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Remembered Today:

Homeless and Jobless Soldiers


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There's just been an interesting piece on the local news about St. George's Crypt here in Leeds. This refuge was opened in 1930 as a shelter for the homeless and needy and continues to offer support for those in need, but I was also wondering what provisions were made for those who were homeless and jobless after World War One? I know there was no welfare state to fall back on as such, but which organisations would have been involved, and how were those in need rehabilitated in the post-war world?

Kind Regards,

Dave

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Michael Johnson

Lyn Macdonald's book has one soldier's account of going up to London and sleeping on the Embankment with many other soldiers, including a Major he'd helped during the war.

Some relief was probably provided by the churches. A check of incorporations would probably show a number of private charitable bodies directed at veterans.

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Many Thanks, Michael

I couldn't find anything on the charitable trusts that might have supported the homeless, but there was something in 'The Times' about the plans to provide huts for homeless soldiers in the London Borough of Hammersmith. [The Times, Thursday, May 29, 1919. p. 18]

"HUTS FOR HOMELESS SOLDIERS

HAMMERSMITH HOUSING PLANS

While the process of demobilisation makes the housing problem in London more urgent, the Hammersmith Borough Council are taking practical the steps to deal with the question. The difficulty of ex-soldiers who sold up when he went on service and is now unable to find a home for himself or his family is acute in the borough. For example, a demobilized man is living with his family of five in one room.

Hammersmith, however, is fortunate in having a considerable quantity of hutment accommodation erected by private firms and by the Government in the neighbourhood of factories for the use of operatives. Much of this is now available, and negotiations are in progress as to the terms on which it could be taken over. A decision will probably be reached by the Housing Committee of the Borough Council at its meeting tonight. The new colony would have living room for about 50 families, and, provided the labour is forthcoming, should be ready within two months of the undertaking being sanctioned. Representatives of the Council had an interview with the Local Government Board yesterday...The Hammersmith authorities have also in hand a much wider programme of housing improvement."

Cheers,

Dave

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Nigel Gordon

I know my Grandfather ended up living with his in-laws for quite a while after the war, but he did get employment through the “National Association for Employment of Regular Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen”. They found him a job with the post office as an Allowance Deliverer in the Cowley Sorting Office, Oxford.

Regards

Nigel

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It appears that some were possibly retrained before the end of the war. My Grandfather was wounded and lost a leg, he was discharged in 1916 and was working as a French Polisher in 1917. My Mother told me he was retrained by the British Legion. However they could provide no information on this.

Regards

Christina

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Some ex soldiers were able to use skills learnt in the war to set up their own businesses. For example my wife's maternal grandfather used the knowledge of driving and motor mechanics learnt in the war to set up St Alban's first motor taxi business - Cooks, which thrived until relatively recently.

I've also read that the masonic lodges provided assistance to members in the services who were discharged and unable to find work.

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Mate,

I read in an aussie service record of a AIF soldier who took his dischage in the UK was given a farm as part of land being opened up for returned men.

There appears to be a lot of land in the UK given out as shown in the AIF service record of which gives some details check this file;

OWEN Walter Henry 663

Cheers

S.B

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On Saturday the 5th April 1918, a meeting of people from the Holmfirth and New Mill areas was held to: “Protest against the action of our local public authorities in turning down discharged soldier applicants.” It was organised by the Holmfirth Branch of the National Association of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors at the Drill Hall. On the platform were Doctor R. H. Trotter, Alderman Wheatley from Huddersfield, and ex-Sergeant Major H. J. Sykes D.C.M., (discharged as over age after 31 years service) ex-Sergeant Steve North (lost a thumb and two fingers at Gallipoli) and ex-Private C. E. Briggs.

Doctor Trotter said that it seemed almost incredible that when the country was entering into the greatest struggle in the greatest of all wars, that they should be gathered together on such an errand. They were there to draw attention to the fact that on numerous occasions the local authorities had turned down discharged soldier applicants. They were there to claim that these men, by their suffering and sacrifice, had a right to take precedence, and if half a dozen men were applying for a post and one of them was a disabled soldier, then that man should take precedence. It was an astonishing thing, said the doctor, that at this stage of the war they should need to put forward such a claim.

Doctor Trotter emphasised that nobody should assume they wanted to bolster incompetence, if a civilian applicant was head and shoulders above an ex-serviceman then of course he should have the position, they were willing to put efficiency first. But if all other factors were equal there should be a bias in favour of discharged disabled men for council jobs. The Doctor concluded by saying the time had come when it must be made clear that we were in for tremendous changes, when men who had justified their rights by their blood, even by death, were going to enter into their rights, and no local authority, nor Parliament even, was going to deny them their rights.

Steve North then moved the following resolution:

“That this mass meeting of citizens of the Holmfirth and New Mill urban areas, emphatically protests against the unpatriotic action of our local public authorities in apparently ignoring the claims to consideration of discharged soldier applicants when making appointments for various public offices which have become vacant during the last twelve months or so.”

Steve North recalled the enthusiastic way in which the young men of the district had answered the call made to them at the beginning of the war, and now when some of them came back crippled and unable to follow their previous occupation they found that they were not wanted. Some people were asking if they were expected to put sympathy before efficiency, but wasn’t a disabled soldier entitled to some sympathy? Wasn’t a man who had left his home and gone out and faced the horrors of war, and then lived in hell for months and returned home with his health broken, entitled to sympathy? He continued by saying that some of their local rulers were hiding behind the parapet of no local government elections occurring under present circumstances, but it would not always be like that. “We are getting our ammunition ready,” he declared, “and when the proper time comes we intend to give these men the order to retire. We have begun to study the Public Health Act and the rights and duties of citizenship, and I say, with your help, we mean to give these men their marching orders!”

Ex-Sergeant Major Sykes then spoke of the local lads who had been killed and disabled, adding: “Those lads of yours go along the Belgium roads laughing and singing, and as you go you can see the horrors of war. You can see the graves - the graves with a cross on, and sometimes our lads will step out and pick the weeds off.” Some might ask what this as got to do with a protest meeting? It has everything to do with it. These lads had faced death through no fault of their own and to them we owed a special duty. Speaking of the procedures at interviews for council positions he said that one man had been asked how he intended to get around the district. That same man had been used to covering twenty miles a day with a pack on his back and now they asked him how he would get around?

Ex-Private Briggs said that he considered it an abominable disgrace that discharged soldiers should have to protest in this way. He knew of some employers who were asking the amount of a soldier’s pension and taking that into account when setting wages. If an employer were to ask him such a question, he said, “I would knock him down.” Urging that better treatment must be given to discharged soldiers he stated that he knew of twenty men who had faced the horrors of war and who did not know where their next dinner was coming from.

The resolution was passed unanimously, as was a vote of thanks for Doctor Trotter, who then concluded the meeting by pointing out that the task of reconstruction was going to be a tremendous one that would test the abilities of the best brains in the country, and, secondly, the war was by no means finished, and unity and sacrifice were called for more than ever from all lovers of their country at this present time.

In May 1918, at a meeting of the Holmfirth War Pensions Committee a letter was read from the West Riding War Pensions Committee dealing with work and training for disabled men. The letter asked for the names of disabled men with the full use of their upper bodies for training as engine drivers for threshing machines, men with damaged or missing legs were considered acceptable for training . The pay was 25 shillings rising to 40 - 45 shillings after training was complete. Another letter from the Sir John Liegh Fund offered grants of £25 for disabled soldiers to start in business, in exceptional circumstances a loan of £100 could also be made available. A third letter dealt with pensions and treatment for deafness. It was stated that men should be taught to lip-read as soon as possible and any surgical treatment should likewise be given without delay, this would hopefully improve the man’s chances of finding employment. A forth letter dealt with the Lord Robert’s Memorial Workshops which were established to train men who had lost the use of an arm or hand. After six months training the workshops' directors would conditionally provide employment for an unspecified time at 30 shillings a week.

The committee also dealt with some local pension cases and passed on recommendations for increases in a number of cases. During these discussions the Reverend Beamish observed it would appear that as long as a man could do any kind of work he would never get a life pension, and the chairman said that although the regulations stated that a man’s earnings should not be taken into account, he doubted if the regulations were being observed in practice.

Tony.

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I know the 4/7th Dragoon Guards and Coldstream Guards looked after their own - sadly a few feel by the wayside and had to pawn their medals - even a VC winner

I have medals to an officer who listed as one of his interests finding employment for men of his regiment

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Slim (later of Burma) recounted how one of the soldiers under his command in the trenches on return to 'civie st' did not find regular employment but became a proficient get away driver involved in robberies in London.

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I know the 4/7th Dragoon Guards and Coldstream Guards looked after their own - sadly a few feel by the wayside and had to pawn their medals - even a VC winner

I have medals to an officer who listed as one of his interests finding employment for men of his regiment

I take it you were referring to Witham as the VC winner? His case it mortifying.

Freddy

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You might want to read

Deborah Cohen, The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)

Kent Fedorowich Unfit For Heroes: Reconstruction And Soldier Settlement In The Empire Between The Wars (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).

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My Grandfather left Erskine house (hospital for wounded servicemen in Scotland) in 1919 and Despite having lost his right leg returned to showbusiness as "Jack Short, the Man the Germans Couldnt Kill" He received a grant from the "Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund for Maimed Men, Scottish Soldiers and Sailors" formed in 1917.

Harry Lauder was one of the top music hall stars of his day. From Lauder's frequent visits to military hospitals both in France and Britain and talking to soldiers who expressed the view that they didn't mind dying for their country but they were concerned about returning to civies with a disability and no money, he decided to set up a fund to help them. Lauder toured extensively throughout America and Britain, performing concerts and receiving donations for his fund. At Hot Springs, Arkansas, the stage hands handed over their pay they had received during Lauder's engagement there. In his speeches at the end of his concerts he would say that if he saw a wounded ex soldier standing on a street corner selling books of matches to earn some money, I will wish my son never laid down his life for his country. He got his million pounds.

Lauder was knighted in 1919 for his tireless charity work throughout the war. The first knight of the music hall.

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stiletto_33853

As Ian has stated, a few of the Regiments tried to look after their own. The Rifle Brigade had quite a few houses built for old servicemen and gave many donations to Hostels for rooms to be built for their old men.

This is still active as of today with the Rifleman's Aid Society, established in 1886. Its object is the relief in need of Rifleman and their dependants and of widows and children of deceased Riflemen, and the provision of homes for former Riflemen and their widows. Help is also provided through financial support given by the Society to those National Charities which provide for the special needs of Riflemen and their dependants.

Andy

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