Demob anger and frustration

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: May 31st, 1919]

Two interesting and forcible letters were written to his parents this month by a Lutonian, serving in the East as a despatch rider with the Royal Engineers. In the first letter, written from Tanta in Egypt, he says:

“Wish I could say that I should soon be coming home, but things are not at all promising yet. The Egyptian question has simmered down, and demobilisation on a reduced scale resumed. If we wait for the arrival of reinforcements before we are released we look like waiting a long time.

“There are thousands of 'Signals' still in Egypt, and last week a draft arrived of forty! There used to be a cry of 'First out – first home' but it seems to have been forgotten by everyone except those who were unfortunate or stupid enough to be the first out. Some 50 per cent of our company went to Gallipoli in July 1915, and have had no leave in England in nearly four years.

“After all the talk and print about patriotism, duty, honour etc, to be left out here like this makes us wonder if we have not been fools ever to have believed in such things. If there were half as much effort to get us home as there was to get us out we should have been home by now.

“What are all the men doing now who took such pains to raise volunteers, men who made a house-to-house canvass, the members of T. F. Associations, and all those who organised and conducted recruiting campaigns before conscription put an end to them? They did what they then thought their duty to the country. Have they no duty to their fellow countrymen now, or now that the younger generation has made the world 'safe for democracy' are they content to live in it and leave out the men who saved it for them?

“If the fine sentiments they expressed in 1914-15 were not empty rhetoric, they will take some steps to bring home the men who have been out so long before the spirit of duty and discipline which has won such high praise and thanks from the C-in-C during the recent Egyptian troubles turns to rebellion and Bolshevism.

“There is a growing spirit of unrest amongst the troops, and it is only natural when men who once had prospects and ambitions were turned into idle loafers. The work our company is now doing could be done by 20 per cent of us.

“I grudge none of the time spent on active service, but I do object to playing football matches, playing cards for hours on end, reading dull magazines or listening to well-meaning but poor-class amateur concert parties, simply for the sake of passing time.

“If I am, as I expect I shall be some day, asked to join in the formation of a new Territorial unit, I shall answer somewhat forcibly that the Army has already had more than its share of my time.

“I'm afraid this is not a very jolly letter. I've let my thoughts run wild a bit. It's only natural, for there is nothing else to write about, and it's the only thing we talk about.”

Writing about a week later, the writer says: “The full train service has recommenced, but no celebrations have taken place here. An order was issued for the students to attend the schools under the threat of closing the schools until the new term in September. The stupid louts have not complied, and in Cairo tried to make a stir, so that one was killed and several injured, and without the use of firearms. Fifty of them were arrested.

“We thought we should clear out here (the school) to make room for them, but, though parties of them have been hanging about during the week, no classes have been commenced, and it is said we are not going to Alexandria as expected.

“An order has been published reminding troops that the war did not end with the declaration of the armistice, and that under the Military Service Act of 1919 they are liable to service until May 1920. I thinbk it was done to discourage a tendency to celebrate May 11th as the expiration of six months after the war and not as a threat that we shall be kept.

“On the face of things it looks as if we shall be left to rot out here for evermore, but we hope, and hope, and hope. Several of our chaps have written letters of protest to the respective MPs...

“Still we keep smiling, even though it's a smile of contempt for the things we once believed in the right to live, freedom etc.”