The official and unofficial treatment of war widows and disabled ex-service personnel in Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland 1900-2000

Smith, Stuart W. R. (2020) The official and unofficial treatment of war widows and disabled ex-service personnel in Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland 1900-2000. (MPhil thesis), Kingston University, .


Research into the public’s perception of the armed forces has been limited particularly because it is generally perceived that people do, and always would, support their military; though not always its use. Why would the public not support those employed in its Army, Navy and Air Force to protect society’s citizens? We look upon the military institutions as essential to protect and uphold the values that bind our society together. This dissertation questions this perception by focusing on the post-conflict treatment of the widows and military disabled; challenging the belief, through a series of individual, though interlinked, comparative case studies, as to whether the public perception and treatment of military families prior to conflict matches their post conflict treatment. The individual case studies challenge the accepted view that the State honours and maintains the families of those who have died in conflict. Almost every 20th Century conflict has been academically evaluated and scrutinised in minute detail emphasising the role played by the combatants but almost always ignores the impact of the widowed or disabled. The failure to examine how these military engagements affected society through the widowed and the disabled leaves an open void in any true historical analysis of post conflict Britain. This is particularly relevant to the perceived role of women during any conflict and their subsequent treatment in the aftermath. Men and women volunteer their lives in times of crises but are then often neglected in the aftermath as exemplified by the treatment of more than one million widows who lost their husbands either during World War One (WW1) or in the early years thereafter. This work also questions whether military widows and disabled are considered valued members of society or does society quickly try to financially forget those who are now bereaved or injured? While Governments openly offers sympathy to the bereaved, it is questionable how much physical and financial support is given to widows or those who return permanently injured and whether society recognises how it ignores those who have suffered. Three examples are used to explain why the proposition is made that society does not support its military combatants once they have returned home nor support the wives and partners of those that have died beyond their very basic needs.

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