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UK Publisher: Yale University Press

Snapshots of gaiety and celebration – the street parties, the victory speeches – are how some people today think of Britain in 1945. But the years following the end of the Second World War were far from a golden age of pride and self-confidence. The country was troubled though triumphant, subject to continued rationing and political change. Wracked by social disorder, austerity and disillusion, Britain was exhausted – and it was the return of those men who had fought for their country who seemed to be a root cause of the trouble.

Demobbed is the real story of what happened when millions of ex-servicemen returned home. Most had been absent for years, and the joy of arrival was often clouded with ambivalence, regrets and fears. Returning soldiers faced both practical and psychological problems, from reasserting their place in the family home to rejoining a much-altered labour force. Civilians worried that their homecoming heroes had been barbarized by their experiences and would bring crime and violence back from the battlefield. Problem veterans preoccupied the entire country.

Alan Allport draws on their personal letters and diaries, on newspapers, reports, novels and films to illuminate the darker side of the homecoming experience for ex-servicemen, their families and society at large – a gripping tale that is in danger of being lost to national memory.

Alan Allport is a British historian whose work focuses particularly on the impact of war on society. He was born...