More than any other group, disabled veterans symbolised the First World War's burdens. Long after the Armistice, the sight of empty sleeves tucked into pockets recalled sad memories of the war and its long drawn suffering. For the disabled themselves, as one veteran explained, the Great War 'could never be over.' Years after their demobilisation, disabled veterans bore the sufferings war inflicted. Like the bank clerk Erich Rehse, they lived with injuries that robbed independence. Both hands amputated, blind in one eye, Rehse found himself unable to hold even an umbrella. The former infantryman Albert Bayliss, gassed in France, could not sleep for his racking cough. Unemployed for thirteen months, his rent severely in arrears, Bayliss despaired. 'I am only 31,' he wrote, 'what will I be in a few years time?' Keen sportsmen became invalids unable to climb staircases. A drummer boy lost both hands. Each disabled veteran appeared to bring the war's horrors home with him.
Stark reminders of the war's sacrifices, disabled veterans also endangered the peace. No country was spared mass protests by disgruntled ex-servicemen in the immediate postwar years. Insufficient provisions for the disabled provided a rallying cry for veterans' organisations. In Britain and Germany, disabled veterans demonstrated in the streets for higher pensions and secure employment. To worried observers in Manchester as in Munich, veterans appeared disaffected, even brutalised - a constituency ripe for the picking from left or from right.
By the mid-1920s, however, the course of the veterans' movement had diverged decisively in the two countries. British veterans had become bulwarks of the established order, loyal to King and country. Their organization, the British Legion, preached an ethic of 'Service, Not Self' while the state gave only niggardly help to veterans and bereaved families. The German disabled, by contrast, had joined the Republic's most visible enemies despite the state's generous support of the veterans. In German cities, thousands of disabled veterans demonstrated to secure their rights; even the smallest towns witnessed protests. When the state failed to meet their demands, the German disabled turned to extremist politics.
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