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‘Man not to be informed’: Disabled ex-servicemen, family breakdown and the State

The Men, Women and Care Project Team, University of Leeds

Alexia Moncrieff is a Research Fellow on the ERC-funded Men, Women and Care Project in the School of History at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on the ‘Overseas’ subsection of the PIN 26 (Ministry of Pensions) files in order to assess the effects of distance on the provision of medical and social care to disabled British ex-servicemen of the First World War. Her doctoral thesis, undertaken at the University of Adelaide, examined the Australian Army Medical Corps and its provision of medical care to Australian soldiers in the First World War.

The reintegration into family life of disabled ex-servicemen returning home after the First World War was a difficult process for many families. In some cases domestic life was permanently ruptured. Whether as a result or a cause of family breakdown, the post-war migration of some of these men to the peripheries of empire, and occasionally to the rest of the world, introduced distance as another factor in the private lives of Britons. In these situations both the men and their wives turned to the Ministry of Pensions for assistance. One woman sought the Ministry’s help in locating the husband who had abandoned her, another requested financial assistance having left her husband, in both cases the disabled ex-servicemen tried to ensure they themselves would receive their pensions, not their estranged wives.

Using source material from the ‘Overseas’ subsection of the PIN 26 files, this paper discusses examples of family breakdown and examines the institutional responses to the ensuing requests for assistance made by both disabled ex-servicemen and their estranged wives. It demonstrates the willingness of the State to intervene in the private lives of its citizens and argues that the State’s responses constitute a form of paternalistic care for its citizens and represent nascent ideas of the welfare state.