Repatriation 1918–20 and the changing Anglo-imperial relationship
in Exiting war
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The experience of demobilised British and Dominion/colonial troops was often unpleasant, sometimes frustrating and occasionally dangerous. Many thousands of troops waited for long periods before they could be repatriated. At times, impatience and frustration boiled over into physical violence, riots and fatalities in repatriation camps. The protracted, enforced proximity in the camps of groups of soldiers from different parts of the Empire led to serious incidents, as did contact between troops awaiting repatriation and local populations, and between demobilised soldiers looking for work and British colonial subjects in local populations. Within the broader context of repatriation, this chapter looks in turn at examples of the difficult material conditions in which troops were required to live while waiting to go home; at various administrative and political factors which aggravated these difficulties; and at tensions generated between the British and colonial populations involved. The main objective of the chapter is to investigate official attitudes and policy regarding imperial troops and subjects and, wherever possible, the attitudes of the latter towards Britain. It also explores the intra-imperial dimension of this antagonism, especially its racial/racialist component. The vast, complicated repatriation operation, with the quasi-incarceration of many troops, created hostile contexts and environments, demonstrated clear intra-imperial tensions, and generated or exacerbated inter-racial problems – not least in the way British treatment of Dominion or colonial subjects and Britain’s attitudes to race collided with her previously trumpeted war aims.

Exiting war

The British Empire and the 1918–20 moment

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