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National Service

National Service

Last updated: 4 September 2013

Now Open - Level 3 Corridor

In 1945 Britain celebrated the end of the Second World War. However, this victory did not mean an end to Britain’s military commitments abroad. The nation faced new challenges in a rapidly changing world and to meet these the young men of Britain were called up.

National Service online exhibition

Our National Service display explores the contribution of Britain’s post-war conscripts as they moved from civilian to soldier. The experiences these young men went through, including call-up, training, drilling, polishing kit and equipment and deployment, is portrayed in the soldiers’ own words. This is contrasted with detail on the political factors that made these commitments necessary.

The exhibition is largely delivered through oral history, quotations, illustrations and photographs. Objects such as ankle boots, dubbin and a polishing brush reflect the repetitive nature of a serviceman’s tasks. The far-flung and exotic locations these men were sent to are shown with a pair of Mau Mau deerskin shorts and a native Malayan parang. A captured Malayan communist flag and a Simonov self-loading rifle demonstrate the political causes these men found themselves fighting against.

16 comments

Ray Barnes-Harman
26 February 2011, 1.32pm

My time spent in the RAMC

My time spent in the RAMC 1946 (demob stopped) 1949
a complte and utter waste of time. But I enjoyed my posting to Trieste, even though it took three days by train to get there.

paul croxson
16 March 2011, 11.19pm

Those pig-ignorant

Those pig-ignorant foul-mouthed louts who made life for recruits in the first few weeks should never have been allowed to get away with their behaviour! The National Service and regular officers deserve condemnation for permitting and in many cases encouraging it. I refused the chance of a commission since I would never have been able to condone it let alone encourage it. It was a contemptible period. Contrary to what one would have thought, the introduction of Staybrite buttons and the abolution of Blanco did NOT bring about the collapse of the British Army. From memory, I had to scrub all of my webbing on 3 separate occasions.

I served from 1954 to 1956 and apart from Basic Training it was apparent that for MOST N.S soldiers there was little enough to do apart from improving on cigarette consumption and beer drinking, not forgetting swearing.

I have not forgotten those poor chaps in Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya and Suez who extended the life of the dog-end of the Empire. All very grubby!

arthur robson
5 April 2011, 5.08pm

Personally I thoroughly

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed it, Of course as a techie it was a piece of p***. Loafing around in Singapore visiting Bangkok. Of course it was a little rough at times during basic training but nothing really hard after 1959. Unless you were a complete wimp of course. Bark was always worse than bite and in our group we stuck together and helped each other. Wouldn't have missed it for worlds. Wish they still had it.

George Smith
23 April 2011, 1.35pm

I think some blokes were a

I think some blokes were a little over-sensitive for NS really and just counted the days till demob instead of looking around at what was possible. Somebody should have explained to them that when NCOs swore at you, it was nothing personal. Just the way the army had functioned for three centuries. NS was a shock to the system certainly but a pretty valuable lesson in getting on with other people in the billet, people who came from all levels of society. The first few months were tough but once clear of the depot, I had a great time in Germany from 54 to 56 and travelled all over the place. I then went home, couldn't settle down and re-enlisted. This time, instead of the infantry, I got a trade and stayed in for 22 years, after which I opened my own garage and got a good living from it. I imagine the majority of the 2.5 million blokes who went through NS have a fairly positive view looking back after half a century.

Gregor Grant
30 April 2011, 10.40pm

N S was an opportunity which

N S was an opportunity which had to be grasped with both hands. Wanting to become a vet, I was put into the RAMC where I became a radiographer being then posted to Catterick Mil Hosp. and then out to the BMH in Fayid, Canal Zone. This was the time when the school boys became men and when you met such a diversity of people such as you would never have met but for these two years. All in all it was a superb time with only minor problems such as square bashing and kit inspections.

Russell Thomas
11 May 2011, 5.37pm

Unwillingly, and with some

Unwillingly, and with some trepidation I joined up in August 1956.
Having just graduated I believed I was "the special one" -
comprehensively eradicated by 8 weeks square bashing and "bull".
So the NCOs swore at you and taught you new and exotic words and phrases -- so what? - an Army manned by individualists is doomed to failure. Although I had some doubts about the quality of some NS officers I met, the Regular NCOs I served with were on top of their job and we would have followed our OC anywhere.

