the Times:

Isaac Jack Levinson, 31, an army deserter, was at Bow Street yesterday sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay fines totalling £24,074 for manufacturing sheepskin powder-puffs (with handkerchiefs and containers) without a license from the Board of Trade.

Day 24

Wednesday, 11th July, 1945

A complaint about persistent low flying from a Times reader in Lymington: “Yesterday a C-47 was at not more than 300ft – last week three flights of Spitfires dived on this house from about 7,000 ft, and roared past at under 200ft … a month ago a Spitfire crashed in the garden in a vertical power-dive, missing the house by 40ft. The greater part of the wreck and all the engine have been abandoned in a large crater that has not been filled up.”

Day 23

Tuesday, 10th July, 1945

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

The Daily Herald speaks out against the Brighton Vigilantes. “The motives that inspire the authors of this movement are humane and understandable,” its leader states: “yet it is obvious that, if the movement were allowed to grow, a chaotic and dangerous situation might result. There are too many ill-disposed persons in this country who would only too readily attach themselves to such a cause in order to use it for their own ends. Those ends might be a variation of Chicago gangsterism or an attempt for political purposes to disrupt the law and order of the land.”

As for the vigilantes themselves, they have, according to the News Chronicle, decamped their headquarters to London because the Brighton cellar in which they were meeting has been disclosed to the local police. They now propose to extend their campaign to Clacton and Worthing.

Day 22

Monday, 9th July, 1945

The Times discusses the fraternization problem in Germany. “It may frankly be admitted that for 99 per cent of the Army, fraternization means liberty to consort with young German women. That is still strictly forbidden, and can only be done on a small scale and on the sly, with the disadvantage that soldiers who do it meet with only the worst type of woman … a high percentage of German girls are attractive … [but] a serious objection to the lifting of the ban is that it would probably distress a large number of women at home. They will never believe that fraternization means much besides association with German girls, and they will certainly be right …” Still, as the paper notes, “biological pressure” may inevitably require the authorities to modify the prohibition.

The leader of the Vigilantes – now revealed by the News Chronicle to be 50-year-old Great War veteran Harry ‘the Guv’nor’ Cowley – declared at an open-air meeting of 600 yesterday: “we shall stick to this campaign until we have commandeered every unoccupied house in Brighton.” The vigilantes have found homes for three local servicemen’s families in the past nine days.

Day 21

Sunday, 8th July, 1945

24-year-old soldier Reginald Keymer was found guilty of manslaughter of his wife “under the strongest provocation” at Nottingham Assizes last week, reports the News of the World. After a letter had been read from Keymer’s commanding officer, in which it was stated that he had been a “first-class soldier and worker, devoted to his duty and had shown a high standard of courage,” the judge said he would be discharged. “Loud clapping from the gallery” ensued.

In February or March 1945, while Keymer was on the continent serving with the British Liberation Army, his wife had become pregnant by another man. She was admitted to Greendale House Hospital in Nottingham. Keymer visited her on leave on April 5. At about 6.30pm he was seen leaving, and an hour later a nurse found Mrs. Keymer dead on the floor of the hospital interview room. She had been strangled.

“I loved my wife very much,” Keymer told police later. “This would not have happened if she had remained faithful to me.”

Day 20

Saturday, 7th July, 1945

The Times reports that there are now 4,500 ATS servicewomen stationed in Germany (their dispatch overseas was a point of controversy earlier in the year). They are serving as clerks, signallers, drivers, orderlies, and cooks. Conditions for the ATS are “as relaxed as circumstances permit;” where roads are heavily patrolled, for instance, ATS drivers go unaccompanied, but otherwise there must be an armed bodyguard in the car. In well-trafficked areas women may go for country walks in pairs, but elsewhere they have to be accompanied by an armed soldier.

“Soldiers coming home from the war have a lot to talk about” comments David Walker in the Daily Mirror’s women’s page. “But then so have the women they left behind. And each must be ready to be considerate in listening to the other. Or someone’s going to be bored …

The absolutely necessary tendency on the part of the ‘soldier from the wars returning’ is going to play a big part in your days ahead. It is going to demand, quite seriously, a degree of understanding which it is better to be warned about in advance … if there isn’t that understanding, something that can begin with mere boredom could end in something worse. To be bored by your lover is the beginning of the end …

An airman’s wife complains to the Manchester Guardian that “at the age of 44, after three years’ service with the RAF, my husband, along with a few others of the same age, has just been sent overseas to a place 5,000 miles away. His release number is 26 and his trade is clerical – a trade which would be necessary as long as the RAF operates. The prospect of his early return to civil life appears rather hopeless.”

Two letters in this week’s Woman:

“I am eagerly awaiting my husband’s return from Italy, but had a nasty shock the other day when I received a letter asking me to meet him in a tweed costume. Now, to my mind, after three years of almost exclusively male companionship, a man should want his wife to meet him looking as feminine as possible.” Don’t forget that for years your husband has been seeing girls in feminine clothes, girls in Egypt in silks and cotton prints, girls in Africa in linen suits and sun hats, girls in Italy in bright colored frocks. He probably feels that he never wants to see a fluttering silk dress or a feminine cotton frock again.

“My husband was abroad in Burma for three years and while he was away, through sheer loneliness, fell in love with another man and gave myself to him. The result was that I found I was to have a baby … [my husband] has been wonderful. He forgave me, and he says that if we keep my baby I shall be happier.”

Day 19

Friday, 6th July, 1945

In this month’s Modern Woman, Marghanita Laski asks Should a Wife Tell?

“Your husband has been away for quite a long time now – and you have been unfaithful to him. Perhaps it was only once, only one man; perhaps it was several times with one man or with more … now your husband is coming back. You want to know whether you should tell him what you have done.”

Day 18

Thursday, 5th July, 1945

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

Voting takes place in Great Britain today in the first general election for ten years. The result will not however be known for three weeks; once the polls close tonight all ballot boxes will be sealed until the postal votes of servicemen and -women overseas have been received. During this “curious interregnum,” as the Times calls it, the Conservative caretaker administration will continue to govern.

Yesterday, reports the Times, the advance units of the 7th Armoured Division arrived in Berlin to take their place as one of the four Allied occupation forces stationed in the German capital. For the Desert Rats, “it must have seemed a far cry from Tripoli and Tunis as they came to their journey’s end, the first British troops in history to enter Berlin as conquerors.” They arrived “under the stony but none the less interested gaze of a fairly large crowd of Berliners who lined the route into the city from the west of Spandau.”

Other news from Germany: in Minden, a 37-year-old RAOC officer pleaded guilty at a field general court martial on a charge of fraternizing with a German civilian (c/o the Times). According to the charge, the officer ‘went for a walk in the woods’ with a 23-or-24-year-old German woman, a soujourn that ended in sexual intercourse and (ultimately) arrest. His defence counsel noted that his client had been in Germany for some time and that “he did what many people might do if their strength of character was not sufficient to resist this temptation.”

Day 17

Wednesday, 4th July, 1945

July 4 1945A Times reporter in Basingstoke reports on an interesting perceived split in the voting preferences of the services. “One finds a widespread belief that the Royal Air Force will back Labour, mainly, while the Navy will support the government and the Army vote will be split amongst all parties … most service voters have a better developed political instinct than the average civilian voter … housing and whether he will find a job in ‘civvy street’ are the things to which the service voter pays most attention, and as far as one can learn he is not dissatisfied with the government’s proposals for dealing with these questions.” As the Times notes, support from servicemen might prove critical in some constituencies: the Forces vote in the south “is large enough virtually to decide the result.”

Lieut.General Sir Oliver Leese

Lieut.General Sir Oliver Leese

Day 16

Tuesday, 3rd July, 1945

The Times reports that thanks to new regulations, all released ex-servicemen and -women will be entitled from the beginning of their final leave to free medical attention and other benefits under the existing wartime national health insurance scheme (exactly what the permanent postwar healthcare system will look like isn’t yet clear, though both the major parties in the upcoming general election are committed to introducing some kind of comprehensive scheme which will be free at receipt of treatment).

“The Brighton vigilantes who commandeered an empty house on Friday night for the wife and two children of a petty officer intend to take over more,” reports the News Chronicle.

“They are not a secret society; they prefer to call themselves a ‘direct action’ society,” according to an interview with their leader, a “tubby Brighton businessman.” At least a dozen vigilantes were present at the meeting attended by the Chroncle’s reporter, including “a former drum major of the Royal Fusiliers who was twice wounded in the last war, an airborne man who dropped at Arnhem and an Eighth Army man who fought throughout the desert campaign.”

