Ex-servicemen had been promised a ‘Land Fit For Heroes’ by Prime Minister Lloyd George on their return from the war. However, the demobilisation process was logistically complicated and placed huge pressure on organisations around the country. Unemployment rose rapidly and the planned reconstruction programme could not be maintained through the economic difficulties of the early 1920s .As men returned to Doncaster, local organisations grew to support their reintegration into public life.
‘Releasing [soldiers] to civilian life…is one of the great problems of the day.’
Doncaster Chronicle 21 June 1918
Comrades of the Great War
The Comrades of the Great War, Doncaster Branch provided support for returning soldiers and their families and gave advice on matters like pensions and war gratuity payments. The Doncaster group were particularly vocal about the poor treatment of ex-servicemen, and they initially boycotted the peace celebrations of 1919 in protest. Eventually they decided to be involved with the Y.M.C.A.’s celebrations.
“That we the members of the Doncaster Branch of the Comrades of the Great War, decline to take part in any peace celebrations as a protest against the inadequate pensions, gratuities and allowances granted to disabled men from His Majesty’s Forces, also dependants, widows, and children of our fallen comrades, and against the Government failing to fulfil the promises made during the recruiting campaign re employment of discharged and demobilised men.”
Resolution passed by the Doncaster Branch of The Comrades of the Great War which was later reversed.
By late 1919, the Doncaster branch had over 900 members. Between April and December 1919, the Comrades dealt with two hundred and ninety eight cases of ex-servicemen or widows and dependants needing assistance from the Comrades in matters including, allowances, war grave photographs, silver war badges, service pensions, medals, health insurance, training and release on compassionate grounds.
Over £1,770 was obtained by the branch for the applicants. In the annual report for 1919, the secretary of the Comrades branch wrote “A percentage of this would have no doubt been paid, but it is amazing the errors that have been made in ex-servicemen’s accounts.”
In one case, the Comrades dealt with an ex-soldier who had been discharged for over a year, and was thought to owe the army over £8. When they stepped in to assist him, they highlighted the errors in his accounts and he was found to actually be owed £15 by the Army!
The branch also organised fishing excursions and football matches, and organised regular trips for the children of fallen soldiers and Branch members. The building taken for the group in 1919, known as Elmfield Lodge, on Bennetthorpe, is still run as the Comrades of the Great War club today.
Over 700 ex-soldiers and sailors gathered in the Castle grounds at the end of July 1919 to be formally welcomed back to their community. There was a procession past the make-shift war shrine cross in Coronation Park where Abide With Me was sung by school girls and boy scouts accompanied by the Conisbrough Brass Band before the group moved onto Station Road schools for tea and entertainment. Medals were awarded and wreaths were laid at the base of the cross in memory of the men from the village who did not return.