Offered the chance to join a specialist Sigs. unit I spent 18 months in BAOR, did a lot of travelling at Her Majesty's behest (and expense).
I remember the experience fondly over 50 years later and I never rose above the substantive rank of private!

Terry Jones
27 May 2011, 3.43pm

I was called up in 1959 and

I was called up in 1959 and when I went for the medical I was asked which of 2 choices of regiments I would like to be posted to. (By then the Navy or RAF were not taking NS conscripts). I had my choices well worked out, 2 cushy mobs with which to spend the obligatory 2 years. So I asked to be put in either the RAOC or REME. Imagine my shock when my call up papers came through, I was to report to the Guards Depot in Caterham where I was put in the Grenadier Guards! Funny thing was when I went for the medical/selection I had been chatting to a guy who actually wanted to go in the Guards but I never met him again in the Army so I often wondered if they got us mixed up. Still, I became very good at ironing and spit and polishing, still am!

Alan Culley
19 October 2011, 5.35pm

I was called in 1951 hoping

I was called in 1951 hoping to go to RASC Water Transport as promised at interview - wrong. Sent to be trained as clerk I became a permanent staff NCO in Aldershot - cushy really - but - we were all posted frequently to Korea and withdrawn for staffing reasons many times. The complaints of Paul Croxson don't ring true with me. It was all a good experience in mixing and an education I remember now. The army had to be ready for the Cold War and Korea at that time and 'pussy footing' around would be of no use. War is tough and wimps are of no use. What else was NS for?

Peter Smith
22 June 2012, 6.09pm

I read the comments of Paul

I read the comments of Paul Croxson some months ago and decided that I would like to offer my rather more positive view of National Service.

I had been a member of my school's Combined Cadet Force which was an advantage when it came to expressing one's preferences. I had left school at sixteen and was employed as a clerk so I was determined that I would do something quite different and applied for the Royal Armoured Corps. In due course I received a letter informing me that I was to report to the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards at Catterick! It should be explained that at that time (1955) tank and cavalry regiments took it in turns to be training regiments for the RAC as a whole.

I quite enjoyed my basic training and whilst there was a lot of shouting, I don't remember any of the NCOs who had charge of us being "foul-mouthed louts". In reality there were only two of them, a Sergeant and a Lance Corporal who had a tiny room at the end of the barrack block. In a photograph I have, I see that there is another Sergeant and a Second Lieutenant but they had little to do with my particular squad. Near the end of the six-week period we were all taken to a country pub by our sergeant where we enjoyed a pleasant, convivial drink together. To my mind, a very English thing to do! At about the same time, I was interviewed by two officers who were to determine whether I should undergo further training in the "P.O." Wing (Potential Officers) or undergo trade-training with the majority of recruits. (Driving, Gunnery or Wireless Operating.) In the event, I was to go to the P.O.Wing having, I would like to record for posterity, only three "O" levels at that time. The regime was vigorous and the beds often not slept in as it was easier to keep them ready for inspection complete with a board underneath the blanket covering the mattress to keep it nicely squared off! Thus, we slept on the bare boards of the floor. At the end of what must have been another six weeks, I was not considered for Mons Officer Cadet School and had to kick my heels stoking a coke furnace before I could join my regiment. (With hind-sight, that was a decision that I heartily agree with! I was a very naive youth.) Here again, I had a choice by virtue of the fact that I was a "P.O".(still). Even at the age of eighteen I could see the advantage of regimental county links and so I opted for 3rd The King's Own Hussars in Germany as their equivalent TA Regiment was the North Somerset Yeomanry and I hailed from that side of Bristol closest to Somerset!

I became both a gunner and wireless operator and was classified as a signaller/gunner. I regret even now that I was not allowed to train as a driver as well! I did have a go but ignominiously stalled the Centurion.
I was also robbed of my place in history as our 1956 Suez adventure was curtailed by American pressure before the 3rd Hussars could get there! We were to have gone by train, with the tanks on low-loaders, to Marseilles and thence by sea to Egypt. It sounds a bit far fetched but I'm sure that I didn't dream that.

