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The British Empire and the 1918–20 moment

This book explores a particular 1918–20 ‘moment’ in the British Empire’s history, between the First World War’s armistices of 1918, and the peace treaties of 1919 and 1920. That moment, we argue, was a challenging and transformative time for the Empire. While British authorities successfully answered some of the post-war tests they faced, such as demobilisation, repatriation and fighting the widespread effects of the Spanish flu, the racial, social, political and economic hallmarks of their imperialism set the scene for a wide range of expressions of loyalties and disloyalties, and anticolonial movements. The book documents and conceptualises this 1918–20 ‘moment’ and its characteristics as a crucial three-year period of transformation for and within the Empire, examining these years for the significant shifts in the imperial relationship that occurred, and as laying the foundation for later change in the imperial system.

Romain Fathi, Margaret Hutchison, Andrekos Varnava, and Michael J. K. Walsh

This chapter presents the 1918–20 ‘moment’ in the British Empire between the First World War’s armistices of 1918 and the peace treaties of 1919 and 1920. That moment, we argue, was a challenging and transformative time for the Empire. While British authorities successfully answered some of the post-war tests it faced, such as demobilisation, repatriation and fighting the widespread effects of the Spanish flu, the racial, social, political and economic hallmarks of its imperialism set the scene for a wide range of expressions of loyalties and disloyalties, and anticolonial movements alongside demands for more development and more opportunities immediately after the war as explored in the book’s chapters. The chapter defines the 1918–20 ‘moment’ and its characteristics as a crucial three-year period of transformation in the Empire, examining these years for the significant shifts in the imperial relationship that occurred, and as laying the foundation for later change. This chapter problematises the 1918–20 ‘moment’ within the field of what French scholars have dubbed sorties de guerre, that is, the transmuting period which follows a conflict, not as a return to a pre-war normalcy and status quo but to a phase of building an unknown future which must address the immediate consequences of the conflict, often resulting in profound societal changes.

in Exiting war
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Romain Fathi, Margaret Hutchison, Andrekos Varnava, and Michael J. K. Walsh

Transitioning out of the First World War was a massive undertaking for all belligerents, including for Britain and its empire. From armies, to economies and war cultures, people across the Empire had to demobilise. But demobilising could not simply be a matter of undoing what had been done. The war had changed many aspects of the imperial project, strengthening the Empire’s prerogatives and structures in some regards, while at the same time challenging its unity and direction. There was no returning to a pre-war world: that world had disappeared.

in Exiting war