Transcript

Progress of demobilisation, December 1918
Catalogue reference: 30/30/8


     (Extract from speech by Lord Milner)

I wish by your help to say something about demobilisation, in answer to the hundreds of complaints, suggestions, grievances which are brought before me and other members of the Government and with which it is quite impossible to deal individually.
     To put back an army of millions of men, scattered over 3 continents, into civil life is just as difficult as it was to raise that giant Army. In fact, in some ways it is more difficult. It involves - quite inevitably - just as many complications, hardships, inequalities. One man will be luckier than another, whatever you do, and however you set about it. The difference is that while war is on, people mind less. The sense of national danger, national necessity, submerges complaints. Men are ashamed to nurse grievances when their country is in peril. But when danger is over, or thought to be over, there is at once a reaction. Men are, quite naturally, less patient, more critical, more exacting. Grievances are made the most of, and there are plenty of people about, who make a business of stimulating the sense of grievance, collecting instances of everything that goes amiss, exaggerating it, and putting it all down to the negligence, or slackness or mismanagement of officials, to red-tape, to departmental dawdling and so forth.
     No doubt there is some truth in all this. I am the last man to excuse it or to tolerate it, and only the other day the Government appointed one of its members, a man of great drive and business ability, to pull the departments together and see that the whole machine worked more quickly and more smoothly. Already you can see the effect of this and will see it more and more every day. But, when everything has been done that can be, demobilisation is bound to be a long, a difficult and complicated business. I appeal to the men in the Army, who have shown such wonderful cheerfulness, good humour, endurance and discipline through four and a half years of war, to maintain something
of that same spirit during the 3 or 4 months of dull and tiresome but necessary work that has yet to be done till we can reap the fruits of victory. And I appeal to the public and the Press to help us, as they helped us so splendidly during the war, until the job is finished. Remember that, though the fighting may have ceased, all is not yet over. Impatience and overhaste might yet rob us of all that four long years of unexampled struggle and sacrifice have won. We have yet to make a just, strong and enduring peace. When the representatives of Great Britain go to the Council table to negotiate that peace, they must not have a disarmed and disunited nation behind them. If we are all at sixes and sevens at home, if what remains of our Army is not compact, disciplined, orderly, we shall never get the sort of peace, which we justly expect. The world, which is still in many parts seething with disorder, may not settle down for years, or let us get back to normal life and work in safety and tranquillity.
     I don't think the public realise how much has already been done. It is not yet two months since the Armistice, but more than 300,000 men have been released, for good and all, from the Army - not to speak of the Navy and the Air Force. Last week more than 60,000 men were so released, and every week now the number will increase and increase rapidly, always provided that the work is allowed to proceed - in orderly fashion, "according to plan." The scheme of demobilisation had been worked out with great care months before the war came to an end. It was worked out in consultation with employers and representatives of labour. It may not be a perfect scheme, but no scheme which anybody could propose was free from some great objections. We might have adopted many other schemes, which would have been easier to work and much less troublesome for the Government. But we chose this one, on good advise, after deliberation, because it was, not perhaps the quickest, not certainly the easiest, but the best for the nation as a whole.
     Our guiding principle was to demobilise in the way most likely to lead to the steady resumption of industry, and to minimise the danger of unemployment. Pivotal men first, basic industries like coal mining before those of less vital importance. In each industry those men first, who were assured of immediate employment. Subject to these ruling principles, we want to release the older men, and those of longest service, before the younger ones. That is the general idea. I don't say that it can ever be perfectly executed. Certainly the execution isn't perfect yet. When the huge engine began to move, some defects immediately appeared in the machinery. These are being remedied. Some officials may have been stupid or obstructive. I am afraid, where thousands of people have to co-operate, there will always be a good sprinkling of muddlers. But when all is said and done the big engine is moving. It is moving at a steadily increasing pace. We certainly don't mean to scrap it, and to try to build another. There are any number of people ready to tell us how the thing might have been done differently. No two of them agree with one another, but everyone is certain that his plan is the best. I don't say our plan is the best imaginable, but I do say that one plan steadily adhered to is better than chopping and changing, which would end in chaos. Not that we are deaf to suggestions of improvement. Any good suggestion, which does not cut across the general lines of our scheme and throw the whole machine out of gear, we are ready to adopt. But what we will not do is to let ourselves be hustled into taking short cuts, which, while they may release a certain number of men more quickly, will throw the whole business into confusion, and cause a sense of injustice among men, equally entitled to release but who are at a distance and not able to avail themselves of these attractive short cuts.



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