It is in my own opinion, that I think all ex-national Servicemen have been shabbily treated, since conscription was abolished. Not one mention of gratitude from successive governments was forthcoming. It is 74 years ago, since due to the second World war that an act of parliament brought national service into being. At that perilous time, it was a just act and for that there is no argument. When victory came in 1945 a new parliament act was brought in making all able bodied male, liable for conscription into one of the services. If one did not have a trade they went in the forces at 18 years of age. The men who had an apprenticeship or went to University were called up when they had finished their learning etc. Usually their ages on conscription were 21 or 22 years old, but the odd one escaped the net through faking medical problems etc.
Due to the Korean War, where many National servicemen served, the length of service was increased from 18 months to 2 years. One must remember, they were not volunteers like the regular army. The national servicemen served and fought shoulder to shoulder with the regular servicemen throughout the world, until call up was abolished in late 1960. Most of the last National servicemen were demobbed in 1962 There were some of the late call up men, that had to serve an extra six months, if they were stationed in Germany and were therefore demobbed early 1963. I believe it broke a few hearts, when they learned that they had to serve an extra 6 months as one can imagine. For all National Servicemen to be called up, to serve 2 years in what was termed the best years of their lives. One has to remember the pay in the forces for a National serviceman was in present day money £1.50 pence, a complete pittance. Can anyone imagine the youngsters of today, enduring that weekly wage for two years? I am not going into all the ins and outs of time served in the forces, because national service turned boys into men and made them stand on their own two feet and be counted.
The brave men who fought in Burma during WW2 were once called the forgotten army. I believe National Servicemen have been put in that category by successive governments. The youngest of these ex-servicemen are now over 72 years of age and as you are aware in the twilight of their lives. Surely it is not too late for a government to say some form of thank you, for what you all did so long ago.
It is possible our paths might have crossed
On reading your Blog brought so many happy memories flooding back to me of my National Service years.
“I went in as a boy and come out as a man.”
I was educated at Johnston Grammar School Durham City. Not long after completing my education I was called up for National Service. About three weeks after having my medical. I received a letter that I had been called up to serve in the Durham Light Infantry. I had to report to the D.L.I. training depot at Brancepath Camp on the 7th July 1955to begin my training (square bashing)
The camp at Brancepath was not far from Durham City so I didn’t have far to go. From now on until demob my Army number was 23152900. A few lads like me were 18 years of age, but always to the fore in sport, I was in a fit condition. Being in this condition no doubt benefited me throughout the hard training; everything is at a quick pace in the Light infantry as you know.
On completing my basic training, I was promoted to L/Corporal and sent on an AC/I course at Bernicle Barracks in Scarborough. Three weeks later I was promoted to Sergeant and sent to the Physical Training Corps in Aldershot.
I was quite pleased in myself being only 18 years old and also being the first National Serviceman to be enrolled in the A.P.T.C.
Four months later I was posted to the Infantry Boys Battalion, Plummer Barracks, Plymouth. This is where I served for the duration of my National Service, being demobbed on 3rd July 1957. Incidentally my CSM was Alec Forbes
After demob I enrolled and studied for 2 years a Bede College Durham, (Malcolm Fox was in my Year group,) I then did an Honours year at Loughborough. Then finally MSc course in exercise physiology at Leeds University. I ended up as Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.
Incidentally the old Durham light Infantry Training Camp was turned into an open cast coal mine in the early 1960’s. Once the coal was finally extracted, the land was levelled, grassed over and turned into its original state of farm land.
Best wishes to all my friends and fellow ex-servicemen.
One Time Sgt Jim Harris APTC
At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, Barrow-in-Furness a working class town in North West England had a population in the region of 68,000. Many generations of men and women worked in the main industries of Shipbuilding and Engineering works of Vickers –Armstrong, the Barrow Steelworks and of course the Barrow Docks. Due to the involvement in the rearmament work it was obvious to all in the town, we would be a target for enemy bombing and that proved to be the case in 1941
When war was declared in 1939 the defence of the town and Air raid precautions were set in place. Air Raid Shelters were built to cater for all inhabitants of the Town. On my own side of the street, there were 7 shelters built on the back side of the street, for housing the 28 families. The shelters were divided into two sections with a small steel door dividing the shelter. Usually three families were designated either side of the shelter. Each shelter had three bunk beds fitted. Every able bodied man who worked in the industries had a job to do, whether it was an Air raid warden, Fire watcher, Ambulance Driver, Firemen, Nursing or being in the Home Guard. Anti-Aircraft guns, barrage balloons, Sirens and smoke screens were set up in various areas of the town and rehearsals for what was eventually coming were constant. One has also to remember many of the able bodied men not associated with the rearmament, were called up into the services.
