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Homeless Veterans


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Hi,

I'm trying to find some information for a friend regarding homelessnes affecting veterans of the Great War. I consider myself extremely interested and fairly knowledgeable about the war so agreed to help him but have since found this is an area I know nothing about and have struggled to obtain some of the more specific information he'd like.

Could anyone help? He'd really like to know how many British veterans found themselves homeless after returning, and, if possible, how the percentages or numbers divide up across army, navy and RFC/RAF, as well as ranks.

He'd like to get a grasp on probable causes (largely unemployment and 'shell shock' I'm assuming) and also women affected.

I've really let him down so if you can help I'd be extremely grateful!

Many thanks

P.S interestingly, he apparantly is a descendent of Albert Ball. That's a bribe for help!!!

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There is a long out-of-print book that you may be able to locate via your local library. It is called Tramping with Tramps by Rev Frank L. Jennings (known as the Tramps' Parson).

The article from The Spectator gives you an idea of the man and the plight of the homeless.

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There is a long out-of-print book that you may be able to locate via your local library. It is called Tramping with Tramps by Rev Frank L. Jennings (known as the Tramps' Parson).

The article from The Spectator gives you an idea of the man and the plight of the homeless.

Do you know when the book was printed as the article is dated 1926?

As for figures how would they have been recorded? When men were de mobbed I asumed most would have had somewhere to go.....Wives mothers and fathers. Men who had lived alone before enlisting may not have found suitable lodgings on their return. Saying this though, with the number of men lost there could have been a large rental market. Wives needing somehow to replace husbands money? Probably the biggest cause of homelessness was unemployment. A lot of agricultural jobs probably disappeared due to farm workers having to enlist. Mechanisation was being used.

I don't think the press of the day would have been keen on publishing figures so maybe charities for those who served would be the best bet.

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Tramping with Tramps was published in 1932. Jennings published his autobiography Men of the Lanes in 1958. I must admit I haven't read either, but I know Jennings inspired a long deceased local clergyman to take holy orders having come through the Great War.

I wonder if the Salvation Army or the YMCA might be able to help with some facts and figures.

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Although not homeless, you could point your friend towards reading Henry Williamson's books that deal with what happened to him after the war when he moved into an almost derelict cottage in Devon. For an introduction to the man and the books a look at the Henry Williamson Society website would be a start.

Lyn MacDonald also devotes a small section at the end of her book 1914-1918 - Images of the Great War to the plight of the jobless after the war ended.

George Orwell's Down & Out in Paris & London also touches on the subject of the plight of some war veterans and the horrors of the workhouse in the years following the Great War.

Regards ... Maricourt

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These men came under the Vagrancy Act and each local authority was obliged to keep a register of vagrants in their area. For discharged service men the register included their former regiment or corps.

It might be worth checking with county archives to see what the survival rate is for these documents.

TR

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Would I be right in assuming that being left jobless or homeless tended to affect other ranks more than it did officers? Or is that too much of a generalisation? I can imagine that a junior officer with a university qualification who then went to war for several years might find he had "missed the bus" on getting employed afterwards.

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Do you know when the book was printed as the article is dated 1926?

As for figures how would they have been recorded? When men were de mobbed I asumed most would have had somewhere to go.....Wives mothers and fathers. Men who had lived alone before enlisting may not have found suitable lodgings on their return. Saying this though, with the number of men lost there could have been a large rental market. Wives needing somehow to replace husbands money? Probably the biggest cause of homelessness was unemployment. A lot of agricultural jobs probably disappeared due to farm workers having to enlist. Mechanisation was being used.

I don't think the press of the day would have been keen on publishing figures so maybe charities for those who served would be the best bet.

Hi,

The serviceman gave an address on demobilization........from memory I think it was on the Z22 or the statement of services sheet......but that did not mean he returned there.

I have seen a file on Ancestry for a distant relative of mine with a letter from his sister living in his pre war home town in west Cumberland in 1927 asking the War Office for his whereabouts having heard nothing from him since 1919. He gave his parental home on demob but a quick check showed his mother died in mid 1918 so perhaps that is the reason for his non return to his own home town and no doubt for countless others.

He served in an Auxiliary Battalion of the Manchester Regiment during the state of emergency in spring 1921 but the last mention of him in his papers is a request for a copy certificate of service as his discharge book was stolen while in a workers hostel in London in 1937.

He was a qualified engineer so in a period of full employment could have expected good post war job prospects.

In those pre welfare state days I doubt the state would have recorded details of ex servicemans plight as a subset of unemployment figures. References are more likely to be anecdotal as above in my relatives case.

Steve Y

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In those pre welfare state days I doubt the state would have recorded details of ex servicemans plight as a subset of unemployment figures.

That's the point I was making. Charities, Regimental Assocs, housing assocs may have some records of how many people applied for help?

