Tag Archives: national service


18 Mar

The British and commonwealth countries were very fortunate to have America as an Allie during both World Wars and since.  The Americans under President Woodrow Wilson came into World War One in April 1917. Three years after hostilities began against the Germans. In that short time until the War ended in November1918 the Americans lost 116,000 men. Incidentally the United Kingdom lost 900,000 men in the four years of war. The figures do not include the many casualties. The manpower and the American industries in the manufacture of arms and ships played a big part in the outcome of the war.

 During World War Two the Americans came into the War through being attacked at Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1941. The President of the United States, the great Franklin D. Roosevelt in his speech to the American nation in declaring war on the Japanese Empire said “December 7th 1941 was a date which will live in infamy.”  On December 11th 1941 four days after United States declared war on the Japanese Empire. Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States of America. Great Britain had stood alone for two long years and now we had the American might as an ally to fight alongside us Prime Minister Winston Churchill was over the moon, because he knew the tide of the war would change. Once again the manpower of the American Forces and the massive industrial manufacture of weapons, planes and ships would come into force and bring about the eventual victory and history shows it did.

The first American Troops arrived in Britain in the early months of 1942. This build up continued as they were stationed in various camps throughout the country. They built and occupied Airfields in the South East of England for the USAAF. It was from these airfields they bravely undertook daylight bombing raids over enemy occupied Europe. Just the same as the Royal Air Force they had many losses at the end of 1944 there was nearly 450,000 United States Airmen stationed in Britain. In contrast to the 1.5 million ground troops who were preparing for the invasion of Hitler’s held Europe. The Troops were again stationed in camps scattered around Great Britain. All this must have been a big task in manpower organisation, but it was done. The British soldier was paid at that time 14 shillings a week (70P) While the American servicemen were paid £3 8s 9d (3.44). My father’s wages at the time was £5.10 shilling a week and he had my mother and three children to support. The American GIs with money in their pockets, better uniforms etc. were a hit with the girls who enjoyed their company and the perks that went with it such as nylons etc. One has to remember the young women of Great Britain had to do war work, either in the factory or in the services. No doubt the Americans put a much needed sparkle into their lives at a time when they needed it. Obviously this caused a bit of friction with the British military personnel, who came out with the term “Over paid. Over sexed and over here.” There were in the region of 70,000 British women who married American servicemen and when the war was over, they sailed to America for new lives.

Personally I only saw a few American servicemen in my part of England. Whenever they were seen, children of my age and older were usually following them saying “Have you got any gum chum” Overall the Americans were very popular and it was assuring to have them on our side in achieving the ultimate victory in Europe and the Far East. .



Not Again !

19 Nov

So, Hugh Grant has urged Britain to reintroduce National Service. He said it suits us and it goes with our personality. What a load of rubbish from a person who has never served or likely to serve. Here we have a celluloid person advocating young men being called up for national service. Does he not realise that the Government have controversial plans to replace regular soldiers with Territorial reserve forces. The regular soldiers are all volunteers who have made the army their career. These brave men and women serve throughout the world in many conflicts. Sadly some pay the supreme sacrifice losing their lives and many suffer with injuries both physically and mentally. This Government and future Governments must look after our forces and not just while they serve, but also in their retirement with good pensions.
For the attention of people who advocate national service please read this. The men who had to do national service all those years ago were originally called up at the outbreak of World War 2. This was in 1939, when Great Britain was in grave danger of being overrun by the jackboot.
National service continued for another fifteen years after the end of World War 2. When each eligible man called up had to do firstly eighteen months service. The length of service was raised to two years due to the Korean War.
The lads of yesteryear mostly came from poor homes where their father went to work for poor wages and their mother cooked, cleaned the house and looked after the children.
Over 80% of the people didn’t have a bathroom just a tin bath brought in usually on Friday night. The brick toilet was outside in the backyard the paper used was the day before newspaper. The bedroom for the children was shared with two in a bed for brothers and sisters depending on the size of the family.
The only wardrobe was in your parent’s room, the children’s wardrobe was a hook screwed to the back of the bedroom door. The heating in the house was just one-coal fire, which was usually lit before the children got up.
I was in a much loved family life with no television to distract conversation, but as you must be aware homes had a radio.
One was made to respect elders, neighbours etc. it was always Mr and Mrs When talking to neighbours; it was no Jim, Tom and Maggie.
When your time came to be called up for National Service whether you were eighteen or twenty one, you knew it had to be done.
No one was looking forward to doing two years in the forces, while just entering the prime of one’s life. All the frightening tales told to by the abundance of ex-servicemen didn’t help, because they did it and you were no exception.
The day came when you reluctantly left your tight knitted community and left to join your allotted service, be it Army, Navy or Air Force. Although it was a shock to the system there was plenty of food and for the first time in their lives there were showers. Young men at that time had so much in common, coming from similar backgrounds, camaraderie and lifelong friendships soon formed.