With only three months to go I was seconded to No.38 Army Education Centre in Iserlohn where I was often in sole charge of the library that served the garrison. It was here too, that I discovered the Anglo-German Club and a wonderful social life. All the other members of the centre staff were at least sergeants (then the lowest rank in the RAEC) and all were teachers or aspiring teachers. And here the seed was sown! It took me eight years but I then entered a College of Education in Cheltenham, having improved on my three "O" levels in the interim, and four years later I gained an honours degree from Bristol University and embarked upon a teaching career. Thanks to the army and National Service!

victor matthews
7 August 2012, 5.39pm

i would be interested in

i would be interested in adding my twopeneth to this having served in germany 1953 to 54 in the reaps and on the german railway

Kenneth Collins
13 April 2013, 9.08pm

It now seems a lifetime away

It now seems a lifetime away and of course it is. I thought that if I liked National Service I would sign on and become a regular soldier but all thoughts of that vanished after the first week. It was then I encountered gross unfairness from a training NCO. I joined up Jan 20th 1949. The second morning the orderly NCO forgot to wake our hut so we were late on parade. January cold,. hut col, equipment new, gaiters stiff, fingers cold. So I was the last out of the door and therefore the last to "fall in" NCO charged me for being late on parade (as was the whole platoon) but I was last. Whole platoon was given weekend leave but I was on 5 days CB.

For being last out of a freezing hut, last out of the whole group I was left cleaning sergeants' mess lavatories. The NCO's words when charging me were "I've got to charge someone so it may as well be you." That offended my sense of fair play and I loaded all my hate onto the army and it's personnel and so the rest of my time was spent waiting for demob and in the meantime I was disruptive and was deliberately a member of the awkward squad. I added 252 to my army number as I was on so many of them. Despite that I ended my army "career" as Sergeant and I wonder what poor soul cleaned the lavatory after my use.

Jim Lawes
28 June 2013, 10.45pm

I did my NS in the RAMC and

I did my NS in the RAMC and enjoyed every minute of it. I was posted to Austria where I worked as a OTT at BMH Lendorf and spent 2 happy years working with Capt King the theatre sister.

john kilby
10 November 2013, 11.38pm

I was drafted (called up) in

I was drafted (called up) in 1953 - August 20 to be exact - received my queens shilling, and infomed to get a hair cut!!I Arrived at the barracks of the 1st Bn Royal Hampshire Regt in Winchester, signed in, and was walking to my assigned barracks, when a loud voice barked at me: "You, yes you with the long hair - on the double to the barbers shop for a hair cut - mooove it!" My introduction to the British army - no hot water to shave with - a single trough of COLD water for about 20 of us. I had attended boarding school, so was prepared for a lot of the stuff we endured. Eventually arrived in Malaya in April 1954 - train to Kuala Lumpur - overnight, next day trucks to Bentong in central Malaya - it took about 2-3 hours in those days - quite isolated - heavy jungle on both sides of the road - it was a great experience for an 18 year old boy - exciting really - good bunch of guys - still stay in touch with a few of them - no bull**** in the jungle - my platoon had our first encounter with the communists within 3 weeks of our arrival - messy business - long patrols, etc, etc. Would not have missed it. Take care of yourselves. John

john Roberts
10 December 2013, 11.06pm

I. Did. My. N/s with the. R a

I. Did. My. N/s with the. R a s c. From. June1956 to June 1958 I should. In. If I wast. 18iwould. Go. Back. In i. Did time. At. 70 company. Houndslow. And I like. It. John. Roberts. From. Liverpool.

Aalan Greaves
22 January 2014, 5.30pm

I served with the RAF from

I served with the RAF from 30/10/1950 to 30/10/1952. I was trained as a Wireless Operator, which determined my future career in telecommunications engineering and I spent 18 months with 82PR Squadron flying around what was then British Africa in Lancasters and Dakotas. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Bill Sykes
3 March 2014, 10.15pm

On completion of my my

On completion of my my apprenticeship I was part of the Nov 1959 draft to arrive at Blandford Camp. The REME training platoon consisted,as far as I can remember, of lads over 21. Basic training came as quite a shock and hard, mainly as a result of a foul mouthed individual who had only one brain cell to match his stripe , and that was deformed. However after the six weeks training and a week at Arborfield, six of us arrived in Germany in LADs attached to different units. From this time on life got progressively better and although there was a eagerness to get demobbed and start living our own lives, on meeting up to return to UK at the end of our time, we agreed we were glad it was over but had enjoyed the experience. Still I press trousers, polish boots/shoes, clean and mend to the Army training. The LAD to which I was attached had a Capt Tanton who had risen through the ranks and was firm but fair and encouraged further education and travel and did all he could to facilitate both these areas. I owe him a lot. No regrets, an experience I feel many youngsters of today would benefit.

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