Coming back from the ‘war to end all wars’ sadly for many, was not the experience of relief that they had hoped for and expected whilst away on the battlefields of Egypt and France. Many found it extremely difficult to readjust to life back home and found it even more difficult to be accepted back.
Many men had suffered grave physical mental, as well as physical scars from their time on the front line. ‘Shellshock’ blighted the lives of thousands of men who returned home and ostracised them from society in some cases. However, there was a disparity between how the military viewed the condition and how doctors back home. New hospitals (such as Abram Peel, Leeds General Infirmary and Killingbeck Military Hospital) were specially set up in order to care for such men and came to there defence when facing criticism from members of the public and the army.
Hundreds of returning soldiers in Leeds found themselves out of work and therefore were forced to live off their army pensions which when combined with the cost of caring for their wives and their children, was extremely difficult. Such hardships however did not go unnoticed by others living in Leeds and the Yorkshire Evening Post often received letters from members of the local community wishing to help these men through such difficult times.
J. Hazelip, among others, pleaded for soldiers to get in contact so that he could help return them to work wrote with ideas for possible labour organisations; offering work for handymen and unskilled laborers, in order that discharged soldiers could subsidize their living costs and thus cushion their landing upon returning back to Leeds. Much was often made of the debt that the community owed such men and the need to remember the sacrifices that they had made.
Such were the horrors and traumas of service on the battlefields during the First World War and the brutality that is often depicted in the narrative of the conflict, it is often forgotten that for many the war did not end in France or in Egypt it continued when they returned home as well. Charities like the Flag Day Committees suffered from war apathy, the real victims being the returning ‘Tommy’ who counted on them for care and support. This was a sad fact of warfare and continues to the present day.
The experiences of war changed these men forever and altered the course of their lives; injured and scarred, each soldier had his own story of battle, each as harrowing as the one before. What comes from the stories of Leeds however, is a real effort to support those who returned and duty to commemorate those who did not.