In November 1918, the British army numbered almost 3.8 million men.
With the war over men were eager to return home but logistically it was no easy task. In addition the British army still had commitments in Germany and North Russia as well as various garrisons around the Empire to be maintained.
The original demobilisation scheme, drawn up in 1917, proposed that the first men to be released from service should be those who held jobs in key industries.
However, as these men were likely those who had been called up in the latter stages of the war, it meant that men with the longest service records were generally the last to be demobilised. Some small-scale mutinies at British army camps in Calais and Folkestone and a demonstration of 3,000 soldiers in central London, illustrated the unrest amongst men waiting to return home.
When Churchill's became the War Secretary in January 1919, he introduced a new and more equitable demobilisation scheme. Based on age, length of service and the number of times a man had been wounded in battle, the scheme sought to ensure that the longest-serving soldiers were generally demobilised first.
By the end of 1919 the majority of war service men were back in civilian life and the British army had been reduced to around 900,000 men.
The process of demobilisation after the war depended on a soldier’s terms of service.
Soldiers of the regular army who were still serving their normal period of service remained in the army until their years were completed.
Men who had volunteered or who were conscripted during the war with industrial skills, including miners, and those who had volunteered early in the war were given priority.
Conscripts – particularly the 18 year olds – were given lowest priority.
Before the soldier left his unit;
On Returning Home
While on final leave he was still technically a soldier but 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.
There were still fears that Germany would not accept the terms of any peace treaty, and therefore the British Government decided it would be wise to be able to quickly recall trained men in the eventuality of the resumption of hostilities.
Soldiers who were being demobilised from the 3rd December 1918 were posted to Class Z Army Reserve. They returned to civilian life but with an obligation to return if called upon in the event of a national emergency.
The Z Reserve was abolished on 31 March 1920.