Feeling on the housing issue is strong. “From Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Egypt,” claims the Daily Mirror, “letters giving the views of Britain’s servicemen and servicewomen on the housing muddle are streaming into this office … scores and scores of letters from the men who smashed the Fascist terror only to be faced with the dread that they and their loved ones will be driven into the streets.”

The Mirror also reports on a police drive to stop gun-running in London’s West End. The police are appealing to publicans, gunsmiths and cafe proprieters to help stop the sale of souvenir revolvers picked up on the Continent and passed into the hands of criminal gangs. The military authorities are reportedly tightening up on the examination of kitbags troops are bringing home on leave or for demob.

Day 15

Monday, 2nd July, 1945



July 2 1945 The News Chronicle reports from Brighton on a new extra-legal initiative that will occupy the papers for some days: the activities of the ‘Vigilantes,’ a group of ex-servicemen who take possession of empty local properties in order to house the families of absent or returning soldiers, sailors, and airmen. On Friday, the paper reports, the Vigilantes occupied a house in Roundhill Street and ‘moved in’ Mrs. Eileen Hannaford, the 26-year-old wife of a petty officer serving in the Far East, and her two young children. “I have no idea who is the owner of this house,” said Mrs. Hannaford: “I am just staying put and awaiting developments.”

The Chronicle adds: “Hundreds of Brighton’s serving men have no homes to come back to … they have been turned out of furnished rooms to make way for holiday-makers who are prepared to pay higher rates. For five nights last week an ex-serviceman who could not find a home in Brighton slept on the beach.”

Day 14

Sunday, 1st July, 1945

“I fancy there will be trouble brewing if something is not done soon to hurry far more men out of the services, where they are not needed, into vital industries, which can’t get going without increased labour,” writes the People’s ‘Man of the People.’ “The truth is that the present well-intentioned but complicated and cumbersome demobilisation scheme is running behind schedule …

Seeing that many men whose fighting days are over must nevertheless remain in uniform for some time to come, commanding officers should be particularly careful not to leave them at the mercy of spit-and-polish bigots … military occupation can be one of the dullest occupations on earth and it is important not to let the men engaged in it become ‘browned off’ by exaggerated discipline.

“Insufferable little Red-Hats” fresh out of England are causing war veterans no end of grief, according to the People.

Lieutenant Sidney Beck of the British Liberation Army in Germany writes in his War Diary: “Our adjutant, Captain Thornton, is becoming brigade major. This is all part of a big demob wangle. Officers, when demobbed, have their gratuity based on the highest paid rank held as an officer. So the racket is to get yourself promoted months before you are demobbed and you get a much bigger gratuity.”

Day 13

Saturday, 30th June, 1945

Philip Toynbee reviews J.B. Priestley’s new demob novel, Three Men in New Suits for the New Statesman:

I doubt whether Priestley has fully appreciated the immediate problem. The real spiritual and psychological difficulties of the returning soldier will be far grimmer than the mere opposition of the old gang. War, and the wastes of German Europe, must have destroyed many old accepted values, left many wounds and many voids. Priestely’s too simple hope is that the soldier has learned what’s what and that he must stick by his pals and fight for it. But this fight against the old gang will be a mere skirmish before the real battle begins against the barreness of the human soul …

A servicewoman reader of Woman complains about the treatment she and a comrade received at a recent dance when dressed in civvies: “Normally neither of us is a wallflower, but on this occasion there we stood, two ATS in mufti, and were completely ignored by the men, who obviously preferred the uniformed girls. When we did get a partner, we found they asked: ‘how did you dodge call-up’ and we finally retreated into a corner, defeated. What a far cry this is from the days of 1940, when men all declared they loathed the idea of women in uniform.”

End of month accounting: on June 30, 1945, there were 4,653,000 men and 437,200 women in His Majesty’s armed and auxiliary forces.

During June, 1945, 22,108 men and 9,110 women were released under the Class A scheme; with 32,120 men and 11,694 women being released in total (including miscellaneous discharges on compassionate and medical grounds). No men or women were released under the Class B scheme.

Data from Fighting With Figures: A Statistical Digest of the Second World War (HMSO, 1995).