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But they were recorded, as far as possible at least, as per my post above. They would also have been entitled to a Meal Ticket so that they could be fed (half a pound of bread and two and a half ounces of cheese) att the Casual Ward in the local Poor Law Institute. They could also receive temporary accommodation there, which might another research area worth exploring.

TR

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Its amazing that the temporary barracks that were built during the war couldn't have been used to assist the former occupants who were down on their luck.

khaki

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Pte Harry Burnell of the Northamptonshire Regt was one soldier who could not settle after the war. His family wondered where he was for years.
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When I was looking for something entirely different I came across an item about married men returning to their wives who had being staying with her family whilst he was in the army. There was often a problem of accommodating 2 married couples under one roof. This could be exacerbated if 2 daughters had been living with their family. At least one Northern local authority converted a number of large wooden huts (the item said Adrian huts) into family dwellings by partitioning them into several room units and putting in a stove and sink in each family unit for veterans in such circumstances (but they had outside loos though). At least 4 families per hut.

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Posted this before on the forum a few years ago but may be relevant to the discussion. (I can recall being a bit shocked at the time I first read the extracts but a few years down the line and a bit more jaded/educated by the books I've read has made me realise a bit more about the harsher realities of post-war Britain!)

Came across some interesting but sad cases of WW1 veterans ending up in the workhouse or in an asylum in this book about Conwy Workhouse N Wales, called 'Paupers, ******** and Lunatics', written by Christopher Draper (ISBN 0-86381-879-X) (forum censor software edited out part of title)

Extracts from the book posted here with the author and publishers permission

Arthur James Smith was a Llandudno volunteer who served as a Private with the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (reg. number 26579) Driven mad by the stresses of combat in April 1915 he was clearly unsuitable for the house and was accepted as an in-patient at Denbigh Asylum, supported by relief payments from Conwy Union..............

The following year Edward Evans (workhouse master) tried to cope with another soldier suffering the effects of combat . He had been wounded in France with the bullet passing clear through his skull Patched up and with a plate protecting his brain he had taken refuge in the workhouse . All seemed well until following a fall his protective skull plate must have shifted and interrupted his normal brain functioning . The Board decided their best course of action was to seek help from the LGB on how to proceed

Even after the cessation of hositilities the Union still needed to relieve poverty and suffering resulting from lont term effects of the war. In June 1920, for example, Conwy accepted financial responsibility for Private Ernest H Lunt's (reg. number 185695) entry to the Denbigh Asylum

Often the military made financial provision for ex-combatants but even that didn't necessarily resolve Conwy's problems. ....Private Peter Roberts (reg number 128016) proved the most intractable case Conwy had to deal with. Having been certified 'A1' on joining the Army, Peter was discharged on 17th July 1918, as he was formally considered 'no longer fit for military service'. The army granted him a temporary allowance of 8s 3d for a period of 41 weeks but nothing thereafter. Pauperised as a consequence Peter Roberts was forced to seek relief from the Union who assumed his case was a simple oversight. The Board pressed the army to provide a pension, but they argued that the deterioration in Robert's mental and physical condition had no direct connection with his military service and staunchly refused to consider any compromise. Conwy's protracted correspondance culminated in October 1922 with a letter from Lloyd George himself asserting that the decision was final and absolute. Like countless of his comrades Peter Roberts discovered that the early heroic promises of politicians were to prove short lived and shallow once victory was gained.................

.Despite the promises of the war time politicians to provide homes to provide jobs and homes for returning heroes, after demobilisation unemployment, homelessness and vagrancy rose rapidly. Mr Lewis was shocked to find numerous ex-servicemen reduced to seeking shelter in the workhouse and casual ward.

The election Britain's first Labour government in January 1924 did little to improve the position of the poor and by the end of 1924 Conwy Guardian Rev. O Selwyn Jones confided to fellow Board members his 'Disappointment that the Labour government hadn't effected their promised housing scheme'.

On Friday the 1st May 1925 the authorities heartless and inadequate response to the continuing housing crisis was dumped on the doorstep of workhouse Master Lewis in the shape of ex-servicemen Templeton. Private Templeton had served with the British army for the entire duration of the war and had then continued under French command before eventually returning to civilian life in 1922. He had repeatedly applied to Llandudno council for accomodation without success before being offered a house-share by an existing Council tenant. When the official tenant decided to leave the area the Council refused to allow the Templeton family to occupy their Marl Crescent home. On Thursday 28th August 1924 Mr Templeton, his wife and three children were physically evicted from the house. Although it was by then 9 o'clock at night and pouring with rain, their furniture and all of their belongings were thrown out onto the highway leaving the family no alternative but to seek shelter at the workhouse. Despite being actively supported by the British Legion the family's pleas for help continued to be ignored by the Council. Driven to despair Mr Templeton attempted to commit suicide but failed and was confined to the workhouse infirmary for treatment.

