I know most readers know about national Service and many no doubt will have been a National serviceman, but for the one’s that do not, including students. I hope what is written below helps you understand.
National service came into being in September 1939 by an act of parliament at the outbreak of the Second World War. Britain had a regular army, but it was not up to strength for the conflict that at the time was foreseeable. The men called up in this act were eighteen up to thirty plus, who were not working down the mines or working in armament or aircraft factories or shipbuilding yards. The men who were exempt were classed has reserved occupational as you are aware men and women who worked in the factories etc. during wartime, were just as essential as men on the front line are. I have to point out, those men who were employed in armament and shipbuilding etc. tried in there thousands to join up during WW2. It was to no avail, because of their strategic work they were always turned down. It upset them, because they thought serving personnel would look down on them as dodgers and they certainly were not.
After the war in 1945 all this changed with a new act of parliament. This decreed all male personnel in the British Isles, barring coal miners aged between eighteen and twenty-five years of age had to do eighteen months National service in one of the three services. This went up to two years’ service at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, much to the dismay of the national servicemen.
After hostilities ceased in 1945 and with the new national service act in force. The national servicemen served alongside the regular servicemen in all theatres of operation throughout the world. India became a large posting for thousands of troops during the India and Pakistan struggle for independence. While all this was going on, a further large presence of troops were engaged in Palestine, of which even to this present day is so frustrating. The fifties were a powder keg of problems for the British services with the Malaya campaign, Korean War and the Mau Mau terrorism in Kenya. Also the EOKA terrorism in Cyprus in the middle fifties alongside the Suez crisis became a big problem. At the same time many countries in Africa and of the old British Empire were gaining their independence, similar to the British Cameroons where my own regiment was posted. Not forgetting the large garrison of troops that were stationed all over Germany and Great Britain
All men called up had to undergo X-rays and a full medical, before being passed fit for service. Lads who had no trade mostly went into the services when only eighteen. Tradesmen went in when their apprenticeship was complete at the age of twenty-one. University students were called up after obtaining their degrees. Some men went into the Merchant navy, but they could not leave until they had completed five years’ service or reached the age of twenty-six. If they left before completing their five years etc. they were liable to be called up for national service.
The shrinking Royal Navy dispensed with national servicemen in the early fifties. The bulk of national servicemen went mostly into the various Corps and regiments of the British Army, with a smaller percentage going into the Royal Air Force.
What is paramount, I cannot forget without writing of the steadfast work of the NCOs and officers of the services. They had the enviable task of training the countless thousands of national servicemen over the years. Also the expertise passed on by the regular servicemen was appreciated by most.
During 1960 National service was terminated, and barring an odd one most national servicemen were demobilised in 1962.
As one can see in the areas British forces served in the years of the national servicemen, was some task for such a small country. Although not fully appreciated, it could not have been achieved without those young men who served their two – year call up. I must add this; during the national service years Great Britain had the cream of the country serving in the forces. Those men were always to the fore in everything the services could offer, whether it was sport, drilling, discipline, smartness and soldiering. There is no doubt everyone who had to do their national service, knows deep down that it did them no harm whatsoever. Strangely it is only years later and well after demobilisation that one comes to that conclusion. They all went in as boys and came out as men and no doubt, better men indeed.
There is situated at Lichfield in Staffordshire the National Memorial Arboreturn and at the site there is a national memorial to all those who undertook National Service. Many national Servicemen lost their lives during their service for their country and their names are inscribed on the memorial. The Veterans community has acknowledged the last Sunday in June each year as National Service Day.The National Service Veterans Association also organizes an annual service of commemoration at the Memorial each year. Details of the event can be obtained from the Association via their website: http://www.seniorsnetwork.co.uk/nsva/index.htm.
The country has recognized all Service personnel, including National Servicemen, who have died since the end of the Second World War, while on duty or as a result of terrorist attack, by the creation of the Armed Forces Memorial, which is also located at the NMA. Details can be found at http://www.forcesmemorial.org.uk/.
For readers who want to learn more. I have written my own memoirs of the time building up to call up and the two years I served. It will give one plenty of insight to what their fathers, uncles and grandfathers went through many years ago.
It is on my web site http://www.getingetoutandgetaway.co.uk. The book itself is available from Amazon on a kindle e-book. I pad / I Phone or PC apps – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Get-Out-Away-National-Serviceman/dp/B0050I6A2E