Remembering National Service

Our passing out parade in January 1954 at 55 Training Regiment, Tonfanau, North Wales. I'm the one on the right of our seated bombardier, with my beret tilted forward.
Our passing out parade in January 1954 at 55 Training Regiment, Tonfanau, North Wales. I'm the one on the right of our seated bombardier, with my beret tilted forward.
Share this article

In the years following WWII until 1960 over a million young men were called up for National Service Most went into the Army, some into the RAF and a very few into the Navy while many more signed on for three years in order to get into a unit of their choice.

The very last N S man was in the Pay Corps who finished early in 1963.

Remembrance Sunday Parade in 1988.

Remembrance Sunday Parade in 1988.

While not suggesting that National Service was anything other than a national necessity for the years immediately after the war and that for many young men it was far from a happy time.

For those in action it could be terrifying and indeed 2,578 lost their lives in Korea, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya and the many other places where young conscripts served.

Yet most of those then callow young men, now in their seventies and eighties like me, recognise that National Service, whatever its faults, was undeniably a broadening and maturing experience which we have never forgotten and has without doubt shaped our lives and attitudes.

My basic training, like everyone else’s, was a shock to the system not least because of the diversity of young men I mixed with all so different from anyone I had previously known or would ever have been likely to meet in my parochial middle class Black Country background.

At the end of my training I was the fittest I have been in my life and was undeniably lucky to be posted to an interesting establishment close to London.

My service had many lasting effects; a vastly increased awareness of society and one’s personal responsibility within it, an added awareness of personal appearance, posture and physical fitness.

I had left school at sixteen with 5 O Levels without any intentions of further education before meeting some of the lads in whose company an amazing variety of topics were discussed in the most improbable situations. Eventually I became a teacher.

Many young men began their careers through skills learnt during National Service. For decades the majority of garage foremen and senior mechanics were ex REME (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) or RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) and the ACC (Army Catering Corps) was the starting point for many chefs.

An interesting insight into N S. Michael Caine based the accent he used in the film “Zulu” on one of his officers while serving in Korea.