Unemployment, Poverty and Slum Housing: How Scotland Welcomed Back Its War Heroes

By Ross, Shân | Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), February 18, 2018 | Go to article overview

Unemployment, Poverty and Slum Housing: How Scotland Welcomed Back Its War Heroes


Ross, Shân, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland)


They were promised a 'Land Fit for Heroes' when they returned from the horrors of the First World War to their homes in Scotland's cities, towns, villages and islands. But the men and women who received a heroes' welcome very quickly faced the harsh reality of unemployment, poverty, sickness and slum housing.

Now 'Aftermath', a new exhibition opening next month, tells the story of the years between 1919 up to 1938 when politicians' promises turned to dust and veterans went on hunger marches and resorted to writing hardship letters to regimental associations and the government pleading for money.

Letters came from veterans of all ranks, including those who had received military honours, such as the Victoria Cross.

'Aftermath' opens on 30 March at the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) regimental museum in Berwick-upon-Tweed, running until 11 November before touring Scotland and the UK.

Dr Yvonne McEwen, founder of Scotland's War national project, and research fellow at the World War One research group at Wolverhampton University, who compiled the exhibition, said: "Wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised a 'land fit for heroes' and 'homes for heroes'. By the war's end many people were cynical about politicians, but still hoped they'd come back to a better country after what they'd sacrificed.

"But by 1919, when the last troops returned, it became apparent there was not the level of work they'd hoped for. Many employers took on lower-paid workers during the war, and by 1920 the Depression set in and people were vying for jobs," said McEwen who in 2016 established the charity Scotland's War (1914-1919), which built on the work of a similar project funded by Edinburgh University which came to an end that year.

Extracts from the hardship letters include the following written by a private in the 2nd Battalion KOSB. Disabled with war wounds, he walked 165 miles from Glasgow to Darlington to find work, but was unsuccessful and penniless. …

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