Day 12

Friday, 29th June, 1945

A Times leader warns of the potential dangers of tardy demobilisation. “Already there are appeals for a great acceleration of releases … the manpower of the country has been running down for more than eighteen months.” But it acknowledges (in that thumb-sucking, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand way beloved of Times leaders) that for the time being the “inescapable demands” of the war in the Far East and the occupation of Germany must have a paramount claim.



Day 11

Thursday, 28th June, 1945

The Daily Mirror echoes the “heart-cry” of the men in the Far East: “we want more BEER and CIGARETTES!” “One of the first jobs of the new parliament must be to overhaul the welfare arrangements for our men in the Far East,” the paper complains; “In the heat of Burma and India, they are wondering if we have forgotten them.” A Mrs. E.M.L. of Lincolnshire writes: “my son is in Burma … they want cigarettes more than anything else. I had a letter from him this morning and he has only been able to buy twenty in the canteen this week.” Mrs. L. of Cheshire’s husband is only getting one bottle of beer per month – “in a climate so hot they perspire day and night.”

The Manchester Guardian publishes a letter by ‘An Airman’s Wife’ complaining about an alleged inconsistency in the RAF’s release system that is going to prove very controversial:

When the demobilisation and release scheme was first announced great prominence was given in the press and by the BBC to the fact that the scheme would apply equally to all and that apart from a limited number of Class B releases the date of a Service man’s release would be determined only by his age and length of service. Much less publicity has been given to the statement by the Air Ministry that it has decided to work on a release scheme of its own, in which an airman’s trade plays a very big part in arriving at the date of his return to civil life.

Day 10

Wednesday, 27th June, 1945

Punch reports from ‘somewhere in Egypt’:

I must admit that the tendency is for people to talk much more about going home than anything else. A man’s Age Group can almost be guessed from the expression on his face. The first few Age Groups have of course already gone and the others who are in Groups up to 11 go about with springy strides and indulge in a good deal of hearty laughter, which maddens to a point of frenzy those who have just arrived from England …

People between Group 11 and Group 21 are also cheerful, but a little quieter and more cautious. They talk in an airy way about being quite satisfied if they are at home in time for the Wembley Cup Final of 1946. They do not boast of their hopes, because they know that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. But they write home to their wives and give directions about having their civilian clothes overhauled and negotiations entered into with the garage proprietor to see whether the car is beyond hope. Particularly optimistic members of these groups are even renewing golf club memberships.

The 21 to 25 Groups are perhaps the most restless. The original premature suggestion that the Middle Twenties would be out by the end of the year caused jubiliation, but when this was altered to the ‘very early twenties’ there was a strong reaction, and people in 23 Group and upwards were heard to remark that personally they thought it was absurd to want to go home in mid-winter. For health reasons next May or June would be much better.

Beyond about Group 28 men are still buying maps of Japan, and a plumber in our mess is even studying Chinese …

Day 9

Tuesday, 26th June, 1945

The Times reminds its readers, as if they needed reminding, that voting in the general election is barely a week away. All candidates have now been nominated. 637 of the 640 seats up for election will be contested, a new record. A large number of candidates are current or ex-service men, some with distinguished records; Mr. Bevin, for instance, the architect of the demobilisation plan, is being challenged in his Central Wandsworth constituency by Brigadier-General J.G. Smyth, VC., whose command of the Indian 17th Division in the 1942 Burma campaign ended in controversy. Mr. Churchill was to have been opposed by a Trooper Arthur Yates of Derby, currently serving in an armoured division in Austria, but Trooper Yates withdrew at the last minute because of lack of time. Attempts to organize an (apparently anti-Labour) ‘Ex-Service Party’ seem to have come to naught.

As for the ordinary soldier’s hopes for the future, there is, according to a letter in the Manchester Guardian from the British Occupied Zone of Germany, “much anxiety about the prospect of finding the physical fabric of a home, to say nothing of finding of furniture … British soldiers who have been stationed in homes of the less destroyed German towns have been impressed by the high standards of housing in many and they are not likely to be content with homes of their own in England that seem to them less comfortable than houses in the country they have just defeated.”