During the early days of 1941 Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) broadcast from Berlin to British listeners, that Barrow-in-Furness had not been forgotten. We were certainly not forgotten. The Blitz on Barrow-in Furness was not long, but came on the nights of 14th to 16th of April and 3rd to 10th May. In that short time over 100 houses were destroyed and 500 more later had to be demolished. The shipyard was bombed, one notable direct hit was the big crane with both firewatchers killed who were on it at the time. Barrow Railway station got a direct hit. The Copper Nob which is now housed in York was situated on a plinth on the approach to the station and was damaged. If one visits the York Railway museum you can still see the shrapnel marks on the Copper Nob. The houses surrounding the Industries took the bulk of the bombing.
There were Eighty three killed and over three hundred injured during the blitz on Barrow-in-Furness. Compared with the big cities we got off lightly but one death is a big price to pay. My Father was an Electrician by day and his duty was a Fire Watcher at night on Walney Island promenade. He told me the first bombs he heard dropped went into the sandy mud between Walney Island and the Shipyard. He said he just heard plop, plop and plop. The unexploded bombs will still be well down in the muddy sand this present day. Incidentally I still have my Father’s steel helmet. The people of Barrow-in-Furness and surrounding areas did what the nation asked of them. Hopefully the many future generations of Barrovians will look back with pride in what their fore fathers and mothers did during the Blitz. I was seven years of age when Victory came in 1945 and it is only when one gets older and much wiser. That I am proud to say, it was a privilege in my life, that I was amongst honest, brave and hardworking people of my home town of Barrow-in Furness, all those years ago.
It s been a while since I posted about the book but for new readers to the blog but I wrote a book available for the Kindle about my National Service experiences :
Get In Get Out and Get Away. This may sound strange but not for your uncles, brothers, fathers or grandads. They knew from an early age that one day they would be called up to do their two years National Service. I am sure the countless millions of ex-National Servicemen will have many things in common in these memoirs, hopefully they are happy ones. I was born in a small terraced house on Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, England in 1938. In that era, the toilet was outside and the bath which was made of tin was kept in the backyard and brought into the house when needed. Whilst growing up, the cloud above one’s head of having to do National Service got closer and closer. I knew older lads who were getting called up on a regular basis. I was twenty one years old and had just finished my apprenticeship in 1960 when it was my turn. This was the last year of National Servicemen being called up for the services. I served my two years National Service in the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment reporting to Fulwood Barracks, Preston. For ten weeks, the drill instructors shaped the platoon from a rag tag outfit to smart soldiers. From Fulwood the platoon was sent to Barnard Castle, County Durham and later to the British Cameroons, West Africa for ten months. The regiment was chosen to keep the peace and oversee a vote on the Cameroons future. There was a terrorist organisation on the French border that was intent on disrupting the process and the memoirs include numerous encounters and an eventful raid on a terrorist camp. This true story is mixed with amusing anecdotes of growing up in post War Britain through the swinging sixties. I was given an eye opener in life then and I am sure when you read my detailed account, you will agree, and also see the parallels to the modern day operations undertaken by the American, British and United Nations military. It is all history now but it has been a privilege on behalf of my fellow countrymen to put it all down on paper. We all had one thing in common, that was to Get In Get Out and Get Away.
Click this link to view or buy Get in Get Out and Get Away on Amazon or buy the US Version click here
Details on www.getingetoutandgetaway.co.uk or it can be purchased on Amazon
My name is John Giles, on the 20th of February 1947 I was called up to start my national service at the Howe Barracks in Canterbury. It was here I undertook six weeks square bashing and bulling. I was then thought to be officer material and I was posted on to Buller Barracks at Aldershot to be a potential OR1 or possible officer. The training and studies were hard, but I got through it. I was selected to report to Chester and be interviewed by a War Office Selection Board. I was much too young and my father was not a General. As you can guess I was not selected and I was passed onto the R.A.S.C at Aldershot and sent for further training at Blackdown Camp in Camberley.
At the time no one of authority seemed to know what to do with myself and a few others who had failed the officer selection. Eventually I was shipped out to Port Said Egypt on the SS Franconia and onto the RASC School at Gebel Maryam. Later with a detachment I was sent onto Kabrit. We were there to guard German Prisoner s that had been rounded up after absconding and living with the local good time girls. They were all later shipped off to European POW camps. The Camp at Kabrit I later found out became an S.A.S training camp. I was now a Sergeant and was posted to Salonika in Greece. I was on detachment to the Salonika interrogation Centre, as a Sergeant Chief Clerk. I was billeted in a lovely three storey house by the sea. The house had been owned by a Jewish family who had fled when the Germans invaded Greece. I have often wondered what happened to that family and always hoping they reached safety. As you are aware this was a good posting, the area is known as Thessaloniki now.
As my Two years national service was coming to an end, I was shipped home on the Eastern Prince This converted troop ship had sustained a lot of damage during the war, but was refitted back into service. The ship was later named the Empire Medway. I was like all national servicemen looking forward to demob and getting on with my life. It was quite strange after demob, all my social like friends had moved on. I felt very uneasy and it was difficult to settle down and eventually I resigned my job in a bank. This turned out to be the best thing I ever did. I met Shirley who became my wife and we had fifty beautiful years together, before she died three years ago. Losing her was a big loss as you will understand, but nothing can douse the memories of our life together. Mine and Shirley’s legacy lives on in our two great children and our four lovely grandchildren.
I am now 84 years of age and still in good health, I don’t believe in wasting what time I have left, because as you know life goes on.
Good luck and best wishes to you all
S/19136378 John Giles
On the 26th June 2013 was the 71st anniversary of the first National Serviceman to be called up in 1939. His name was Rupert Alexander and he was conscripted into the Middlesex Regiment with his army number being10000001. Rupert was the first of the many young men who served their country with distinction. The sad part of it all, thousands of these conscripted young men, lost their lives in the service of their country.
At the outbreak of war, on 3rd September 1939, the Government brought in the National Service Act. This act imposed an order to conscript of men 18 to 41 years old. Obviously some men could be rejected for medical reasons also men who were engaged in vital industrial work were put on reserved occupation. Some young men were directed to work down the coal mines these were called Bevin Boys. Conscientious objectors had to justify their action to a tribunal, who had the power to allocate the applicants to one of three categories: unconditional exemption; exemption conditional upon performing specified civilian work like farming and forestry service some conscientious objectors were put in Non-Combatant Corps or in some other non-combatant unit such as the Royal Army Medical Corps. Where I lived conscientious objectors manned the smoke screens along a beach road. One has to remember families lost fathers and sons during the war. Consequently at that time people had no respect for the objectors and they were always called Conchies. Eventually by early 1940 all British subjects between 18 to 51 years old, as well as all females 20 to 30 years old resident in Britain, were liable to be called up. Only a few categories were exempted: Those days the British people were genuinely in it together
Men under 20 years old were initially not liable to be sent overseas, but this exemption was lifted by 1942. Men called up before they were 51 years old, but reached their 51st birthday during their service were liable to serve until the end of the war. People who had retired, resigned or had been dismissed from the forces before the war were liable to be called back into service if they had not reached 51 years of age. Britain did not completely demobilise after the war ended in1945. The conscription continued after the war because the men who had served in the forces during the war were given release dates determined by length of service Obviously military strength had to be kept and National Service was continued. National Service continued as a peacetime conscription was formulated by the National Service Act 1948. From 1st January 1949, healthy males 17 to 21 years old were expected to serve in the Armed Forces and this continued until 1960 when the last National Servicemen were conscripted (called up).
