Archive | September, 2012

NATIONAL SERVICE

24 Sep

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

Alan
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Les Lowther, Friend And Man

14 Sep

When I was seventeen years old in 1955, I went to the local night school in trying to further my education! In the class was a well-built lad who wore a long midnight blue jacket with velvet collars and matching drain pipe trousers with all the accessories that go with it. He was the same age as me and he was named Les Lowther. His father was the landlord of the Devonshire Hotel on Barrow Island where Les was brought up, which is a tough part of Barrow-in-Furness and still is
Every week for the first five weeks, Les came to the class in a different coloured long jacketed velvet collared suit with drainpipe trousers, including a post box red one. He was a tough lad, but he never threw his weight around. As you the reader are aware one has to be tough wearing those suits. I knew from the first time I laid eyes on him one noticed how smart and articulate he was wearing those suits. At that time he also had a friend in the class named Martin Bowes, both he and Les had motor bikes and rode them very fast. Those days you did not need a helmet and many a lad lost his life, because of that. A year or so later Martin Bowes was killed in an accident. Les told me many years later that Martin’s death was a big blow.
Les Lowther was also a very good rugby league player who signed professional forms for Barrow when he was eighteen years old in 1956. He was a very fast tenacious player and played on the wing many times for Barrow.
I got to know Les Lowther a bit more the day we were called up to join the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. Along with Geoff Stubbs, I met him on Barrow Station on route to Fulwood Barracks. During training and at the battalion we were in different platoons and Companies. But we kept in contact. When the regiment went to the Cameroons I was in (S) Company at Bamenda and Les was in (B) Company at Kumba. I never saw him again until I was on the troopship Devonshire returning home 10 months later.
Returning after disembarkation leave to Barford Camp at Barnard Castle, Les and I were put in the same billet. Both of us played for the regiment and we became good friends and he was a man one could rely on 100%. He was the best turned out man in the company if not the battalion. Les spent time on his uniform, boots, beret and overcoat; he was also excellent at rifle drill. This paid dividends, because he was always picked out as stickman. Both Les and I were on three guards of honour for Generals who visited the battalion at Barford Camp. As Bobby Driver the CSM said we were his bullshit men!
It was at this time in 1961 that the new dance craze hit Great Britain it was called the Twist and with Les being a good dancer he taught all the lads in the billet how do the twist, but it wasn’t easy as you must understand. The laughs and mickey taking as we learned this dance was so humorous. This week in our local paper they have 50 years ago articles. It read, more than 700 people attended the final of the twist competition held in the Barrow Public Hall. It was won by a Whitehaven Rugby League player Les Lowther and an unnamed partner.
I travelled home with Les on our Demob day back to Barrow in February 1962 and after that I hardly saw him again. He was transferred to Whitehaven RLFC from Barrow. He later packed it all in and moved away. I never knew what happened to him until his daughter Sally wrote to me and told me Les got married and happily raised his family. Sally said he was a good father and provided well for the family. The sad part was a few years back Les took ill and after bravely fighting his illness, he passed away.
I look back on my time both during national service and civilian life and I feel honoured that Les Lowther passed through my life. He was indeed a friend and  man.
Alan

CSM’s Rule Okay

4 Sep

I can only speak for the men who serve or served in the army in saying the regimental Company Sergeant Majors run each individual company. They get to know each and everyman’s name and face. This takes some doing but they do it. What is more they know every trick and dodge in the book known to a soldier. This is because they have been down that road when they were Privates. The organisation is massive for the work they do in making their Company’s tick over and this must take some doing. The rank and file such as me did not fully appreciate this, all we remember is the tongue lashings we got from the CSM’s. Believe me, nobody escaped the tongue lashings!
During my time with the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment, I was transferred from Charlie Company to Support Company. On reporting to the (S) Company office I noticed a CSM stood by a desk giving me the once over. He shouted to me what’s your name, on my reply he glared at me and with a louder voice he said stand to attention when you talk to me. This was my first encounter with Company Sergeant Major Kershaw and it certainly wasn’t my last. The lads in my new billet said have I met the screaming skull yet, referring to CSM Kershaw. I just nodded with a grin
For the next 15 months both here in England and abroad if he was around everything you were involved in such as equipment, tents, weapons, weapons, ammunition and general smartness had to be spot on. I will say this for CSM Kershaw his drilling was of the highest order and he was always well turned out. Obviously he set by his high standards and we the rank and file had to follow suit or else!
I was a few hours late getting back to Barnard Castle after my dis-embarkation leave and I put my hand up and say it was my own fault. Next day along with five or so others, I was on OC’s orders. Outside the OC’s office was the CSM, he inspected all of us and then double marched us into the OCs office. The OC gave all five of us a dressing down and said “don’t let it happen again.” That was it and we were marched out. Not content with this and because he knew me, he dismissed the others. He put his head right up to mine and said in a loud voice, “If it wasn’t for the fact I was leaving the battalion, I would give you a dog’s life.” With this ringing in my ears I was dismissed and I never saw him or wanted to see him again.
He took a post as an RSM to territorial units, probably until he retired. When, I now look back over those years that involved CSM Kershaw. I know he had a job to do, which in his eyes was done to the book. In our eyes, that is the rank and file it was definitely a bit over the top. It is a soldier’s lot to moan and did we moan. I have no axe to grind with CSM Kershaw if I had met him I would shake his hand and wish him all the best (stood to attention of course)
When CSM Kershaw left the battalion, we had a new CSM named Driver. He was good but not as good has CSM Kershaw at drill. On the good side we never saw him much after muster unless you went into the company office, don’t get me wrong he knew all our names. CSM Driver only came into the billet odd times and always looked into one’s locker. He always looked to see if your utensils were in the right order etc. such as Knife, fork, spoon, lather brush, razor, button stick, and button brush. All in our billet made certain of immaculate lockers and CSM Driver loved it. He had a human side about him and we all thought he was okay. There was only one CSM Kershaw and we certainly did not want another one.
I am sure the present day soldiers will have tales to tell about their Company Sergeant Majors. No doubt some good and no doubt some bad.
Alan

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