So much historical attention is devoted to the dramatic moments of combat in the Second World War that we are inclined to forget that in an age of mass armies, the mobilisation and demobilisation of millions of young men and women was in itself an extraordinary story. A large fraction of the (predominantly male) population was taken away, put in uniform, trained to fight and kill, and then, after years of an unreal existence of bored camp life, interspersed with moments of acute drama, fear, danger and loss, unceremoniously dumped back into civilian life almost as if nothing had happened. The dead were generally honoured as fallen heroes; the living returned without memorial.
How you unravel a huge citizen army once peace has broken out is the subject matter of Alan Allport’s fascinating and disturbing account of British demobilisation in 1945 and the two years that followed. It is important to see the armed services as simply a slice of ordinary