Day 8

Monday, 25th June, 1945

From the Times:

British aircraft-carrier attacked

British aircraft-carrier attacked

Day 7

Sunday, 24th June, 1945

“Officers and civilian friends congratulated a captain in the Royal Engineers renowned as a guerrilla and sabotage expert in Greece after the stepped from the dock at Lampeter Assizes,” reports the News of the World:

Just previously a jury … unanimously found 28-year-old William Killick not guilty of four charges arising out of a shooting incident with a Sten gun at a bungalow at Newquay.

Describing events on March 6, Mr. Dylan Thomas, a writer, aged 30, said … that he and two friends, one of which was Miss Fanya Fisher, went to a hotel in Newquay. He and Miss Fisher were collaborating on a film script. At the hotel he saw Captain Killick, whom he had known for two years. Miss Fisher resented a remark which she overheard the captain make about Russia, and said she wanted to leave.

“We went to another hotel,” said Mr. Thomas, “and a little later Captain Killick appeared. There appeared to be an amicable talk between him and Miss Fisher, but later, in a passage leading to the hotel door, I saw Captain Killick slap Miss Fisher’s face. I jumped on Captain Killick and Miss Fisher also helped. Others joined in.

“I returned to my bungalow and was standing telling my wife and three friends about the incident when there was a rattle of machine-gun fire and the sound of smashing glass. We all dropped to the floor … there was another burst of firing … bullets came into the house … I was frightened.”

“Then the front door burst open and Captain Killick appeared. He had a machine-gun in one hand and a grenade in the other … I think we all told him not to be a fool … he then fired a burst into the ceiling of the bungalow. Captain Killick said we were ‘a lot of egoists.'”

… Mr. Justice Singleton described the case as serious and important, as many people would soon be leaving the services with a comprehensive knowledge of firearms …

Day 6

Saturday, 23rd June, 1945

“When 25-year-old Roger Rich was a small boy,” writes the News Chronicle, “he dreamed of becoming a farmer …”

He was with the Fourteenth Army for two years, fell ill in the jungle, and was discharged unfit … last Wednesday he appeared before a selection board … he passed the test and has now started work under the Ministry of Agriculture scheme for disabled ex-servicemen, the first ex-soldier to go on the land. Roger Rich gets 59s. a week allowance for billeting and maintenance … one soldier’s dream has come true.

In comparative demob news, the Daily Express reports that the Soviet Union will discharge the 13 most senior age groups of the Red Army in the second half of this year. Each rank-and-file man released from military service will receive one years’ pay per year of service as a gratuity (NCOs and officers receive proportionately less). The British gratuity scale begins with 10s. for each month of service for private soldiers, rising to £3 15s. a month for Field Marshal Montgomery.

Day 5

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Times reports from the Eighth Army in occupied Austria:

These are pleasant times for the Eighth Army … their task as an army of occupation, even if it is not always light, is at least peaceful, and, indeed, friendly … almost every hotel and villa, and the grounds as well, have become some unit or other’s ‘rest centre.’ The rest is well-earned – bathing, boating, fishing … our troops on garrison duty have [an] air of freshness, superb health, and good spirits.

However, soldiers are “puzzled and discontented” by the strict non-fraternisation rules being enforced by the Allied Miltary Government (a far cry from the Eighth Army’s recent experiences in ‘friendly’ Italy, where endless off-duty fraternisation caused, amongst other things, an epidemic of VD).

Gary Allighan of the Daily Mail reports that “unpleasant stories of ex-servicemen being treated harshly at work” are reaching his demobilisation help desk. “I have been told of young foremen making ‘ex’ men look foolish before the rest of the workers because they were not so adept with their tools … that kind of attitude is despicable. It is hard enough to come back from the Forces and find that their pre-Service subordinates have become foremen without having to be humiliated.” Allighan has a word of advice for the demobilised: “Don’t, for your own peace of mind, come back into civilian life with any illusions. This is still a hard world. It would have been much harder had Hitler won.”

The Daily Herald and News Chronicle claim that thousands of Irishmen who deserted from the Eirean Army in order to serve in HM Forces during the war dare not return home for fear that they will be arrested. One such case is Private Patrick Mortimer, 22, of Dublin, who joined the British Army in July 1943 and served as a paratrooper in Normandy and the Rhine crossing. He would not have deserted from the Eirean Army, he told a Court Martial in the Irish capital, had his pay of 16 shillings a week been enough for him to support his parents and seven siblings; as a paratrooper he earned two guineas a week plus 14 shillings in family allowance.

