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Remembered Today:

Soldiers not returning home after the war


elewis
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I picked up the following from a post by ss002d6252 / Craig on another thread which I did not want to hijack, but would like to follow up on.

"It was far from an uncommon for men to not return home after the war, it's certainly a lot more common than most people would expect."

I have found a few cases of men that in the years just prior to the war had emigrated to Australia, then served in the Australian Army, who after the war stayed in England rather than returning to Australia - this I fully understand.

Although I have not found any instances myself I could well imagine where a serving soldier might might well have met a local girl and stayed on with her after the war, or simply had his own reason for "dissapearing" and not returning to England I would have thought that both of these cases were fairly rare.

Were they more common than I suspected?.

Were there other reasons?.

What was the Army's view - were they happy to "leave men behind" when the units returned to the UK?.

Evan

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"It was far from an uncommon for men to not return home after the war, it's certainly a lot more common than most people would expect."

For clarification, by 'home' I meant literally not returning to their home rather than not returning back to the UK.

Craig

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Were there any other reasons why a man might stay behind? Desertion, perhaps.

In the memoir of a WW2 serviceman who was left behind following the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 and who then went on to evade capture in occupied France, he recounts meeting the owner of an estaminet in a French village who turned out to be a former British soldier from WW1 who had deserted and settled down with a local woman. I imagine that the estaminet owners name appears on one of the CWGC memorials in France or Belgium, and that we remember him solemnly every November 11th...!

There were enough deserters to make me think that some, at the very least, would have preferred not to come back to the UK in case they might get caught.

I have a photograph of a RN signaller from Oxfordshire who had joined up before the war, he committed a couple of relatively minor misdemenours for which he spent some time in the cells. He clearly decided that the Navy was not for him, and jumped ship in Cape Town in 1916 or 1917. His service records indicate that the Navy made a few perfunctory enquiries, but I imagine that they had more important things to do than pursue a deserter around a country the size of South Africa. A couple of years ago I googled his name and found that he had died in the 1950's and was buried in a cemetery in Natal.

There must have been plenty more like him, I reckon......

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Craig,

thanks for explaining, as you gather I took that statement the wrong way and "Home" to mean the UK.

By literally meaning "home" as where they lived before the war I imagine it would be much more frequent.

Evan

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Hi,

A distant relative of mine didn't return to his home town after WW1. His service papers on Ancestry have a letter from his sister in 1928 asking the War Office for his whereabouts. All they could provide was the address he gave on enlistment. His MIC show his medals were returned from that address as not known that address.

He was a single man and his parents died during WW1 so I presume that is why he didn't return home. No idea why he didn't maintain contact with his siblings post war.

Steve Y

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<snip>

Were they more common than I suspected?.

Were there other reasons?.

What was the Army's view - were they happy to "leave men behind" when the units returned to the UK?.

Evan

Hello Evan,

After hostilities ended on 11.11.18 'Regular Battalions' still had soldiers who had 'obligations' to complete their contracted term of service.

For example, the War Diary for the 2nd Bn Highland Light Infantry for November and December, 1918, includes a March Table (attached) showing the Battalion marching from France through Belgium into Germany as part of the 'Army of Occupation'.

The Battalion left Villers-Pol, France, on 16.11.18 and arrived at Worringen, Germany on 27.12.18, after 222 miles of marching.

The War Diary states: "The Battalion marched to PREUX-AU-SART. From this village the Battalion commences its forward march to the Rhine on the following day. The VI Corps forming party of the Army of Occupation".

I would venture that others signed up for longer periods of service as they didn't want to go 'home'.

I'm sure there are many reasons for this, and one may be that they enjoyed the army life.

Kindest Regards,

Tom.

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The North Wales Chronicle of 24th October 1919, tells the tale of an ex soldier's bigamy:

http://welshnewspapers.llgc.org.uk/en/page/view/4246160/ART139/bigamy

Basically, he was first married in 1905 and had 4 children. Whilst a soldier, he met another woman in 1916 and married her whilst on leave in 1918, under his brother's name in St. Asaph.

Then demobilised and lived happily in Rhyl until his first wife turned up.

Sentenced to 6 months.

Judge said that bigamy was "far too common"...

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Craig,

thanks for explaining, as you gather I took that statement the wrong way and "Home" to mean the UK.

By literally meaning "home" as where they lived before the war I imagine it would be much more frequent.

Evan

No problem, it's an interesting question though as to what the army did with men who asked to be demobilised abroad.

Tom has a point about the army - I wonder how many men did decide to stay in the army or at least extend their service as part of the army of occupation without telling family back home and then 'disappeared'.

Craig

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Have a 1914/15 star to an American who was a delivery driver in the UK pre war with a wife and children. He served in the ASC during the war and his papers are full of letters from his distraught wife wondering where he is as he hadn't returned. Seems he shot off back to USA after being demobbed and was residing in Calfornia. Guess he must have stayed there because that's where the medal came from. Haven't worked out what happened to his wife and family yet.

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Thanks gentlemen for the comments and interesting stories.

As expected women seem to be high on the list of reasons for not returning to home, either to avoid one or because of a new one!.

Evan

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Indeed.

A quick index search for the North Wales Chronicle for 1918 & 1919, returns 3 army & air force cases.

This report is one of them:

North Wales Chronicle 31 May 1918

CARNARVONSHIRE ASSIZES

before Mr Justice Bray

BIGAMIST SOLDIER SENT TO GAOL,

"Frederick Bryant (42), a soldier, pleaded guilty.....

The Judge said that bigamy amongst soldiers was far too common, and he had dealt with fifty such cases in twelve months.

The prisoner would be sentenced to nine months imprisonment."

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'The Judge said that bigamy amongst soldiers was far too common, and he had dealt with fifty such cases in twelve months.'

A War Memorial in Co. Down (Northern Ireland) has listed amongst The Fallen the name of a soldier who didn't/couldn't return to his wife and family because he was in jail in England for bigamy. His wife was told about the conviction and before he was released she and the children had departed to the U.S.A. I believe he stayed in England following his release.

Pere.

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My great-grandfather met my great-grandmother and they got married in 1916 whilst he was serving in the Lancashire Fusiliers, under the alias John Smith (we know this from the marriage certificate); my grandfather was born (very) shortly afterwards. He was sent to France and the family story was that he was killed in 1917 during 3rd Ypres. We even managed to identify a likely grave at Aeroplane cemetery outside Ypres (correct name, regiment and approximate time of death).

Then genealogical research a couple of years ago by my mother and cousins discovered he in fact survived the war, returned to Lancashire where he originated from (not East Yorkshire to my great-grandmother and infant grandfather) where he raised another family and died in 1966.

So technically I guess he did go home, just not to his young wife and child.

Cheers,

Neil.

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