The Men who Came Back

“Many of the men who came back were in a strange mood – restless, morbid, neurotic. Their own people did not understand them. They could not understand themselves. They hated war, most of them, but this peace seemed flat and unprofitable to their souls. …

“Wives complained that their husbands has ‘changed’. their characters were hardened and their tempers were frayed, so that they were strangely irritable and given to storms of rage about nothing at all. It was frightening… There was an epidemic of violence and of horrible sensual crimes with women victims, ending often with suicide. There were mob riots by demobilised soldiers or soldiers still waiting in camps for demobilisation. Police stations were stormed and wrecked and policemen killed by bodies of men who had been heroes in the war and now fought like savages against their fellow-citizens. Some of them pleaded guilty in court and made queer statements about an utter ignorance of their own actions after the disorder had begun. It seemed as though they had returned to the psychology of that war when men, doped with rum, or drunk with excitement, had leapt over the parapet and remembered nothing more of a battle until they found themselves panting in an enemy trench or lying wounded on a stretcher. It was a dangerous kind of psychology in civil life.”

from Back to Life (1920) by Philip Gibbs



  1. Posted September 28, 2007 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Jon Lawrence has an interesting discussion about this passage in his article Forging a Peaceable Kingdom: War, Violence and the Fear of Brutalisation in Post-First World War Britain, Journal of Modern History, 75, 3 (Sept. 2003).

  2. Posted September 28, 2007 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Thanks – I was looking for articles on this subject, and hadn’t found this one.

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