I personally was called up in February 1960, twenty one years after Rupert Alexander. History will recall Great Britain was rich with young men who were rallied to the call when their country was in need both at home and abroad. Alongside the regular services they served in many conflicts around the world. The National Servicemen did not get full recognition or credit by successive governments, for the part they played in the service of their country, all those years ago.
In 1952, an uprising against colonial rule in Kenya started and it lasted for eight years. Kenya at the time was planned to be an independent country and no doubt this uprising hastened Kenya’s independence. The Kikuyu tribal people had many grievances and were the main rebel opposition they went under the name of Mau Mau. During this uprising over 1,800 African civilians were killed, 200 British police and army soldiers were also killed. The number of Mau Mau during those eight years was put at 20,000. Although the revolt was directed against British colonial forces and the white settler community, much of the violence took place between rebel and loyalist Africans.
The uprising, which involved mainly Kikuyu people, who were the largest ethnic group in the colony, began to take shape when more radical Kikuyu militants were invited in to the nationalist KAU (Kenya African Union). Called Muhimu, these activists replaced a more moderate, constitutional agenda with a militant one. The Muhimu began widespread Kikuyu oathing, often through intimidation and threats. Traditional oathing ceremonies were believed to bind people to the cause, with the consequence of death resulting if one broke these oaths. The British responded with de-oathing ceremonies. Additionally, the Muhimu attacked loyalists and white settlers.
The war against the Mau Mau officially began in October 1952 when an emergency was declared and British troops were sent to Kenya. The British response to the uprising entailed massive round-ups of suspected Mau Mau and supporters, with large numbers of convicted rebels hanged and up to 150,000 Kikuyu held in detention camps. Large numbers of the Mau Mau rebels based themselves in the forests areas of Mount Kenya and Aberdares. There were also rebel militants in all the major cities of Kenya such as Nairobi and Mombasa.
One story that tells the full horror of this war is the Lari massacre of March 1953. Lari was an area populated by Kikuyu who had refused to take the Mau Mau oath and so were then regarded as traitors. The Mau Mau descended upon this peaceful community with vengeance. Many were slashed to death, some were burned alive in their huts; many were maimed for life. Pregnant women were disemboweled, children were murdered. The massacre claimed 120 lives. The bitter memories of the event still divide the Lari area at this present day. It is one of many reasons why post-independence Kenya refused to recognise Mau Mau claims on ancestral lands and banned it as an organisation. This Massacre at Lari was a turning point in the uprising, where many Kikuyu were forced to choose sides in this resistance struggle.
Sadly the most famous victims of the Mau Mau were the white settler Ruck family; they lived in the Rift Valley just north of Nairobi. In January 1953, Mau Mau fighters stormed their remote farm house, and hacked to death Roger and Esmee Ruck and their six-year-old son, Michael. The images of bloodied teddy bears and broken toy trains were strewn across Michael’s bedroom floor. All this inflamed British opinion, but the murder of a white settler family was actually very rare during the uprising: The Mau Mau preferred to kill Africans and indeed they did.
The Mau Mau had a big problem when the British Army were called in and by 1957 through their expertise and endeavor broke and beat the Mau Mau terrorist forest armies. In 1960 the emergency was declared over. Over the next few years following the rebellion the British Government introduced and implemented reforms. In the year 1963 Kenya received its independence from Great Britain. The first president of Kenya was Jomo Kenyatta
Now fifty three years later the British Government has announced that Kenyans abused by British colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s will receive compensation totaling £20 million and furthermore regrets any injustices. What a load of wets this government is becoming. Obviously people suffer during uprisings and no doubt innocent people get caught up in the turmoil, but it is always the British who are made the villains. The British army sorted the problem out and brought about peace to Kenya which in turn made it a strong country as it is today. One has to remember, the British Army are well trained and they don’t mess about with people who commit atrocities. None of the Mau Mau leaders have been prosecuted for the horrific torture and murders it inflicted on their own fellow Kenyans, but nobody looks at that.
I nearly missed this out what I have wrote about the Mau Mau troubles . The President of the U.S.A. Barak Obama’s grandad Onyanga was arrested and interned for two years during the uprising in Kenya. Although it was never stated if he was a member of the Mau Mau, but nevertheless he was interned. It is puzzling that this compensation is being paid out during Baraka Obama’s Presidency.
