Demobilisation of the British Armed Forces after the Second World War

Mr C Stilwell returns to his home in Farnham, Surrey, after being demobbed and is greeted by his wife.

At the end of the Second World War, there were approximately five million servicemen and servicewomen in the British Armed Forces.[1] The demobilisation and reassimilation of this vast force back into civilian life was one of the first and greatest challenges facing the postwar British government.

Demobilisation planEdit

The wartime Minister of Labour and National Service and Britain's first post-war Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, was the chief architect of the demobilisation plan. The speed of its introduction was attributed to the tide of public opinion, which favored slogans and policies that appealed to peace and disengagement.[2] According to some sources, it was also driven by the labour shortage due to post-war reconstruction.[3][4] The plan received bipartisan support, which was not seen during the 1930s when Labour and Conservative positions lacked consensus.[5]

The details involving the criteria and framework for mobilisation was unveiled to the public on 22 September 1944.[6] It was scheduled to be implemented on June 18, 1945 and, a month before this date, British soldiers were already well informed about the process, including the welfare system that would support the veterans.[6] Under the plan, most servicemen and servicewomen were to be released from the armed forces according to their 'age-and-service number', which, as its name suggests, was calculated from their age and the months they had served in uniform. A small number of so-called 'key men' whose occupational skills were vital to postwar reconstruction were to be released ahead of their turn. Married women and men aged fifty or more were also given immediate priority.[7]

Demobilisating service personnel passed through special demobilisation centres.

Release processEdit

The release process began on schedule, about six weeks after V-E Day.[8] Decommissioned soldiers received a demobilisation grant and a set of civilian clothing, which included the so-called "demob suit", shirts, underclothes, raincoats, hat, and shoes.[3] At the end of 1945, demobilised soldiers reached 750,000 and this number doubled two months later after Japan's surrender.[4] By 1947, about 4.3 million men and women returned to 'civvy street'.[9][4] The process was not without controversy. Frustration at the allegedly slow pace of release led to a number of disciplinary incidents in all branches of the armed services in the winter of 1945-6, most famously the so-called RAF 'strikes' in India and South East Asia. This frustration led to the abandonment of some of the pre-release programs.[4]

Personal challengesEdit

Aside from the institutional problems of release, returning service-men and -women faced all kinds of personal challenges on their return to civilian life. Britain had undergone six years of bombardment and blockade, and there was a shortage of many of the basic essentials of living, including food, clothing, and housing. Husbands and wives also had to adjust to living together again after many years apart. One indicator of the social problems this caused was the postwar divorce rate; over 60,000 applications were processed in 1947 alone, a figure that would not be reached again until the 1960s.[10]

Demobilisation centresEdit

At the end of World War II, British servicemen and women returned to civilian life by passing through a demobilisation centre. Personnel returning to this country from abroad for the purpose of release passed first through a disembarkation unit. They then went on to a dispersal unit.[11]

Military Disembarkation Camp UnitsEdit

Command or District Title of Unit Location
Southern No. 1 Military Disembarkation Camp Unit Ranikhet Camp Reading
No. 2 Military Disembarkation Camp, Unit Slade Camp, Oxford
Eastern No. 3 Military Disembarkation Camp Unit Moore Barracks, Shorncliffe, Kent
Western No. 1 Military Disembarkation Camp, Group H.Q. Hadrian's Camp Carlisle
No. 4 Military Disembarkation Camp Unit
No. 5 Military Disembarkation Camp Unit
Northern No. 6 Military Disembarkation Camp Unit Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Strensall, York.

Military Dispersal UnitsEdit

Command or District Title of Unit Location
Scottish No.1 Military Dispersal Unit Redford Barracks, Edinburgh
Northern No. 2 Military Dispersal Unit Fulford Barracks, York
Eastern No. 3 Military Dispersal Unit Talavera Camp, Northampton
No. 5 Military Dispersal Unit Queen's Camp, Guildford
London No. 4 Military Dispersal Unit Regent's Park Barracks, Albany St., N.W.I.
Southern No. 6 Military Dispersal Unit Sherford Camp, Taunton
Western No. 7 Military Dispersal Unit North and South Camps, Ashton-under-Lyne
No. 8 Military Dispersal Unit Bradbury Lines, Hereford
Northern Ireland No. 9 Combined Military Collecting and Dispersal Unit Victoria Barracks, Belfast

See alsoEdit

References and sourcesEdit

  1. ^ Allport (2009), p. 3
  2. ^ Nolfo, Ennio Di (1991). The Atlantic Pact forty Years later: A Historical Reappraisal. New York: Walter de Gruyter. p. 79. ISBN 3110127385.
  3. ^ a b Grant, Neil (2017). British Tank Crewman 1939-45. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 9781472816979.
  4. ^ a b c d Broad, Roger (2017-05-27). Volunteers and Pressed Men: How Britain and its Empire Raised its Forces in Two World Wars. Fonthill Media.
  5. ^ Hollowell, Jonathan (2003). Britain Since 1945. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 5. ISBN 0631209670.
  6. ^ a b Dale, Robert (2015). Demobilized Veterans in Late Stalinist Leningrad: Soldiers to Civilians. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 18, 19. ISBN 9781472590770.
  7. ^ Allport (2009), p. 23-4
  8. ^ Allport (2009), p. 26
  9. ^ Allport (2009), p. 43
  10. ^ Allport (2009), p. 87
  11. ^ HL Deb 17 October 1945 vol 137 cc353-5, UK Parliament
  • Alan Allport, Demobbed: Coming Home After the Second World War, Yale University Press, 2009, ISBN 0-300-14043-6
  • Hansard - HL Deb 17 October 1945 vol 137 cc353-5

Further readingEdit

  • Barry Turner & Tony Rennell, When Daddy Came Home: How Family Life Changed Forever in 1945, Pimlico, 1995, ISBN 0-7126-7469-1
  • Roger Broad, "The Radical General: Sir Ronald Adam and Britain's New Model Army 1941-46", The History Press, 201,ISBN 978-0-7524-6559-3

External linksEdit