Demobilization in England


IN England, as will be found elsewhere, demobilization is a much more complex matter than appears at first sight. The fighting is over: why should not the millions of mobilized men be distributed again among the industries which are thirsting to absorb them?

There are two obstacles to a general and immediate release of large numbers of men. General demobilization cannot begin until peace is secure; and although we know in fact that Germany has been, by the terms of the armistice, rendered powerless to renew the war, it is only common prudence to postpone the beginning of general disbandment until at least the peace preliminaries have been signed. The peace preliminaries are an outline of the terms of peace which, signed by the belligerents, have binding force, but which require to be filled out in detail by the final treaty; and the settlement of the details may take many weary months.

A second difficulty is the state of the industries to which the demobilized men will return. The industries need men, it is true, but at present they lack the raw material with which to furnish employment for the men. In cotton spinning and weaving there are now 150,000 fewer men and women employed than when the war began; in the building trades 350,000 fewer men; in paper-making 100,000; and so on in many other industries. Before these numbers can be reëmployed, the necessary raw materials for their work must be imported, and that is a question of the tonnage-supply. At the moment, therefore, the great need, from the point of view of industry and reëmployment, is, not to disband the army as rapidly as possible, but to collect all the available shipping in order to restock the country with sufficient raw materials. Thus the interval between the signing of the armistice and the settlement of peace presents an opportunity. Demobilization proper, which means the transport, not only of great numbers of men, but of vast masses of military stores, will itself make a heavy demand on British shipping. At present the transport of men and munitions to the front from England is comparatively small, and shipping can be spared for importation. Shortly, when a large supply of materials has begun to flow into the country and when peace is actually between our hands, it will be possible to release by rapid process between three and four million men from the navy, the army, and the airforce.

But that is only one, though much the largest, part of the demobilization problem. There are also the war-workers. In the munitions industries it is estimated that, while the great bulk of the workers will remain and carry on the normal peace occupations of the trade, not less than a million (mostly women) will have to search for employment in some other field. That is the main problem on the civil side. There is another which demobilization brings with it — the future of the ‘war-substitutes,’ again mostly women, large numbers of whom will certainly be displaced by the returning men. Over a million and a half women have entered industry and commerce during the war. Such, broadly, is the problem.

General demobilization is postponed; within narrow and restricted limits the process has already begun. Both now and in the future the guiding principle is to be the needs of industry. There will be no demobilization by military units; that method would only flood the country with unemployed. Individuals, not units, will be released, according as industry can absorb them, and there are jobs waiting for them to take up. The men who are now being brought back are of three classes.

First, the miners. They are needed, like the ships bringing in the raw materials, to lay the foundations for a great expansion of industry, and they are needed at once. A hundred thousand are to be released forthwith. We hear little of the immediate release of railwaymen, but it seems certain that the influx of raw materials and the increased production of coal will demand the early return of numbers of men to enlarge our transport facilities; even the slowing down in the dispatch of military supplies to the front will scarcely supply the necessary means. The second class to be released are the ‘demobilizers,’ those who are required to work the machinery of demobilization. These include the officials of the labor exchanges, upon whom the success of the whole process will largely depend, and additional personnel to carry out the transporting of so many troops in a short time by sea and land. Thirdly, the ‘pivotal’ men. These are they on whose employment turns the employment of much larger numbers than their own. The number of them to be returned at once is put at 150,000.

For every man in all three classes a job is waiting. On their speedy return and the work that they will do, together with the provision of adequate raw materials, depends the possibility of a rapid and successful general demobilization of the forces.


The machinery for demobilization has been carefully thought out. The Ministry of Reconstruction — a thinking but not an executive department — has worked out the plans, in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor and the War Office. It is believed that sixty per cent of the forces have work of some kind awaiting them, and the problem is to bring the man to his job as smoothly and quickly as possible.

