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Now the War is Over

Now the War is Over

Simon Fowler & Daniel Weinbren
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
One of the great benefits of where I live is the great number of excellent pubs that line the route of my dog walk. Further, I have discovered that, if properly trained, a Springer Spaniel will remind you that you're passing one of them, in the event that you're deep in thought and failing to concentrate properly. I mention this because, down a relatively short street of terraced houses and opposite one of my favourite haunts, is a plaque with ten names on it. Most people don't notice it but those names represent ten people from that single street who didn't return from the Great War. I have often wondered about the stories behind those names and how this lonely plaque came to be where it is and the answer is that it was part of a wider movement of commemoration which had no central direction and which, on occasion, was the subject of considerable national debate as a traumatised nation tried to come to terms with what it had just experienced. I mention it here because it is referenced in 'Now the War is Over', an account of what happened in the two years which followed the Armistice and the consequent demobilisation of Britain's civilian soldiers.

The Centenary of the First World War was rightly marked by a series of memorable events and public displays which demonstrated how profoundly embedded the Great War remains in the national consciousness. The great battles have been fought and re-fought by successive generations of historians, a process which seems to have finally resulted in the Black Day of the 'Lions lead by donkeys' brigade, but what has received far less attention has been the subject of what happened when the troops came home and returned to civilian life. That is the central question, at least as far as the British experience is concerned, which is addressed in 'Now the War is Over' and, as such, it is a book that fills a very interesting gap.

'Now the War is Over' is a relatively short book of nine chapters, which begins with an Introduction which asks why there was no revolution in the UK, and then works through the soldier's experience in a logical fashion, starting with demobilisation and moving through the challenges of political and economic re-adjustment before considering the wider impacts on society and the profound social changes which the Great War ultimately inspired.

Telling this story effectively requires the ability to define and bring to life the very personal experiences of the individuals involved and then place those experiences in the bigger picture whilst avoiding the twin traps of either losing perspective or losing the human aspect in a slew of statistics and generalisations. Fowler and Weinbren broadly achieve this objective through an effective combination of engaging anecdote and succinct summary of the broader economic and political aspects. However, for this reviewer, there was an underlying sense that, given the story they were trying to tell, 146 pages was probably too brief and too ambitious.

It is generally an easy read but it is also a work of scholarship and the referencing is extensive. It is accessible to a general reader and does not require a wider or detailed knowledge of the period to be enjoyed. That said, as was mentioned earlier, this book only considers the British experience and, for those of us who are not specialists in this area, it might have been enhanced had there been some other examples to contrast it with. Clearly the experience of the defeated Central Powers was very different and driven by very different circumstances, but the experience of the French and, perhaps more pertinently, that of the Dominion contingents, would have served as a useful reference and contrast. However, the authors can fairly counter that that was not the book that they set out to write.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable and interesting read and what particularly stood out was the very real sense among politicians that the returning troops would bring revolution with them; one civil servant observed that, in the event of civic strife, for the first time in British history, the rioters would be better trained than the police. 'Now the War is Over' does a good job of explaining why this didn't happen.

The price, £19.99, is a bit of a challenge but, if you have an interest in the First World War, this story of how the British Army was re-integrated back into the civilian world will engage you.

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