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There was a shortage of housing stock in the UK after both World Wars as there was a boom in marriages of returning soldiers and subsequent children and there had been little or no house building in the war years (although in 1945 it was worse given the damage to the country's housing stock). Pressure built up over time and some modern economic historians now believe that it was the Baldwin Government's efforts to encourage home ownership and house building in the later 20s and early 30s that provided the motor that later pulled the economy out of the depression rather than Keysian government policies and the rearmament programme of the later 30s but that this type of stimulus has a long lag/lead time.

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Although this will not necessarily help the OP, anyone interested in huts for housing shoul consult MUN 4/5670 at TNA. There are other files in the class that that are useful as well.

TR

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Slightly off topic, but relevant, I believe, was the establishment of the town of Peacehaven [New-ANZAC-on-Sea] in Sussex originally established for WW1 veterans. I believe there were other places that did something similar - Forum Pals may know of some of these.

Regards ... Maricourt

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I have just bought Max Arthur's The Road Home (2009) and so haven't read it in detail, but one photo from about 1919 shows a discharged serviceman, wife and 5 children in Fleet Street, London, holding up a placard begging for shelter after being "turned into the streets".

Some of the tramps were probably tramps before the war as well: the Militia/Special Reserve attracted them.

Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That also has one scene post-war when a servant girl of his in Oxford (herself from a "tramping" family) challenges a doorstep beggar with having stolen a soldier's ID.

Clive

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eairicbloodaxe

Don't forget Geoge Orwell's classic "Down and Out in London and Paris". I seem to recall he meets many gentlemen of the road who were ex soldiers.

(But I did read it rather a long time ago).

Regards

Ian

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Back around 2004 I was working in car recoveries, and picked up an old boy in Wiltshire whose car had broken down. He was heading back to Northampton after a holiday.

During the trip we got talking and he mentioned that he was a retired mental health nurse, having spent most of his working life at Northampton asylum from the mid 1950`s to the early 1990`s. He reckoned that there were a considerable amount of WW1 veterans there when he started, they gradually died off with the last one passing on in about 1979.

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Would I be right in assuming that being left jobless or homeless tended to affect other ranks more than it did officers? Or is that too much of a generalisation? I can imagine that a junior officer with a university qualification who then went to war for several years might find he had "missed the bus" on getting employed afterwards.

I've thought about your post for a while having read that one book that I posted about in this thread. I thought originally that it would largely depend on the state of the officer both physically and especially mentally as to whether he would be able to find suitable employment. Then I thought that would actually apply to all of them really.

Even so, there was one man cited in the book that was employed transporting items for his employer in a horse drawn vehicle. One day a motorised vehicle collided with him injuring the horses. He then went totally off the rails having suffered, it would seem from flashbacks to the war where he had worked with the artillery horses. Others tried to work but could not hold down jobs.

Quite a few men went back to their families after the war some of them via asylums. Some women refused to take them back into the home when they found out they were being returned to them. The book is very interesting as it shows the wide range of symptoms displayed by some of the men who were clearly mentally fragile. These could be total withdrawal from the family, shutting themselves away in a room or domestic violence.

The officers seemed to fare better some being payed for privately to be treated in sanatoriums by their families but the problem was on a huge scale and much pressure was exerted by the public on the government to do the right thing by these men.

I have also thought that the question of how they fared after the war depended on the strength of their mind and body before the war. It was very clear from this book that the recruiting process was very flawed. Those who had previously failed medically to be recruited were later passed as fit and this included men who had spent time in asylums.

There is one sad tale and this is not from the book but local knowledge from the area I hail from (goodness there must have been so many families suffered), about a women who walked into the river with her children, the youngest a baby, strapped to her body and drowned herself because of the domestic violence suffered in the home from her husband who had returned from the war and returned to his home as an amputee and taken to the drink.

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I've thought about your post for a while having read that one book that I posted about in this thread. I thought originally that it would largely depend on the state of the officer both physically and especially mentally as to whether he would be able to find suitable employment. Then I thought that would actually apply to all of them really.

Seaforths,

thank you very much for that illuminating reply.

sJ

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I've just had a quick look at The Times Personal Column for today's date - 1921 and below are four entries from a wider selection:

Cambridge Graduate. Hons. Engineering. Ex-Officer - Seeks Work.

Urgent - Ex-Lt, Ranker, Age 40 - Married, Getting desperate at inability to procure work. Strong, active and willing.

Ex-Officer, totally disabled seeks home with Christian Science family.

Reserve Officer 11 years Cavalry seeks work.

I can hardly bear to read the desperation contained in these pleas for work or accommodation. If it was hard for officers - goodness knows the difficulties faced by the NCOs and Men on their return from the war.

Maricourt

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Hello Maricourt

It may actually have been harder for the officer's to find suitable work (suitable for an officer), particuarly if they were from a higher social class, not so much officers promoted from the ranks. Even though the rank and file were more numerous and had their own troubles finding work I would imagine that they were the most likely to do any sort of work that was made available to them.

regards

khaki

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