We start, then, with the man. He receives a form on which he will give particulars as to himself — his previous employment, whether married or single, and especially whether he has received from his employer an undertaking to receive him back. This form will be sent to the Labor Exchange in the area in which the man normally resides, and it will be the business of the Labor Exchange to verify his statement. Employers, on their side, are being asked to fill up cards asking for the return of those men whom they need, so that the card of the employer ought to meet the soldier’s form at the Labor Exchange. When the employer has not sent in the card, the Labor Exchange will inquire of him whether he proposes to take back the man whose form it has received. In either case, whether the employer assents after inquiry or has already sent in his card, the Labor Exchange tears off a ‘slip from the foot of the man’s form and returns it to his commanding officer. In this way the ‘ slip men ’ are constituted, — those for whom work is waiting, and preference will be given to them in order of release. But they will not all stand on an equal footing. The Government has divided the trades and industries of the country into forty-two groups, and these it has arranged in a ‘Priority List’ according to their importance to the nation, the state of the supply of raw materials in each, and so forth. It thus refines the principle of the needs of industry: the reservoir of‘slip men will be drawn on according to the needs of those industries which are, at the moment, the most essential to the country and the most capable of expansion.

Again, within the groups on the ‘Priority List’ there are certain qualifications in the choice of men. Preference will be given to married men, to men with a record of long service in the field and to those long-service menalas! there can be but few of them left — who entered the army before the war. As for the forty per cent of the army who apparently will be ’non-slip’ men, without work waiting for them, they too will be demobilized in their turn according to the importance of their previous trade or occupation on the Priority List.

There is, naturally, no little discontent among some sections in the army with this machinery. Married men with families and men who have been on active service for the greater part of the war are inevitably aggrieved that others with no such title to consideration should be released before them. They will receive the sympathy of all humane men, but there can be no doubt that the British Government has chosen aright in subordinating other considerations to the smooth and ordered reabsorption of the army into industry.

There is a natural disquietude among some of the men abroad as to whether the army at home, being on the spot, will have an unfair advantage in securing the employment that is open. It has therefore been arranged that, so far as possible, the home and foreign armies shall be demobilized in equal proportions. The sick, wounded, and prisoners of war will be released without any reservation, as soon as they have been sent back to England or are fit for return to work. It will not, of course, be possible to send home, at any rate in the early stages of demobilization, the whole of any units abroad. As the process goes on, involving, as it will, the removal of immense quantities of military supplies, a certain number of troops will be required as guards and supervisors, and units will therefore be reduced to cadres which it is expected will number about a third of the strength. These cadres will in their turn be brought home gradually, as circumstances may permit.

The navy, again, stands on a special footing. Its demobilization depends on the certainty and security of the peace settlement, and all that is decided at the moment is that demobilization, when it begins, will keep in view the necessity of reëstablishing the mercantile marine and fishing industry. Whatever be the general character of the peace settlement, however, it ought obviously to be possible to release without delay a large number of the men who have been engaged in the immense fleet, numbering from three to four thousand ships of all kinds, which has constituted the anti-submarine service.

The machinery for the return of the soldiers from their stations abroad to their places of residence or work at home has been drawn out in great detail; and in order that there may be no hitch in the organization, complete rehearsals have been held at various stages in the process. Concentration camps will be set up at various points behind the front. These camps will serve certain fixed dispersal areas at home, of which there are twelve, containing eighteen dispersal stations. In giving the soldier information as to what, exactly, will happen to him on demobilization the Ministry of Reconstruction addresses him in these terms:

‘For instance, if your home is in Bradford, you will be sent from your unit to the concentration camp for the West Riding of Yorkshire, where you will meet other men from other units, all of whom are going to the West Riding. From that concentration camp [or collecting place in the case of units serving at home] there will be mapped out a particular route by which parties will travel direct to the dispersal stations in their particular area at home.’ Every soldier will receive a dispersal certificate, informing him what he has to do, together with a list of the arms and equipment which he has to carry. Arrived at the dispersal station, he will hand in his arms and equipment, which must correspond with the list, and he will then receive certain documents and be sent on twenty-eight days’ furlough. The documents include a railway warrant to his home, a protection certificate to show that he is a properly demobilized man, a gratuity based on the length of his service (for a private who has served over-seas five pounds for the first year and ten shillings for each additional month), a ration-book, and a so-called ‘donation policy, ’ which comes into force in case of unemployment.

To the gratuities there are three classes of exceptions. No conscientious objector will receive them; no man who has been discharged within six months as medically unfit for service; and no man who has been released for civil work for the time that he has been engaged on such work at full rates of civil pay. During his twenty-eight days’ furlough, the soldier will receive his ordinary pay and ration allowance, and his separation or family allowance to his wife or dependents will be continued.

