From the middle of World War 1, a number of ex-services organisations emerged, formed by and for discharged soldiers, sailors and airmen. The first, the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers (DSS) was prompted in particular by dissatisfaction at their treatment by government and employers; the second, the National Federation of DSS, by a proposal to draft them back into the Forces ahead of those who had never served. They had various trade union and/or political allegiances and by 1917 there was real concern within Government at the possibility of serious unrest or even revolution among them; the study will look at some of the unrest created by discontented ex-soldiers in other countries, including Russia, Germany and Australia.
As a result of this concern leading members of the Establishment, close to the Government of the day, set up a rival organisation, the Comrades of the Great War, in the hope of drawing members away from the more radical groups. The other significant group, the Officers Association, was formed by Douglas Haig, concerned by the plight of many officers, impoverished and excluded from the other groups. Ultimately however they all came together to form the British Legion, while the most left-wing one, the Communist-linked National Union of Ex-Servicemen, withered away.
While British charities for the relief of ex-soldiers existed long before the Great War, they were typically run by benevolent Victorians as 'good works' and the ex-soldiers were passive recipients. The groups that sprang up during the War were quite different, self-organised, assertive, drawing on trade union experience and the camaradie developed in the trenches and they were politically aligned.
This process has not been previously been researched in the depth envisaged for this study. Original newsletters from at least two of the main organisations are held in the British Library, which provide a wealth of primary information about their development and appear not to have been studied in detail before. Other primary sources such as committee minutes and numerous national, regional and local newspaper reports have also been identified with more likely to be found in county archives etc. The growing database of newspaper articles held in the growing British Newspaper Archive comprises a considerable quantity of new original material not previously consulted.
The coming together of the various organisations under the umbrella of a new group, the British Legion, has been well documented, so will be only briefly covered for completeness in this project. The primary effort and focus will be on the predecessor groups described above in order to address the question of how and why it was during the Great War that ex-servicemen for the first time got together to help themselves.
This subject fits within the broader context of Total War, and into the area defined by Arthur Marwick as 'War, Peace & Social Change". It will also be a contribution to working class history and fits into the area of War Studies labelled 'War and Society' rather than operational studies.