Long read

Demobilisation Papers

What are Army Demobilisation papers?

These are the papers that every soldier was issued after they were demobilised (taken out of active service) at the end of the war. The papers were issued in a folder, to keep them together. The folder housing the documents has an Army Form ‘Z’ number of its own, and is labelled ‘Cover for Certificates and Other Documents of a Soldier on Demobilisation, Transfer to the Reserve, or Discharge’.

You may find these papers among your family documents:

- Soldier’s Demobilisation Account (Army Form W.5065)

- Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity (Army Form Z.11)

- Certificate of Employment during the War (Army Form Z.18)

- Certificate of Discharge/Transfer to Reserve/Disembodiment/Demobilisation (Army Form Z.21)

What was the purpose of the papers?

The papers were designed to achieve several things:

- An orderly departure from the army, with all pay, issued kit and allowances settled

- Provide an Identity Certificate (civilians already had a card)

- Provide a basic reference to help them find employment, including mention of any gallantry awards and skills/trades held previously or learnt in the service

- Establish domestic contact details for the ex-serviceman, in case he was required to ‘re-join’ in ‘case of emergency’.

Who would have owned these papers?

Any soldier who was still serving at the end of the war would have received these papers. The paperwork for demobilising officers was different, as they had to resign a King’s Commission. They had also bought much of their own kit and equipment, albeit with a government grant, so settling accounts was more involved.

Demobilisation Account (Army Form W. 5065)

The purpose of this form was to settle the financial account of the soldier. It detailed any earnings and payments due, minus any debts at the point of demobilisation.

The example here belonged to Harry Clifford King, a gunner.  You can see that the Army was paying him an allowance for buying ‘plain clothes’ – after the Second World War it provided ‘civvy’ clothing in kind, typically as a new ‘demob suit’, but in 1919 it was paid in money, and new clothing could be hard to find.  Most men would need new clothes, with younger working class men especially gaining in height and girth during their war service, a benefit of regular meals and exercise.  

Many soldiers decided to accept a £1 deduction in their ‘war gratuity’ so they could keep their military greatcoats as they were made of good quality material.

Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity (Army Form Z.11)

Many soldiers were destined for unemployment after demobillisation and this form was particularly important for them as it would prove their identity when collecting Unemployment Benefit. 

You can see that Gunner King is also given a ‘place of rejoining in an emergency’.  There was initially concern that Germany had signed only an armistice, and might yet resist the Allied troops who moved to occupy border areas of Germany.  This concern had faded by the time Gunner King received this form (August 1919), as troops were in place and in July 1919 Germany had signed the Peace Treaty of Versailles.

Certificate of Employment during the War (Army Form Z.18)

This form contains information about a soldier’s profession before and during the war. In this example, before his military service King was working as a clerk.  However, the army put him in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and gave him military training as Gunner.  The form also acknowledges that it had used him as an Officers’ Servant – perhaps a more useful skill when looking for civil employment!

Certificate of Discharge/Transfer to Reserve/Disembodiment/ Demobilisation (Army Form Z.21)

This document shows the soldier’s medical category – Gunner King is fortunate to still be the highest medical grade (A1) as he is returned to civilian life; often men who were A1 at enlistment had been downgraded by the end of their service, a result of wounds or sickness.  As was typical, we can see from this form that because King is classed as still a fit man, the Army is moving King to a Class ‘Z’ Reserve, where he would be obliged to return to the Army if called.

Epsom and Ewell history explorer is a good source if you are interested in finding out more about the medical classifications as they were in 1914.

More detailed medical categories had evolved by the Second World War – the 1914 scales are focussed purely on physical attributes and ability, whereas later ones also considered intellectual and social capability and capacity. This allowed for early direction towards appropriate roles and training.

The demobilisation process

Demobilisation was not usually accompanied by a complete discharge. An obligation for re-call remained, with many soldiers like Gunner King, transferred to a reserve (usually ‘Class Z’). Until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 there was only an armistice, not a peace agreement (and certainly not a surrender – German forces had returned within their national frontiers, but had not been disarmed). There was always a slight chance of resistance.

The War Office had not wanted to release men until the Peace Treaty was signed, but such was the unrest of men anxious to return to civilian employment (together with a shortage in key industries needed for economic recovery, especially coal-mining) that release in batches began as early as January 1919.

Not all soldiers wanted to leave the Forces, or quickly realised they could not return to their former job. It may not be remembered now by a family, but some may have re-enlisted, if only for a short-time, opening up the opportunity for new records.

Useful websites and books for further research

Website sources

The Long, Long Trail
General introduction – illustrates the main forms and explains the process.

Books

Copies of all these books can be freely consulted from open shelves at the Explore History Centre at IWM London.

The British Soldier of the First World War by Peter Doyle
(Shire Publications, Oxford, 2010)
Contains chapter on demobilisation.

Tommy’s War – British Military Memorabilia 19141918 by Peter Doyle
(The Crowood Press Ltd, Marlborough, Wiltshire, 2008)
Illustrates the papers and describes the process in Chapter 6 – Aftermath.