At the end of the furlough the soldier will, to quote the words of the Ministry of Reconstruction, be ‘finally demobilized.’ It will be noticed that the word ‘discharged’ is not used; and inasmuch as the phrase chosen by the Ministry is a reply to a supposed question in which the soldier asks about the date of his ‘final discharge,’ it has been keenly criticized. The soldier asks whether he is to be ‘discharged,’ that is to say, completely released from all his military obligations; and he is told only that he is to be ‘demobilized,’ which means, not discharge, but continuance under some sort of obligation to rejoin the army. For some time there was considerable doubt as to the Government’s intentions on this point, and from certain answers which were given in Parliament, it appeared that the Government itself had either not made up its mind whether it would or would not maintain military authority over the demobilized forces, or was not ready at the time to declare its intentions. All doubt has, however, now been cleared up by a new army order which has been issued by the War Office.

It is obvious that the general military policy of England must depend on the character of the peace settlement. If we are to have the Europe and the foreign policy of the past, we shall need one kind of army; if we obtain the League of Nations and disarmament, an army — or a police contingent — of a very different kind. But meanwhile, even if only on a small scale, demobilization is beginning. The question, therefore, which the soldier is asking,— whether on being sent home he will be finally and absolutely released from military authority, — has been decided in the negative. The War Office has formed a new army reserve called Class Z. Into this reserve all the men will be passed who are now coming home, and they can be recalled to the army, in the words of the order, ‘in the event of an emergency, remobilization becoming necessary.’ It is quite clear, however, that this army reserve is likely to receive a great many more of the demobilized soldiers than the early and privileged classes which precede the general dispersal. After stating that the new class is intended for the man now coming home, the order goes on to say that it will apply to all men demobilized so long as the Military Service Acts remain in force. The acts, however, will in all probability remain in force for a considerable time (estimated by some authorities at eighteen months), which will depend on the duration of the Peace Conference. It is not merely a question of the peace preliminaries, which may be signed in the early spring, or even of the final treaty, which some authorities think will require a further six months, but of the ratifications of the treaty of peace, which will be deposited by the signatories in due course. At least until the ratifications have been received, Class Z will remain in existence, and there would therefore appear to be no doubt that the great bulk of the demobilized army, on returning to industry, will be comprehended within the new reserve, and will be liable to be recalled for service in case of a sufficient emergency. Subject to this obligation, the War Office lays no restriction whatever on the demobilized soldier. He will not be subject to any form of military discipline. He will not, by virtue of his inclusion in the reserve, forfeit any right he may otherwise possess to a disability or other pension, and the order remarks, perhaps a little ambiguously, that ‘ it is not intended that the formation of the new reserve should be a bar to emigration or repatriation over-seas.’

It would be unreasonable to object to the decision of the Government to retain their hold in this manner over the demobilized army. Probability is one thing and certainty another. It is improbable in the extreme that any emergency will arise in Europe which could require the recall of the army or of any large part of it. On the other hand, absolute certainty there is none; and just as caution forbids the Government to demobilize during the armistice, which is technically only a suspension of hostilities, so prudence forbids them completely to relax their hold over our military forces until the final signature of peace.

Demobilization, however, brings with it an immediate military problem which is not solved by the creation of Class Z, and the solution of which cannot be left until the final peace settlement. That is the question of the provision of garrisons over-seas, for example, in India and Egypt; possibly also in Germany, if forces have to be kept there until the German Government has carried out the conditions of the peace treaty. The Government has therefore decided forthwith to raise a special voluntary army, which will be a substitute for the forces at present forming the overseas garrisons and will constitute the necessary reserves at home. Men at present in the army are being invited to extend their period of service for two, three, and four years, if they are between the ages of nineteen and thirty-five, and special bounties and periods of furlough are being held out to them as an inducement. The formation of this army is independent of anything it may be necessary to do when the military policy of England comes to be settled after the treaty of peace.

In spite of all that the Government has done and may be able to do, there is likely to be considerable unemployment. It has already been stated that only some sixty per cent of the men in the army have promises of reinstatement from their employers, and for some time at least the difficulty of providing adequate raw materials and tonnage for the country’s industries is certain to be great. The Government has therefore put into force a scheme of unemployment benefit, in order to tide over the transition period. The demobilized soldier or munition-worker will endeavor to find employment through the local labor exchanges; and working in conjunction with these, there will everywhere be local advisory committees, of which some two hundred and sixty have already been set up. These committees will consist in equal proportions of representatives of the employers and of the employed, and it will be their business to consider the state of trade and industry within their area and to act as advisers to the labor exchanges, and also to the men seeking employment, with regard to the available openings and the capacity of industry to absorb labor.

After an effort has been made to find employment and has failed, the socalled donation policy comes into force. The demobilized soldier will be entitled to receive benefit for twenty weeks during the first twelve months, at the rate of twenty-nine shillings per week, with six shillings a week for the first child under fifteen years of age and three shillings a week for each additional child. Women who have been engaged with the military or naval forces will receive twenty-five shillings a week, with the same allowances for dependents. The same scheme applies to civilian workers, except that it will be in operation for six months instead of twelve, and the donation will be payable for thirteen instead of twenty weeks. There are reduced rates of benefit for boys between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, who receive fourteen shillings and sixpence, and girls of the same age who receive twelve shillings and sixpence.1 Vigorous protests against these rates of pay have already been raised by certain sections of labor, which demand that the benefit for adult workers, whether male or female, should be fifty shillings per week. No payment will be made during the first three days of any period of unemployment. This provision is adopted from the existing organization under the Insurance Act, and is intended to supply a period during which the applicant must make an endeavor to find work, or must accept the work that is offered, if the Labor Exchange concerned is of opinion that the offer is a fair and reasonable one.

Special provision will have to be made with regard to the disabled men. The plan which holds the field and which in broad outline has now been adopted by the Government is that known as the Rothband scheme, after its originator, a large employer of labor in the North of England. Mr. Rothband’s proposal was that a national appeal should be made by the King, to all employers of labor asking them to bind themselves to give employment at the close of the war to disabled men. Lists of employers who had given such an undertaking would be compiled and would be placed in the hands of the labor exchanges, whose business it would be to see that they fulfilled their obligations. The obligation would be only a moral one, but obviously the labor exchanges would have the means of bringing pressure to bear in the case of the attempt of any firm to shirk its undertaking. The scheme has its weak side, in that certain employers would probably persist in standing out; and if they chose to put up with the discredit, they might succeed in burking their obligations. On the other hand, the only alternative would appear to be a compulsory scheme, which would be extremely distasteful to employers and would put a premium on the slackness and inefficiency of any men who chose to trade on the knowledge that there was a legal obligation on employers to find work for them. The idea of compulsion was, therefore, abandoned, and it is anticipated that after the elections the national appeal will be made, although it is yet uncertain whether it will be put forward by the King or by the Government. It may be added that the same kind of question was debated by the Imperial Government in Germany before the revolution, and there, too, the idea of a compulsory scheme was finally abandoned as impracticable.

Much has been made in England of the provision of land for ex-soldiers and sailors as part of the demobilization scheme. Many plans have been discussed, but little has been done. In 1917 the War Office took a plébiscite of certain forces at the front, and it was afterwards announced that no less than seventeen per cent of the men had expressed a desire to go on the land when the war was over. This figure, which amounts roughly to three quarters of a million men, should be heavily discounted. Large numbers of men, especially when they had been only a short time in the army, declared the attractions of the free and open-air life to be such that they would not on any account return to their former and frequently sedentary occupations. It has, however, been found that the longer time they spent in the army, the more contented they became at the prospect of returning to their former employment; and probably the number who have any serious desire to go on the land is very much smaller than that suggested by the plébiscite.

Another large reduction has to be made for those who have neither experience nor capital. The Government made a start with its policy of finding land for ex-soldiers by means of an experiment under the Small-Holdings (Colonies) Act of 1916. The feature of the scheme was that the land colonies were to be established on a communal and cooperative basis. The settlers worked in the colony either as individual small holders or as members sharing the profits derived from working the colony as one large farm. An estate was, for instance, leased from the Crown in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and it was the original intention that the colony should consist of a central farm and sixty small holdings ranged round it. The central farm was, in the first instance, to embrace the greater part of the estate, and land would be gradually taken from it and added to the small holdings as the settlers became qualified for their work. It was afterwards decided that, in the first instance, the estate should be worked as a whole on a profit-sharing basis, instead of being divided up into small holdings. Another colony, in Lincolnshire, was designed for market-gardening, and the intention was to divide it up into holdings of about ten acres each. These experiments, however, touch only the fringe of the subject; only four colonies have been provided with a total of six thousand acres. Sir Richard Winfrey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, expressed the hope a few months since that eventually one million acres would be secured, but demobilization is already close upon us and little has been done.

