The process and timing of the demobilisation of a soldier after the war depended on his terms of service. Soldiers of the regular army who were still serving their normal period of colour service remained in the army until their years were done. Men who had volunteered or who were conscripted for war service generally followed the routine described below. Although pretty well everyone wanted to go home at once, it was simply not possible. Not only would it have been practically impossible to process all men in a short period of time but the British army still had commitments it had to fulfill, in Germany, North Russia and in the garrisons of Empire. Men with scarce industrial skills (including miners) were released early; those who had volunteered early in the war were given priority treatment, leaving the conscripts – particularly the 18 year olds of 1918 – until last. Even so, most of the war service men were back in civilian life by the end of 1919.
Before the soldier left his unit he was medically examined and given Army Form Z22, which allowed him to make a claim for any form of disability arising from his military service. He was also given an Army Form Z44 (Plain Clothes Form) and a Certificate of Employment showing what he had done in the army, Z18. A Dispersal Certificate recorded personal and military information and also the state of his equipment. If he lost any of it after this point, the value would be deducted from his outstanding pay.
He was not allowed to bring back to the UK any Belgian or locally issued French banknotes. Official government-issued French or Italian banknotes could be taken home and exchanged for Sterling at a Post Office. If he was returning from any other theatre of war he had to change the local currency into a Postal Order at an Army Post Office. The soldier would spend some time in a transit camp – an Infantry Base Depot – near the coast before being warned for a homeward sailing.
On arrival in England the man would move to a Dispersal Centre. This was a hutted or tented camp or barracks. Here he received a Z3, Z11 or Z12 Protection Certificate and a railway warrant or ticket to his home station. This certificate enabled the man to receive medical attention if necessary during his final leave.
This “other ranks” Z11 Protection Certificate was kindly provided by Graham Stewart. This soldier was being demobilised at Chiseldon Camp in Wiltshire in January 1919. Note the three Post Office rubber stamp marks, denoting his visits to pick up his final pay.
This officer’s Z3 Protection Certificate was also kindly submitted by Graham Stewart
He got too an Out-of-work Donation Policy, which insured him against unavoidable unemployment of up to 26 weeks in the 12 months following demob. He received in addition an advance of pay, a fortnight’s ration book and also a voucher – Army Form Z50 – for the return of his greatcoat to a railway station during his leave. He could choose to have either a clothing allowance of 52 shillings and sixpence or be provided with a suit of plain clothes. If he chose the latter he would hand in his Z44. His final leave began the day after he was dispersed. He left to go home, still in uniform and with his steel helmet and greatcoat.
With thanks to Graham Stewart for this image of Form Z50. This is evidence of a rather late demobilisation, in January 1920.
He would also receive a cash payment of £2 to be charged against his account; a service gratuity of £1 for each year of service and a calculated war gratuity (said to be to compensate him for the loss of the ancient privilege of looting!).
While on final leave he was still technically a soldier although could now go about in plain clothes. Legally he could not wear his uniform after 28 days from dispersal. During leave he had to go to a railway station to hand in his greatcoat. For this he was paid £1. This was counted as part of his war or service gratuity payment. Any other payments due to him were sent in three instalments by Money Orders or Postal Drafts. These could be cashed at a Post Office on production of the Protection Certificate. The man could also take his Demobilisation Ration Book to the nearest Food Office and exchange it for an Emergency Card, which he could later exchange for a civilian Ration Book.
Some men could claim repatriation to an Overseas British Possession or a Foreign Country. The man completed Army Form AF.Z7 to do this.
As long as the Military Service Act was enforced, all men who were liable for service under the Act who were not remaining with the colours in the regular army; or who had not been permanently discharged; or who were not on a Special Reserve or Territorial Force Reserve engagement were discharged into Class Z Army Reserve and liable to recall in the event of a grave national emergency. The man’s designated place of rejoining was shown on his Protection Certificate and Certificate of Final Demobilisation.