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Land fit for heroes
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Lloyd GeorgeIt should all have been so simple. The country had been able to spend 7million a day to defeat the Germans.

Only a fraction of that amount would be needed to fulfil Lloyd George's ringing promise that his coalition government would make Britain "a fit land for heroes to live in."

It should all have been so simple....

In SALFORD PALS (1993) Michael Stedman tells the story of the pals battalions raised in the industrial town of Salford. Like too many of the heroes who went out to fight and die for their King and Country, their peacetime reward was unemployment, hunger and despair.

... the terrible consequences of the 1921 slump in trade were now upon the town, Unemployment in the borough rose rapidly and beggars became an accustomed sight in the streets.

Many of the survivors of the Pals were reduced to selling cards, matches and mementoes. Soup kitchens and food distribution centres became familiar ports of call for many, even the seriously wounded, who often found that medical tribunals discharged their disability rights far too soon.

Handouts for heroes
Bitter irony (left): The food parcels seen here being distributed in April 1921 to Salford ex-servicemen, many of them disabled,  were paid for out of surplus funds left over from the public's over-subscription towards a borough war memorial.

It very quickly began to dawn on large numbers of demobilised soldiers, whatever their wartime rank, that the dream of coming home to the secure job which they believed was their right was not going to come true. This letter, published in The Times on February 4th 1920 was signed EX-BATTERY COMMANDER

Uniformed hero
A uniformed hero

During the War all those who put on the King's uniform had a great access of friends. We were heroes in those days. Our relations, too, even our rich relatives, took a new interest in us. On leave from the Front we were welcome and honoured guests - especially as we gained promotion: 'My Cousin the Major.'

... when at last we came home, were demobilised and doffed our uniforms, we realised how much our welcome had depended on the glamour of our clothes, with all that they implied. In mufti we were no longer heroes, we were simply 'unemployed', an unpleasant problem.

Many businessmen think they did their part in the war at home just as much as those on active service, and that no obligation rests on them to help ex-officers. I know that many of them worked long hours, even overworked in their country's cause, but they got a reward in experience, in an increase of income, and in good positions. And although the strain of long hours is great, their offices did not admit poison gas, mud, and shells, with the ever present threat of sudden death.

There is a large balance outstanding to the credit of the ex-officer. Are you going to withhold payment until it is too late?

Pte Turner, 97th Brigade Machine Gun Company, reflects:

Trying to make a few bob...
Unemployed ex-soldiers with barrel-organ (the picture on the side shows the family of one of the men - "all under 10"

One universal question which I have never seen answered: two or three million pounds a day for the 1914-18 war, yet no monies were forthcoming to put industry on its feet on our return from that war. Many's the time I've gone to bed, after a day of 'tramp, tramp' looking for work, on a cup of cocoa and a pennyworth of chips between us; I would lay puzzling why, why, after all we had gone through in the service of our country, we have to suffer such poverty, willing to work at anything but no work to be had. I only had two Christmases at work between 1919 and 1939.

Extract from Martin Middlebook First Day on the Somme   us edition

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Aftermath - when the boys came home

Tuesday 20 December 2005

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