Not long before the close of the last Parliamentary session, the Government introduced a bill to make it easier for the county councils to secure land for the purpose of allotments or small holdings, and also to make it easier for them to erect houses and buildings for settlers. Plans, however, are one thing and practice another, and at the present time we have not got beyond the pioneer colonies and the gift from certain public-spirited landowners, like the Duke of Sutherland, of farm lands to be used for the benefit of soldiers. The whole question is hedged about with difficulties of finance and ownership. In the Dominions the problem is much simpler, and some of the governments, which have much land at their disposal, are putting generous schemes into force for the benefit of the returning troops.

In other directions the Government is taking various measures to assist demobilized officers and men. There are, for instance, the men who on going into the army were compelled to break their apprenticeship in various industries. Many of them will now desire to complete their training, but they could not do so if at their present age they were to receive only the wages appropriate to their position as apprentices. The State will therefore step in and make an addition to the wages which the employer pays. In the Civil Service, for twelve months from the beginning of demobilization, all permanent appointments will be reserved for ex-officers and ex-soldiers. The only exceptions will be such posts as require special qualifications or involve special responsibility or are held by men unfit for general service. Again, assistance will be given to officers and men whose professional training was interrupted by their entrance into the army. Provision is being made to assist those who by reason of their military service are unable to meet their financial obligations after the war, such as rent, insurance, or school-fees; and the Civil Liabilities Department will be instructed to lend aid, especially in the case of the one-man business, the closing of which has been one of the chief hardships of the war. A minor but not unimportant help given by the Government is the provision of free passages for the wives and families of officers and men returning over-seas.

Demobilization brings with it also a group of problems relating to material of war. Special measures have to be taken to deal with vast quantities of army stores. It has not been forgotten in England how great were the scandals in South Africa when military supplies were disposed of after the Boer War. The value of the army stores which will now have to be sold is put at about five hundred million pounds, and the Government has instituted a general survey, both of the materials to be disposed of and of the uses to which they may be put in the various industries of the country. The Ministry of Reconstruction has come to the conclusion that there ought to be a Ministry of Supply, dealing with the whole question of the provision and the sale of government stores of all kinds; and it is projected, apparently, that the Ministry of Munitions, having finished its own work, should be transformed into such a ministry. Except, however, for the decision that one single organization shall be made responsible for the sale of the military stores, and that the process shall be based, so far as possible, on a careful analysis of the needs of our industries, the Government’s intentions have not been announced.

There are other very difficult questions of a like kind, such as the future of the national factories and workshops, some of which are not even yet fully constructed. Dr. Addison, the Minister of Reconstruction, has explained that they fall into various classes: those that are state-owned, those that are partly state-owned and partly owned by firms; those that are serviceable for the purpose of storage, and so on. The policy of the Government with regard to their disposal is awaited with much interest. It involves large and difficult questions of finance and employment, and its broad outlines yet remain to be announced. England, therefore, has her plans in varied stages of elaboration. Some are perfected, like those relating to the demobilization of the home and foreign armies. Some are extremely vague, especially those relating to all questions of material, and on the provision of material depends the employment of the demobilized men and women. To all plans alike the test of execution has still to be applied. There are, at the moment of writing, many complaints of the slowness with which the demobilization of even the first selected men is being conducted. But allowances ought to be made. The position is rather like that of any army which, having conducted a long and continuous offensive, is suddenly thrown on the defensive. All our organization has hitherto looked outwards toward the front. Now we have suddenly to change front, to face both ways, to organize another and an inward-flowing stream. At the same time, the Government has to feed our industries with raw materials, grapple with gigantic problems of supply, and control the transference of the war industries to works of peace. The General Election distracts both ministers and people from the attention that they should be giving to these problems. Not until it is over and done with, are we likely to learn the full plans of the Government on some subjects which will necessarily affect the amount of fresh employment and therefore the rate of demobilization. This is a period of experiment and improvization, and the test is about to begin.

  1. While revising the article, the writer has had to alter the figures for unemployment benefit. Men were to have had 24 shillings, women 20 shillings, boys 12 shillings, and girls 10 shillings. But the Cabinet, which has just announced a bonus on war-pensions, has now increased the unemployment benefits by 5 shillings for adults and 2 shillings and sixpence for boys and girls. Polling day is just ahead — December 14. — THE AUTHOR.