Day 4

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Times reports that RMS Queen Mary, still in her grey wartime camouflage, slipped into New York harbor yesterday with 14,000 returning GIs on board. It is the first repatriation journey that she, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Aquitania will make across the Atlantic during the next six months. The Times is at pains to point out that the ships have been loaned to the United States under the terms of reverse lend-lease; nonetheless, the spectacle of Britain’s premier ocean liners shuttling Americans back and forth will quickly prove a point of indignation to men of HM Forces awaiting similar transit home from the Middle and Far East.

“Could any of your readers help a serviceman who is at his wits’ end to find a place to live?” asks News Chronicle reader Corporal J. Goddard of Leeds …

I am in Release Group 8, and shall be returning to Streatham, London, to resume my postwar employment. My wife and child are at present evacuated in South Wales, and are renting a cottage from an RAF man who also expects his release, and (quite rightly) needs his cottage. Therefore, my wife has a month’s notice to quit … after being parted from my wife and child nearly six years, it looks as if we will shall still be parted in civvy street.

Day 3

Wednesday, 20th June, 1945

The News Chronicle follows the attempts of 23-year-old Staff Sergeant Joan Brewer, demobbed from the ATS yesterday, to reaccouter herself with a civilian outfit using the £12 10s. and 56 coupons of her clothing allowance. Her budget stretched to a rayon-linen frock, a coat, a rayon satin slip, scarf, and four pairs of Utility stockings. For now, shoes, underwear and blouse will have to wait.

Charles Bray of the Daily Herald reports that all ex-prisoners of war with Release Groups 17 and lower are being offered immediate discharge upon application – but it is not clear whether former PoWs in higher Groups will receive any special dispensation. Bray recounts the story of a RAMC captain captured at Dunkirk who, having been turned down for early demobilisation, was asked if he would volunteer for three years service in Burma instead.

Speaking of which, the Times reports on General Bill Slim’s press conference in London yesterday. “He likened Japanese soldiers to man-sized soldier ants,” the paper comments: “they would follow their orders without deviation until they were killed, and nothing but killing would stop them.” Welfare and amenities in SEAC are, Slim admits, “much inferior” to those of other theatres, but “matters would improve now that Rangoon was open …

Troops going out to SEAC would have hard fighting, but he did not believe they would have as rough a time as the Fourteenth Army had previously endured … hard work was needed to defeat Japan. Unless people took off their coats and rolled up their sleeves, ‘irrespective of the general election or anything else’, they would have the war in the Far East on their hands for a long time …

Day 2

Tuesday, 19th June, 1945

The morning papers all report on yesterday’s first releases from the demobilisation centers across the country. Business was brisk; according to the Times, in Portsmouth sailors were turned into civilians at the rate of one matelot per minute. The Daily Herald follows men such as fifty-one-year-old sapper Alfred Henry Baldock, of Malling Hill, London, the first soldier to be processed at Guildford dispersal center, as well as Petty Officer Philip Fuggle, of Whitstable, Kent, who left Chatham Barracks after 27 years in the RN. The Times describes the atmosphere in Guildford as “almost a garden party”; “a band of the Royal Artillery played on the square, films were shown in the camp theatre … there was no suggestion of haste.”

The first WAAF released from Wythall in Worcestershire, a Corporal Butterworth, was back home in time to make her husband’s tea. As the Herald comments, the biggest problem that many of these early demobs from the auxiliary services will face is finding a home while their spouses are still on active service.

A Times leader ponders the great unknowns of demobilisation:

Will the resettlement advice offices up and down the country prove their worth? Will the many services and facilities described to service men and women in their blue books on release and resettlement, their green booklets on careers, and pamphlets of many other hues work smoothly and constructively to put those who are coming home at their ease in useful civilian occupations? Will the contraction of the armed forces dovetail with an orderly advance of civilian employment, so that men can look to the labour exchange with confidence to offer them, not unemployment pay, but training and work? Will demobilisation truly mean reallocation of labour, even for the disabled? Above all, whether the rate of release from military service is faster or slower than was expected, will the order of discharge be accepted as fair amongst individuals by those who must still wait their turn?

In the next few months the answers to these questions will begin to emerge.

