Frustration over demob delay

Delayed demobilisation caused anger among long-serving soldiers held to serve for another 12 months, while those enlisted at towards the end of the war were released without even having even left England. 'Disgusted Tommy,' an unnamed soldier who pointed out that he had enlisted for the duration of the now-ended hostilities, voiced his frustrations at facing not being able to return home for another year to be spent in India. His letter in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph (May 3rd, 1919) read:

“I crave the courtesy of a portion of your valuable space to express a personal grievance. I left Luton, wife and loved ones for active service in Mesopotamia in August 1916. After two and a quarter years of untold miseries and hardships, not to mention the tremendous heat and innumerable diseases that one encounters in that disastrous land, one was exceedingly glad to learn of the news announcing the conclusion of the armistice.

“Naturally, one's thoughts quickly flew to the hope that the troops out East would very early be despatched to 'Blighty' for demobilisation. Alas, our hopes were shattered!

“Included among 500 other men, I was sent from Mesopotamia in December 1918 to India, to undertake clerical work connected with the demobilisation of the troops out East. The impression we were under was to the effect that the work would be completed within a period from three to five months, at the expiration of which we would be sent home. Now, when this period has elapsed, we gather that under the new Military Services Act we are liable to be kept in India for another 12 months, in spite of the fact that our contract when enlisting was for duration of war only.

“Further, my employer in Luton forwarded a certificate undertaking to reinstate me to my former position with him on my return to civilian life. This was endorsed by the Local Advisory Board for my immediate release.

“Three months have elapsed since I handed this to the authorities in India, and the only satisfaction I can obtain is to the effect that instructions are awaited. Is this the Government's idea of rewarding us for our patriotism of the past? Our King and country needed us then and we answered the call; now our loved ones are calling us, and we are denied the desire we have of returning to them.

“On top of this comes the humiliating news that men who did not enlist until 1918, and who did not leave 'Blighty' or see any active service are already discharged, and have returned to their civilian duties again. Can Government wonder that there is so much discontent amongst troops in India and the East?

“The Government's yarn that shortage of transport is the difficulty is mere bluff. How is it that transport is available for civilians in India to enable them to return to England when none can be found for Tommy, who has sacrificed his all for these people's benefit?

Mr [Winston] Churchill [Secretary of State for War] tells us that 20,000 troops who are unable to stand the Indian climate another summer are to be sent home. Probably it would interest him and others to know that that number is already exceeded by half.

I trust that this letter will catch the eye of some individual who may possibly take the case up on my behalf. Meanwhile, let the Government smarten themselves up and endeavour to carry out the promises which were so freely and lavishly made to us when England was in difficulties, but which are now apparently treated as 'scraps of paper'.”