If the British Government wants to start giving out compensation, it should be to the thousands of National Servicemen who were part of the British armed forces that quelled these uprisings and in turn brought about independence and peace to so many countries throughout the world.
I missed this out when I wrote about the Mau Mau . The President of the U.S.A. Barak Obama’s grandad Onyanga was arrested and interned for two years during the uprising in Kenya. Although it was never stated if he was a member of the Mau Mau, but nevertheless he was interned. It is puzzling that this compensation is being paid out during Baraka Obama’s Presidency.
I have now added this to thepost about the Mau Mau
December 7th 1941 a date the late and great American President Roosevelt said “A day that will live in infamy.” This was day the Japanese not only attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, but started to attack British governed possessions in the Far East, particular Hong Kong and Malaysia. The Japanese troops from their military bases in Thailand invaded other nations in Southeast Asia and then proceeded overland across the Thai–Malayan border to attack Malaya. The Japanese began bombing strategic areas of Singapore, The air raids were consistent on Singapore from 29 December onwards, although The British anti-aircraft fire kept most of the Japanese bombers from totally devastating the island as long as ammunition was available.
Hope came to the Far East when the Battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the Battle-cruiser HMS Repulse and four Destroyers arrived at Malaya it was hoped they would be a strong deterrent to the Japanese forces. Unfortunately both Ships were attacked and sunk by Japanese aircraft on the 10th December while on the way to prevent the invasion of Malaya. This news came as a great shock not only for the British forces in Malaya but to everyone at home in Great Britain as well. The Japanese had invaded Malaya on December 8th 1941; they landed at the mouth of the Kelantan River, subsequently capturing Khota Bharu and its airfield. Nobody thought it possible particularly the British High command that an army could get through dense jungle and hills to capture Malaya and reach Singapore. All the big wigs thought the only invasion would be seaborne. The Japanese with light tanks and infantry, some using bikes, conquered Malaya within seven weeks
On January31st1942, after the last British Troops had been withdrawn to the Island of Singapore the Johore Causeway that connected Singapore with the mainland was breached. The battle for Singapore intensified with air raid attacks constant. The general attack began on 4th February when the naval base was raided and set on fire our big guns had been positioned for an attack coming from the sea not from the land. The British Forces and Allies were commanded by General Arthur Ernest Percival. No doubt he was a brave man during The First world War because he had been awarded a DSO and MC. History says he was the wrong man in the wrong place to be in charge of the defence of Singapore. One can only draw one’s own conclusion. I have not gone into the ins and outs too many writers have already written on this subject in great detail. That is why you the reader must draw your own conclusion.
The Japanese continued to make fresh landings; the Johore Causeway was soon fixed so that tanks were beginning to cross. After fierce fighting the reservoirs were lost to the enemy then the naval base. To the utter dismay to British troops on the ground General Percival surrendered unconditionally with 75,000 men to Lt General Yamashita. Singapore the jewel in the British Crown was lost one week after the initial Japanese attack on the Island.
The fall of Singapore was another low point for the British people during the early days of the war. All those captured troops both British, and Australian were sent to Prisoner of war camps and suffered horrendous brutality. There were 50,000 British Troops in Japanese captivity 12,433 died as POWs .The Australians had 21000 in captivity of which 8031 died as POWs.
These were not old men they were young fit men who were broken bodily and mentally by the sheer cruelty of the Japanese military.
The men who survived the POW camps in the Far East suffered many health problems for the rest of their lives. Many died very young. It is very sad indeed for all of those unfortunate men. Their wives, girlfriends and parents must have had a hard time bringing some joy back to their lives, because those who did survive needed help that only loved ones can bring.
.My personal belief is, if General Percival could have for seen what would happen to the men under his command when he surrendered at Singapore and they went into Japanese captivity. I am sure he would have fought to the end. If he had, history would show him in a different light.
Both we the British and Americans were caught napping in 1941 and we paid a bigger price than anyone else for our negativity, because it was also the beginning of the end of our Empire.