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Reference SA/TIH/B/2/1/2
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Level Series
Extent 2 boxes
Title Civil Resettlement Units (CRU)
Date 1942-1947
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Description Civil Resettlement Units, or CRUs, were a scheme created during World War II to help British Army servicemen who had been prisoners of war (POWs) to return to civilian life, and to help their families and communities to adjust to having them back.

In September 1943, Lieutenant General Sir Alexander Hood hosted an Army meeting at the Directorate of Army Psychiatry to discuss the repatriation of POWs, at which it was decided that British Army psychiatrists should investigate what difficulties Prisoners of War (POW) might experience on their return home, and how these difficulties might be dealt with. Work on rehabilitating POWs was headed by a group who called themselves the "Invisible College" and who formed the Tavistock Institute after the war.

POWs experiencing the most apparently severe difficulties on repatriation were treated at military psychiatric hospitals such as Northfield Military Hospital. Psychiatrists Major Whiles and Alfred Torrie noted that patients were often "markedly resentful of everyone and everything." Psychiatrists suggested that these feelings could lead to civil unrest after the war if experienced by the significant number of POWs who would be returning.

Psychiatrist Major Wilfred Bion and psychologist Lieutenant Colonel Eric Trist conducted work at No. 21 War Office Selection Board (WOSB), Selsdon Court Hotel, Surrey where they attempted to adapt officer selection methods to the purpose of selecting POWs who might be capable of returning to active service. The "officer reception unit" was intended to "provide them with advice on military retraining and re-employment, and on other problems."

At No. 1 RAMC Depot at Boyce Barracks in Crookham, psychiatrist Major A. T. M. "Tommy" Wilson headed an experimental programme to rehabilitate repatriated medical personnel. The experiment ran from November 1943 to February 1944, and involved 1200 POWs undergoing a four-week programme of rehabilitation and training. POW problems included low morale, absenteeism, high levels of sickness, and psychological disturbance. Conclusions from the experiment were published in a memorandum titled "The Prisoner of War Comes Home". This document argued that most POWs were not mentally ill but were maladjusted, and required support on their return home.

In February 1944, the War Office agreed to establish a voluntary scheme to help POWs return to Britain based upon the Army psychiatrists' work. This scheme was announced in the House of Lords in July 1944. In November 1944, a pilot unit called No. 10 Special Reception and Training Unit (SRTU) was set up in Derby. Wilson was selected to head this Unit as opposed to Bion, who expressed his dismay in a letter to fellow psychiatrist John Rickman. Bion believed that the psychological principles underpinning the CRUs, which built on his earlier work at Northfield, were underdeveloped and needed further refinement. However, the first group of POWs were imminently due to return to Britain from Germany, which is likely why Wilson was selected to lead the SRTU.

The SRTU pilot indicated to the Army psychiatrists that some changes were required before a scheme could be created on a larger scale. The "hutted camp" was too similar to a stalag, so more luxurious accommodation should be provided in future, and the proposed six weeks was deemed too long and so cut to four weeks. Lectures were not very popular, but visits to workshops proved unexpectedly popular, so the team built connections with the Ministry of Labour to facilitate work placements and visits. Food was a particular concern of POWs, so it was table service was provided rather than having men queue.

In March 1945, the War Office agreed for 20 Civil Resettlement Units to be created. In the spring of 1945, the CRU organisers made frantic preparations for the first large wave of POWs returning from Germany. They secured Hatfield House as CRU Headquarters and No. 1 CRU, and other country houses across Britain were adapted for use as CRUs so that men could attend a Unit close to where they lived.

Each unit had a Commanding Officer and Second-in-Commmand (who were military men), a Medical Officer (usually a psychiatrist, though often this was not acknowledged to the participants attending), Vocational Officer, Ministry of Labour Liaison and a Civil Liaison Officer (a social worker, usually a woman, trained in psychological methods).

A large proportion of the other CRU staff were Auxiliary Territorial Service staff: POWs might not have interacted with women for years, so these women staff were intended to help repatriates become more comfortable in mixed company as well as to facilitate the running of CRUs.

The team at No. 1 CRU, the CRU Headquarters, consisted of Tommy Wilson as the head psychiatrist and Medical Officer, Colonel Richard Meadows Rendel as Commanding Officer, psychologists Eric Trist and Isabel Menzies Lyth, mathematician Harold Bridger, and military officers Ian Dawson and Dick Braund.

A "syndicate" of 60 volunteers (in four batches of 15) arrived each week at the CRU. They listened to introductory talks from the Commanding Officer and Medical Officer. After this, the programme was entirely voluntary except for an interview when a participant left the CRU. Participants had the opportunity to attend workshops, visit nearby workplaces or have work-experience placements. They were able to attend group discussions, meet with the Vocational Officer to talk about careers, and meet with the Civil Liaison Officer to talk about social or relationship concerns. Whist drives and dances were held at the CRUs, bringing the local civilian population to the Unit with the intention of helping civilians and repatriated POWs to interact and adjust to one another. Men were not required to wear their military uniforms except for the pay parade when they were given their salaries.

To inform POWs about the scheme as early as possible, information was distributed through the British Red Cross and the officers of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, who had access to POWs whilst they were still in prisoner of war camps.

A leaflet called "Settling Down on Civvy Street" was issued to POWs after they had been back in Britain for a week or two. This timing was intended to catch their attention when the initial excitement of repatriation had subsided and POWs might begin to experience some frustration or have questions.

All of those who attended the CRUs were volunteers. Those from the earlier studies were compelled by the Army to attend, but were due for discharge or release on completion of their course.

With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the War Office planned for CRUs to accept only Far East prisoners of war (FEPOWs), based on the assumption that the CRUs would not be able to manage the combined number of POWs from Europe and the Far East and that the FEPOWs were more in need of the service. Wilson and Rendel felt that European POWs should not be denied the opportunity to attend, and went to lengths to expand the programme where possible and make space for both groups. Rendel and Wilson were removed from heading the programme as a result. By the end of March 1947, more than 19,000 European POWs and 4,500 FEPOWs had attended a CRU.

The principles and some of the methods devised for the CRUs were later adapted and applied to European civilian refugees displaced by war.

The work conducted at the CRUs contributed to the development of the concept and methods of therapeutic communities. Many of the staff of No. 1 CRU had worked on WOSBs, and their collaborative work on these two schemes resulted in them coming together after the war to establish the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in 1947.

More information on CRUs is available on the Wikipedia page, "Civil Resettlement Units".

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Access Status Open
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System No. 455cf678-113f-44ee-b87f-5517a06f61a6

Associated person entries (click number link for details):


Adam; Sir; Ronald (1885-1892)


Bion; Wilfred (1897-1979)


Braund; Dick


Bridger; Harold


Dawson; Ian


Delahaye; James Viner (1890-1948)


Menzies Lyth; Isabel (1917–2008)


Murray; Hugh (1919-?)


Rees; John Rawlings (1890--1969)


Rendel; Richard Meadows (1887-1966)


Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR); 1946-present


Trist; Eric Lansdown (1909-1993)


Wilson; Tommy (1906-1978)