The lads of today have the better of two worlds, money in the back pockets, cars and a certainly more permissive society. Their homes have all the mod cons. The downside of their family life has been dampened by television.
I am sorry to say now; there are a small minority who have not much respect for elders, neighbours and the law, which of course should certainly be addressed.
Parents and school teachers should play their part in this and stop passing the problem onto others. Discipline when one is young plays a big part in future life.

The politicians, media and sections of the public who have never been in the forces themselves keep bringing this national service question up. Do it to them not to us attitude.
These same young men who keep getting picked on, will I am sure be the first in line to join up if the country was threatened, like it was many years ago.
No one wants to see lads who were forced to do national service being brought home after losing their life in conflicts. It is sorrowful enough seeing our brave service men and women being brought home from Afghanistan.
National Service should not be introduced, because of our country being involved in conflicts in far off places or any other feeble excuse. Do you honestly think the armed forces want to start training lads who are not making the services their career? I am sure they will agree that it would be a complete waste of time for everyone concerned. Look after the lads who are in the forces both now and in the future, because they have earned the respect of the British people.
Politicians should stop swanning around and start earning their wages, in sorting our own country out. Make it a peaceful and happy place to live, with no such thing as dole queues, poverty and racism.


British Women

18 Apr

I have wrote many times about the brave men and women of the British services, but I have missed out the wives and mothers of service men and women, who were at home trying to make ends meet in the very difficult times of World War 2. Every mother had a big part to play in bringing about the eventual victory. These magnificent British women with ration books in hand stood in endless queues to buy food for the families. They cooked the meals, looked after the children. No doubt they went short themselves, because of the many shortages of just about everything. Many women had their sons, daughters and husbands serving in the forces and many had their loved ones killed in action in the many theatres of war. Families at home were killed in the bombing of many British Towns and Cities. The grief was shared with the rest of the residents of their streets throughout the country. Whatever happened and in many cases it was sad, they could not dwell on it, because life had to carry on for the sake of the family.
The British women are a strong breed and it was proved in those dark days of World War Two. Neighbours were closely knit your problem was their problem no family had it easy. Clothes were handed down to others in the family as they got older.
During those dark years and before, child mortality was quite common. Just to use this as an example, my parents lost their first child Freda who would have been my older sister if she had lived; Freda was only 2 months of age when she died. My parents did not talk about it, but my father told me when I was a young man. He said it felt as if the the earth had opened up and swallowed him. Our family, were not on their own, because some of my school friends’ parents had similar experiences. During the war years these brave women had other children and brought them up as happy and best they could in the very trying circumstances.
One must remember the illness’s that families endured did not have the medicines etc. to combat them that we enjoy in this present day. I personally think the school children in this present age should be taught about what happened in Great Britain during the war years. Let them understand what their Great Grand Parents went through in order to give them a better life. I could write about this for evermore. Sadly I know and believe they had a very rough time and it should not be forgotten. The trouble was they still had a tough time in the post war ration book years. There was no magic wand, even with their husbands and sons back from the war they just had to grin and bear it and to their credit they just did that. The British Government should have minted a medal for those brave women, who were on the home front and valiantly put the Great in Great Britain.

Ken Nicholson Border Regiment 1952-54

17 Oct

Hello, my name is Ken Nicholson. I was brought up in Maryport Cumbria. In 1952 I was called up to do my National service with 1st Battalion Border Regiment which is a Cumbrian Regiment. When, my training at Carlisle Castle was finished. I was posted to the regiment in the Suez Canal Zone, Egypt from 1952-4. While in Egypt I was in a small detachment sent to Cyprus, because of the Greek earthquake in 1953. We had gone to guard the Governor’s summer residence in case of any problems. After a few weeks our detachment returned to active service in Egypt. We hadn’t been back long when all of (A) Company which I belonged to was sent back to Cyprus on earthquake relief. This was a complete godsend from the active service regime in Egypt. While stationed in Cyprus we were liberally plied with food and drink by the very friendly Greeks and Turks and we even got a bit of R and R in Nicosia. This went on for a few weeks until things were tightened up, because of the impending threat of Eoka terrorist activity. When (A) Company was eventually sent back to Egypt, it was back to doing guards in various places, manning roadblocks and frequently undertaking many long route marches and exercises in the hot sun. One of the most heartening memories I have ever been involved with, was on the approach to Falaise Camp. This camp looked like a real Beau Geste outpost. On the way back from a long route march with a load of other footsore and weary squaddies. We were straightened up, shouldered our arms and marched back into camp behind the Corps of Drums They had emerged from behind the sand dunes and they struck up our regiment tune “D’Ye ken John Peel. It certainly brought a spring into everyone’s step and a memory one can never forget. My national service came to an end when I was de-mobbed in1954 and I returned home to Cumbria.
Good luck and best wishes everyone
.Ken Nicholson, Maryport, Cumbria


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


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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: