From One World War to Another (1919-43)

A Return to Civilian Life

The Veterans Return Home

A Canadian soldier at home, 1919

Caption: A Canadian soldier at home, 1919

The war would never be completely over for those who lived it. A number of veterans would be haunted by old physical or psychological wounds for the rest of their lives. Many of them would die prematurely, some by their own hand.

The country wanted only to forget the war and those who had fought it. Returning soldiers, who did not always understand or appreciate what was happening on the home front, often refused to talk about their experiences, whether of mass casualties or courageous deeds. At the same time, however, they would come to idealize the comradeship of the trenches and to support civic virtues. Pacifism would find a ready home with these veterans. It is not difficult to understand why. Substantial pensions - the best in the world - were among the benefits available to war widows and orphans as well as seriously disabled soldiers, and veterans' hospitals sprang up. To the other veterans, however, the Union government was anything but generous. They received a small lump sum reflecting their length of service, $35 to purchase civilian clothing and a year of free medical care.

Political leaders were haunted by deficits as the country came out of the ordeal with a mountain of debt. They declared they were opposed to encouraging dependency and lack of initiative. Veterans seeking to establish themselves as farmers, however, were granted land and low-interest loans. By 1930, half of the men choosing this option had lost everything.

Few people had foreseen what would follow the cessation of hostilities. A Presbyterian army padre, Edmund Oliver, wrote in Social Welfare in the fall of 1918 that the men returning from the front would not be satisfied with the old order: "We are blind if we do not see profound social upheavals and political adjustment ahead." 78 Oliver advocated for Canadian churches to support veterans' rights, by demanding, for example, that they be offered education and professional training.