Ann Tower of the Daily Mirror warns “meddlesome and spiteful” gossips not to send ‘helpful’ letters to servicemen abroad warning them about the alleged unfaithfulness of their wives. One sergeant posted in Burma complains:

“I got a letter from a neighbour making various suggestions about what my wife was doing while I was away. I was most terribly worried …

Eventually my welfare people got inquiries made, and were able to report to me that these rumours were completely untrue and based on a misunderstanding which had been blow up into a pack of lies. And now of course my wife is hurt because I believed what was said.”

The Times reports on General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold’s press conference in Melbourne. “We plan during 1946 to drop thrice as many bombs on Japan as we dropped on Germany … our plans call for the dropping of more than 2,000,000 tons, which includes the British contribution. By the end of 1946, we figure that there will be nothing of strategic importance left in Japan …”

Day 1

Monday, 18th June, 1945

This is the first entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War.

Demobilisation of HM Forces begins today, with the release of men aged 50 and over and older married women. As the Daily Mail and News Chronicle report, nearly 200 service personnel of the British Liberation Army in Germany assembled in transit depots like Release Embarkation Camp No. 1 – ‘Hotel Blighty’ – in Ostend last night, ready to leave for Dover at 8.30am this morning in the first demobilisation ships to leave the continent. Six trains will henceforth be arriving daily at the Channel ports to bring demobilising servicemen home. Across Britain, staff at the country’s various discharge centers have been busy making last-minute checks on the bureaucratic machinery that must ultimately process all of the five-million men and women of the wartime armed forces.

The Air Ministry has announced releases for the second month of demobilisation, starting on July 18 (c/o the Times). Aircrew and most ground crew in Groups 6-8 will be released (though non-aircrew officers with Groups higher than 6 will be deferred for now), and married WAAFs up to Group 37 also discharged.

“There will be grey in the temples of of the first man out of the Forces this morning,” predicts Trevor Evans of the Daily Express. “Most of the men released today have been in uniform for more than five years. It is too difficult, and perhaps a little presumptuous, to describe the mental process each man has gone through in the last three months …

No doubt about the first sense of relief. For many there followed a sense of anxiety, an anxiety which mounted as the day of release got nearer. It will be banished once resettlement leave starts, but to return in many cases before it ends.”

Evans comments on one of the big lingering controversies of the release scheme – the lack of any legal requirement for employers to hire ex-servicemen before civilians. “There has been a lot of argument about this,” he notes, “but the final decision was based on the obvious difficulty of assessing danger and bravery. There were men in uniform who were posted to bases unmolested by the enemy. There were dockers and railwaymen who carried on all through the blitzes.” But, as he predicts – accurately – “I cannot help feeling there will be bitterness about this.”

The Daily Mail interviews five ATS wives being demobilized today. For 25-year-old Sergeant Janet Noseworthy of Ayreshire, “All I can think of is going home … home! I shall never put my uniform on again.” Her husband, Jim, is a native of Newfoundland currently serving on a minesweeper. Corporal Phyllis Higgs, who has been a driver for two-and-a-half years, also has few regrets about her release. “The mere thought of wearing flimsy frocks again after spending so long in petrol-stained dungarees is blissful …”

Meanwhile, the war in the Far East goes on. The Times reports that on Thursday and Friday the British Pacific Fleet attacked the Japanese stronghold of Truk in the Caroline Islands. One Seafire fighter is missing.

Saturday, 6th October, 1945

This is an entry in a year-long project to post-blog the demobilisation experience for British servicemen at the end of the Second World War. See here for an introduction to the project and here for a brief overview of the demobilisation process.

October 6 1945

A 22-year-old insurance clerk was accused of propagating an “outrageous insult” to the RAF by Wealdstone magistrates yesterday, reports the Times. William Henry Brown, of Christchurch Avenue, Kenton, was sentenced to six months imprisonment for masquerading for 14 months as a highly decorated Wing Commander. Brown was apparently “terribly disappointed” at being turned down for service with the RAF on medical grounds, and having begun his charade was forced to continue it after the local branch of the Air Training Corps began requesting his “first-class” service on more and more onerous duties. On one occasion Brown accepted a consecrated banner from the Vicar of Harrow at a Battle of Britain Thanksgiving service. But after sentencing, his mother told the Daily Mirror: “I think none the worse of him. He has been a marvellous son.”

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