In this piece, TMT has taken the account of a soldier waiting to be demobbed at the end of WW1. The comparisons between then and now are perhaps striking, with soldiers wondering what on earth to do once the fighting stopped and having to adjust to life out of the Army.
The Diary entries from late November 1918.
In a twinkling, our thoughts and activities have turned from War to pushing in with our various manes in civilian livelihood. In a way, there seems to be a big gap somewhere in life caused by the sudden death of the Great Monster, but there is also a wonderful new peacefulness in our minds, though not nearly so much wild exhilaration and joy as we used to expect.
I found the batteries of the Brigade installed at a dirty little mining village near Bethune. The horses were in stables scattered all over the village, our men in wooden hutments on the high ground above the main street.
The French inhabitants had had British soldiers and horses quartered on them for over four years and were frankly sick of them, and for the most part openly showed that they would prefer their room to their company. Many were hardly civil and the whole place was disgustingly smelly and dirty.
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It should have in theory been a relatively pleasant time. But there were many difficulties. By far the most serious one was that the end of the War had suddenly removed the real incentive of nearly every officer and man in the Brigade and in the Volunteer Armies as a whole. With the regulars, professional traditions and ambitions no doubt kept them on a more even keel, but with us, the fact that nearly every man was a volunteer civilian at heart and by profession told very adversely when their raison-d’etre as soldiers abruptly disappeared.
True, the knowledge that the War with its horrors, its exile and its chances of mutilation or death, was over at long last was or should have been, a comfort and solace to everyone. But for some reason, this asset seemed to be more than counterbalanced by the decay which followed the sudden stopping of the great machine.
Immediately, the keying up of every man’s will-power to keep up with the machine slackened off. Once the enemy was removed, the men felt that the need for their presence in France was gone, and the esprit-de-corps, keenness, and discipline of many them gave way before the overpowering desire to get home at all costs and be done with it.
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In the election of 1918, the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George and other members of the coalition government had made a considerable play with the cry “Bring the soldiers home”, regardless of how soon it could be done. Everyone expected to be the first and few understood the difficulties and delays of demobilising several millions of men and absorbing them into civil life. Considering the hugeness and complexity of the undertaking it was very completely done.
On the artillery, the difficulties of carrying on until more than half the personnel had gone home separately and the small remaining cadres could bring the horses, guns, and equipment back to England, fell perhaps heaviest. And it was fair that this should be so, considering that during the war the infantry had borne the hardest part.
In ones and twos our NCOs and men departed, priority being given to “key men” who had jobs awaiting them or who belonged to supposedly vital industries. But the horses did not correspondingly diminish in numbers, and gradually the burden of grooming, exercising, watering and feeding nearly 180 horses, and keeping the mass of equipment clean with greatly reduced numbers of men caused much discontent and grumbling.