When Johnnie came marching home

When Daddy Came Home Barry Turner & Tony Rennell Hutchinson £16.99

"There was a second knock; then a third. I opened the door and there stood a tall man with a moustache. I was immediately suspicious. I only knew of two men who had a moustache, Hitler and Charlie Chaplin. I had been told that Hitler was dead, and I knew the man in front of me wasn't Charlie Chaplin . . . My mother looked at my astonishment and said, "don't y'know 'oo it is?' "No," I replied. "It's y'daddy". I looked at him again; he looked at me. He asked me when I'd last cleaned my teeth. . ."

Take this bewildering moment of social history, multiply it by the 4,337,100 British servicemen who were demobilised between June 1945 and January 1947, and you have a picture of the British Isles in those 18 months as a land of disorientation, a nation of joltedmisfits struggling to put their lives back in order. Not all, of course, were returning to wives and children after six years of war; but for the purposes of this compilation of reminiscences, it's as if every dwelling in the land held a household from Noel Coward's film In Which We Serve, ready to spring into appropriate action when confronted by returning soldiery.

A strange homogeneity of props and behaviour prevails: everyone seems to remember the photograph of the warrior on the sideboard, kissed by the children every night, the whiskery face, the scent of the carved ornaments brought from India or Egypt, the shock of one's mother's bed being usurped by a hairy stranger, the half-crown bribe to make you disappear to the cinema, the tropical disease, the insistence on silence. . .

Childish misunderstandings are everywhere (one little girl, having seen photographs of her father only from the waist up, exclaimed, on seeing him, "But he's got legs!") along with less amusing developments, like the time Muriel Woodhead's family blew her father's demob pay on a disastrous holiday, in which a colossal electric storm so reminded her of the Blitz it rendered her catatonic with shock.

Whether you are touched by this sob 'n' smile stuff depends on the hardness of your heart. I confess to feeling at moments I might drown in gloopy sentiment, and at others (as when reading a Major Cohen's letter to his two-year-old daughter Suzette) unable to see for tears. But luckily, Turner and Rennell's ambitions extend beyond a wallow in family claspings and sunderings. Their trawl through the memories of hundreds of ex-service people and their families allows them to explore the broader arena of demobilisation, from the journey home and the standard-issue suits and shoes, to the struggle for employment, the food and housing shortages, the general air of appalled disillusion, as newly anachronistic ex-serviceman found that life after the guns and shredded companions and POW camps was tedious and petrifyingly ordinary: "Coming out of the Forces into civilian life is rather like plunging into a tepid bath," warned a popular demob guide. The authors rightly focus attention on the investigations of one Lt-Col T.F. Main, a psychiatric adviser to the Director of Military Training, who became shrink-in-chief to the demob world. Main's case histories - of, for instance, a 25-year-old Middle East veteran unable to order a drink in a bar or converse with any women other than whores - make riveting reading and put in perspective the well-meaning efforts of the "Resettlement Service" to button the stroppy, misunderstood vets into the tawdry fitments of normality.

The book's Babel of confessions put flesh on bare statistics: on the extraordinary rise in divorce, emigration (to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), and doomed government enterprise and training schemes in the months just after the War. Especially fascinating is a chapter on the role it was thought appropriate for women to play. It was assumed that both the female military and their non-combatant sisters would happily slip back into being home-makers. Instead, a tough independence supervened among those who had spent years arranging evacuations for their children and fiddling the ration books; and a curious helplessness arose among the ex-uniforms who'd for years had everything provided for them. "I HAVE GOT TO THINK FOR MYSELF NOW" one ex-Waaf remembers reminding herself. It's just one of many paradoxes of the post-war period that this vox pop survey explores, a bitter shell to surround the fondant, Daddy's-home sentimentality.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

    Caught in the web of legal imperialism

    The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
    Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

    'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

    The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
    Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards