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Author Topic: Post WW2 “Peace Time Conscription” National Service Memories 1948 to 1963  (Read 37354 times)

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I can't remember having to apply for deferment, it just happened. Whilst I should have gone in the Navy as an Admiralty Trained Shipwright, they put me in the RAF as an AC2 Sheet Metal Worker, and the first aircraft I worked on was a German V1 - I had to replace the fairing under the engine in order that it could be tarted up for the B of B day at RAF Basingbourne.

Given that the Dockyard was being closed and I was recently married, I decided to apply for Aircrew and signed on, and spent most of the next 24 years on long range aircraft.

At the risk of becoming a bore. I enclose below my account of getting into National Service, that I was asked to write for an RAF magazine, a few years ago.


My slide out of civilian life began the day I went to Chatham for my National Service Medical and Interview.

There is no sicklier sight than a slouching queue of adolescent males, shuffling their way along cold, grey, featureless corridors, dressed only in their socks and underpants. Suntans faded and ‘muscles’ shrank as the queue became a manifestation of male misery.
   ‘Do you suffer from ear wax problems?’ The first doctor asked me, in a bored voice.
   ‘Well I’m going to syringe your ears out just to be sure.’
   He injected soapy water into each ear and then sealed each with a ball of cotton. I was encased in that insular world where voices can be heard in that muffled swimming-pool-booming sort of way. As if to prove the point the doctor boomed an instruction to me.
   ‘Pardon me?’ I boomed back.
   He handed me a clipboard and, with a look of satisfaction, gestured towards the next cubicle. I moved on to where another white coated doctor sat in his green tiled alcove of a room. He took the clipboard from me and pointed to a white line on the floor, behind which I should stand.
   ‘Mumble, mumble?’
   ‘Pardon me?’
   ‘Can you read the top line?’ he bellowed.
   ‘Mumble, mumble?’
    ‘Pardon me?’
   ‘Can you read the bottom line?’
   He ticked and signed the medical form on the clipboard – shortest eye test ever.
   ‘P*** off,’ shouted the next doctor as I entered his booth: he had obviously heard his colleagues shouting at me.
   ‘Sorry,’ I boomed, turning to leave.
   ‘I said, pants off,’ he roared, grabbing my arm to stop me escaping.
   I obliged, he grasped me by my ‘lower regions’
   ‘F*** off.’
   I looked over my shoulder, but there was nobody there. He took a firmer grip, tears filled my eyes.
   ‘He said, big cough.’
   I obliged, and then took the duly signed clipboard back and rejoined the crocodile of those other poor souls about to be conscripted into the Armed Forces for their two years National Service. Most were trying to fail the medical-examination but the medical-staff were well aware of all the tricks, including feigned deafness. I wasn’t trying to fail for, at twenty-one, my National Service had been deferred whilst I finished my six years with the Admiralty as a Shipwright Apprentice. Whereas the others would become ‘canon-fodder’, I would become either a Sub Lieutenant or a Petty Officer Shipwright in the Royal Navy. I knew this because my best-man, Doug, had been through this system a few months earlier and he was to become a Petty Officer Shipwright – albeit fourth class.
   ‘Which rank you get depends on the requirements on the day,’ Doug had explained, ‘you’d better not end up an officer though ‘cos I won’t salute you.’
   ‘How will I know what’s available on the day?’
   ‘At the end of the medical, you go into a room for an interview with three blokes who’ll tell you what the situation is. It’s a formality really: you’re Admiralty trained.’
   In the event, the ‘three blokes’ couldn’t communicate clearly with me, shaking their heads in disbelief each time I tried to explain my induced hearing loss ... and that is how I found myself an Aircraftsman Second Class, in the Royal Air Force.

On 13th October 1959, exactly twenty-four days after our wedding ceremony, Pat and I said goodbye. I boarded the steam train from Sheerness-on-Sea having traded my freedom for a one way ticket to RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire, and National Service.
   Soon after leaving London on the last stage of my journey, it became obvious that most of the passengers on the train were young men and from amongst them emerged one who knew everything. He authenticated each statement he made with: ‘Yeah, me mate’s in the RAF, ain’t he?’
   This, I found, was to be the norm in Service Life, there was always one, at least one, and I had the knack of attracting them.
   ‘Is he rea – ?’
   ‘Yeah, all these geezers will be going to RAF Cardington.’
   ‘Yeah. Me mate, right, ‘e reckons they have a train load in every day ... into Cardington that is.’
   ‘Oh yeah, so ‘e says. All National Service blokes like.’
   ‘All of –’
   ‘Well most of ‘em. They all look like Tony bloody Curtis when they arrive, yeah? All look like bleeding convicts when they leave though,’ he laughed and coughed so much that he had to take the cigarette out of his mouth.
   ‘Lots of us at Cardington then?’
   ‘No, they ship you out after two days, right? What they do like, is gettcha to swear your allegiance to Betty-Two-Stroke and that. Then they cut all your bleeding hair off, give you a uniform and send you off to do your bleeding square bashing.’
   ‘You’re not one of us then?’
   ‘Not bleeding likely. Failed the medical didn’t I, pretended to be deaf. Me mate, ‘e got me a job in stores at Cardington; bloody good money too.’

At Cardington railway station we were met by a fleet of RAF buses, all painted a rather delicate shade of ‘Air-force’.
   ‘If you chaps would kindly move right down to the back of the bus, please,’ a pleasant and rather old-looking corporal asked politely. He wore a pilot’s brevet on his chest above rows of medal ribbons. Strange I thought, I didn’t know they had corporal pilots, but then I knew nothing whatsoever about the RAF, or aeroplanes.
   ‘They came back in after the war, didn’t they?’ I was informed. I told you I attracted them, didn’t I?
   ‘Yeah, ex-Non Commissioned Officer pilots, they left at the end of the war, but no airline wanted them so they came back in as corporals. RAF didn’t really want them either as they already had too many Zobbit pilots as it was.’
   ‘Officer! Where you been hiding? Everyone knows what Zobbit means.’
   We dismounted from the buses, and were checked in at the reception area and then led on our accommodation, in rows of wooden huts.

   The whole place was dominated by large hangars for this had been the home of No 1 Balloon Squadron during the war. The hangars were now full of racking that contained every item of equipment that an RAF conscript would need, as I soon found out after breakfast the next morning.
   We formed a long queue outside a hangar. All were in high spirits at the treatment we were receiving which seemed in total contrast to the stories of cruelty and bullying we had heard about.
   ‘My chum told me that times have had to change.’
   ‘Why’s th –’
   ‘Well it’s obvious, old chap, National Service is coming to an end in a few years time, and they want to attract regulars. So discipline has to be softened.’
   ‘Mind you, at the moment it’s only the thick chappies that sign on to be regulars.’
   ‘Really ... how does that work then?’
   ‘Well the intelligent blokes only stay for National Service: they want to get back to their careers in Civvy-Street. The peasants see the services as a career.’
   ‘Do you think that’s true, I mean –’
   ‘Don’t take my word for it, take my chum’s word, he should know he’s been in for three
   ‘An old sweat then?’
   Once in the hangar a corporal filled a form out for me: just in case I couldn’t write. At the top of the form was my brand new and unique service number, which would become as familiar to me as my name.
   I quite liked my number.
   ‘Look my number begins, T42.’
   ‘T42?  You know? Tea for two?’ I hummed the tune.
   ‘It doesn’t mean that.’
   ‘No, I realise that but –’
   ‘It’s just a coincidence, old chap.’
   ‘Oh, right thanks.’
   A corporal, who wore so many wrinkles of concentration one could be forgiven for believing that he had to screw his beret on each day, studiously slipped numbers into a wooden block: like those kiddies printing sets, but larger. With a suck he withdrew his tongue into his mouth.
   ‘There we go, airman,’ he said, banging the block onto an ink pad and stamped it on top of my form – there was my service number, writ large – and he’d called me airman.
   The queue moved forward and I reached the first station on the longest counter I ever saw.
   ‘Good morning,’ I said passing over my form and printer’s block.
   ‘Drawers, cotton cellular, three sets,’ the store-man chanted, banging my block on an ink pad then stamping my service number - Bang! Bang! Bang! - across the backside of three pairs of underpants. The label on the pants read, ‘extra large’, and as I weighed 130 pounds, I thought I should mention the mismatch.
   ‘Excu –’
   And so it continued.
   ‘Boots – hobnail marching, boots – leather best, shoes – leather best and plimsoles.’
   ‘Frogs, bayonet.’
   The pile I was carrying was getting larger and larger.
   ‘Pyjamas, flannelette, striped, three pairs.’  Bang! Bang! Bang!
   ‘Holdall, canvas, one off.’ Bang! At last something to store the stuff in.
   A tailor measured me to ensure that I didn’t get a uniform that fitted: it would only take one to upset the whole system. I got a rough serge battle dress and trousers – my Working-Blue. Bang! Bang!  A less rough pair of serge trousers with belted jacket – my Best-Blue. Bang! Bang!  A peaked cap and a beret Bang! Bang! Overcoat and Groundsheet, Bang! Bang!  Towels, mug, eating irons, button stick, a ‘housewife’ with needles and cottons .... The counter went on and on until I popped out of the other end peering around a mountain of equipment.
   ‘Can I have your attention, gentlemen?’ a young flying officer shouted. ‘I want you chaps to take all this equipment back to your accommodation, and change into your best blue and your shoes, leather best. Make sure you have on the RAF underclothes and socks; any questions? No! Moving swiftly on then – don’t worry about clothes fitting, chaps, the tailor will make any alterations necessary at RAF Bridgnorth.’
   ‘Aye, it’s where we do our basic training, ye ken?’
   ‘Really, where is –’
   ‘It’s in Shropshire. Do you nae ken wae that is?’
   ‘Away we ye, it’s near Wales.’
   ‘Listen up, chaps,’ continued the young officer, ‘collect two baggage labels from me, you will tie one to your suitcase and place the other inside your case. Address them to where you would like your civilian clothes to be sent, make sure you pack everything or else you’ll find yourself on a 252 at Bridgnorth if they find that you have hung onto any civvy gear.
   ‘A 252, is a charge sheet, ye ken?’
   ‘Charge sheet?’
   ‘Och! It’s a form with your details on it, man, and the offence you’ve committed, they’ll march you up before an officer, and he will punish ye.’
    I changed into my new ill fitting clothes and folded my tailor-made overcoat and Italian suit into the suitcase along with my other fineries, completed the baggage labels, closed the bag.
   I had never had loose shirt-collars held on by collar studs before, nor worn braces to hold up my trousers, but I did now. I felt like one of those 1920 unemployed men, in those black and white photographs, standing in the dole queue.
   ‘This kit’s left over from the First World War, you know.’
   ‘I wouldn’t be surprised.’
   ‘Oh yes!’

The barber was polite, ‘How would you like it, sir?’
   ‘Oh, just a trim please, leave the sideburns’
   He proceeded to run the electric clippers all over my head. I sat as paralysed as a sheep in the hands of a drunken Aussie shearer.
   We assembled in reception, shorn of both hair and identity. We had arrived as a bunch of individuals and were emerging like sausages from a sausage factory, suitably mixed-up within, uniformly clad without.
   ‘OK chaps. Next we swear you in. Any questions?  No?  Moving swiftly on then.’
   We trooped into what seemed to be a chapel, shuffled between the pews until we could move no further.
   ‘OK chaps this is where you swear your loyalty to Queen and Country; raise your right hand, thus, and say after me..... I.’
   ‘Here say your name.’
   ‘Here say your n –’
   ‘NO! Damn it!’
   ‘No da –’
   Somehow we got through the ceremony and then signed a buff coloured form. We were now AC2s’: airmen second class, the lowest form of life ... as we would soon find out.

I had seen the pictures on the cinema Newsreels. Servicemen coming home from the war, leaning from railway carriage windows, waving hello, just as the earlier newsreels had shown them waving goodbye. Now it was my turn, I would turn up my overcoat collar, put my hat at a jaunty angle and with a cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth, I’d raise a thumb to the crowds.
   In the event, things turned out differently. Very early the next, cold and grey, morning we boarded a train that had been provided just for us.  It simply steamed out of the station – no crowds or bands.
   We made frequent stops as we crossed the country. At each station we stopped at the platforms were empty apart from groups of WVS ladies who gave us packets of sandwiches and filled our mugs with lukewarm tea from big shiny tea urns.
   ‘At least it’s costing nothing, ye ken?’
   ‘Apart from freedom.’
   ‘I dinna ken?’
   ‘Oh nothing.’
   Then it began to rain, not heavily but that steady persistent misty misery.
   ‘We’re getting into the jolly old rain shadow, chaps.’
   ‘Rain shadow? Welsh mountains?’
   ‘The Westerly wind blows the rain clouds into the mountains....’
   Bridgnorth lived in a permanent rain shadow it seemed to me.
   Without ceremony we arrived, met by five-ton lorries into which we threw our bags before turning to find our buses. There were no buses. We climbed, dripping wet into the back of the lorries for our drive to RAF Bridgnorth.
   It was dark, raining, with a cold wind howling as we passed through the camp gates – driving straight onto a large parade-ground. Without warning we were bathed in blinding white light as search lights were switched onto us. Then the screaming began.
   ‘Get out of those wagons now! You idle b******s!’
   Disorientated we were, and disorientated they kept us, it was all part of the sadistic conversion from civilian to serviceman. We fell from the wagons, scampering to locate out bags.
   ‘Join your squadrons, now!’ voices screamed.
   What’s a squadron, where ...?
   People seemed to be running in all directions. Chaos ruled, only somebody giving orders could bring control. If you followed orders things would improve, marginally.
   Two shapes emerged from the darkness and stopped in front of me. The shorter of the two was a sergeant. He carried a clipboard covered in a plastic bag.
   ‘What’s your name, airman?’ the sergeant asked.
   ‘John Si –.’
   ‘Silence when you’re speaking to a sergeant,’ the corporal screamed.
   The slide out of civilian life was complete.

Offline peterchall

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  • 25.06.1929 - 12.03.2016
I didn't really finish my previous post (it was getting late :)), so a PS:

I should have gone on to say that the apprentice in the year behind me didn't opt for deferment and went in at 18-yrs old and came back to finish his apprenticeship, so was actually in and out before me. Not being a fully trained motor mechanic the RAF didn't insist that he stuck to it, so he did get near aeroplanes, albeit only as an 'Airframe Assistant' or 'Engine Assistant' with AC1 rank.

So I suppose I traded off better pay against doing something I might have enjoyed more. 
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline peterchall

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Taking deferment was a mistake in one respect. I opted for the RAF because I thought I might get near aeroplanes. But I suppose it should  have been obvious that the RAF wasn’t going to train me in something new for just 2 years when they’d got an already trained ‘Fitter, MT’. And putting up a Junior Technician’s stripe straight after leaving ‘square bashing’ wasn’t too popular with bods of lower rank who’d been working their way up for years, although once one had got settled in to a unit, that didn’t last.

I suppose that, as the son of a regular soldier, I should have been ‘service minded’, and if I’d been foot-loose and fancy free, instead of engaged, when I went in (and married 7 months before I came out) I might have stayed on. But it was also the feeling that I was being forced to do something that was off-putting.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful


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My story is almost identical to Robin's (below) but 12 months earlier, Oct 1959. I went the Cardington, Bridgnorth route and hated square bashing. The main difference between us was that I didn't leave for 25 years!

I was deferred until I was 21.

Offline CDP

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Possibly because I was in Sheerness Dockyard I was never asked about " deferment " it must have all been been done automatically for us all.
After my apprenticeship I served 5 years in the P & O as an Engineer and on many occasions I was asked if I had chosen that instead of N.S.
(I chose the P & O as part of my 5 year cycle in life).
5 year Apprentieship, 5 years with P & O, to see the world at someone elses expense.
5 years as a Work Study Engineer, 5 years teaching at the Sheerness Technical School which overan to 7 years.  ALL the rest at the same school (I was now too old to move on yet again!).
The solution to every problem is a.) time , or  b.) another problem.

Offline peterchall

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  • 25.06.1929 - 12.03.2016
National Service began on 1st January 1949 – previously men were called up under the wartime regulations.

I was born in 1929 and served an apprenticeship from 1945 to 1950 and elected to have my call-up deferred to the end of it. Had I not done so I would have been called-up in 1947 under the wartime regulations and wouldn’t have known how long I would be in for. That happened to the apprentice next ahead of me (born 1927 or 1928) – I think it was 3 years before he was discharged, so no one was exempt according to their year of birth.

Initially NS was for 18 months, but the North Koreans celebrated my 21st birthday by invading South Korea on 25th June 1950, and so the Korean War began and NS was increased to 2 years just before my call-up on 13th November 1950.

I don’t remember being given an option of going into the Merchant Navy, but we were permitted, on Registering at the age of 17, to express a preference for one of the armed forces, but with no guarantee of which one you would get.

I had opted for the RAF and got it, probably because I had finished my apprenticeship in a trade the RAF needed and was taken in as a ‘Direct Entry’ Mechanical Transport Fitter. My brother-in-law, 5 years younger than me, also opted for the RAF but, as a railway fireman, was called-up into the army and went into the RASC as a storeman.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline CDP

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I was born in 1928 and served an apprenticeship in H.M. Dockyard  from 1945 to 1949. My thoughts may not be wholly correct but I remember that men were called up either for 2 years National Service or 5 years in the Merchant Service.

The government stated that those born in 1928 (also 1929??) were exempt from National Service, Merchant Service or the compulsory Home Guard, because their education/life had been so badly disrupted with Evacuation etc.

The apprenticeship was classified as restricted and therefore exempt from any of the above duties as I found out when I applied to join the New Zealand Navy.
The solution to every problem is a.) time , or  b.) another problem.

Offline lutonlad

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What a great story. I am sure there are many stories of National service still to be told. Some of my older friends talk about it with great affection and hatred, indeed one such friend travelled the world with the merchant navy. One thing is for sure they were taught to look after themselves and learn life skills. I was too young to be called up, but 3 years in the ATC as a cadet taught me how to shoot.[Lee-Enfield] press my uniform with a wet tea towel and brown paper, how to sew, and bull my boots until I could see my face in them. These are skills I still have today, still I suppose having a dad who was an ex Sargeant Major in the Royal Engineers helped. He would always wear a tie and have highly polished shoes in his civvies.
If it cant be mended with a hammer, it must be an electrical fault, bash it anyway.

Barry 5X

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“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away” is a saying that means that when one has trained to have military career, the military principles in them never die.  These words were said by General MacArthur in his farewell speech to the US Senate when he retired from 50 plus years of military service.

Although National Servicemen in the UK served considerably less time in the armed forces then MacArthur the military doctrines in all of them would never be forgotten.  Between 1945 and 1963, 6,000 young men were being called up every fortnight – a whole GENERATION if you think about it.  They all came from different backgrounds and each would have their own individual stories to tell.  Some enjoyed the experience, others hated and resented it and sadly some found it too much to bear with tragic consequences.

With the numbers who experienced National Service in the UK declining, their stories are becoming rarer and rarer to find.  This was one of the reasons I decided to place Derek’s story on the Kent History Forum notwithstanding the fact that here we had a young man from Sittingbourne who lied about his age so as to join the local Buffs Army Cadets.  His story provides an insight into the period after the war where from school and through nepotism he entered employment within the paper industry, a job he detested. 

Derek would be the first to admit that he was not well blessed when it came to education however he hoped that when it came to his time for National Service, his experience and training on the Bren Gun within the cadets, would place him in a good position for recognition which could possibly lead to a full time army career.  As it turned out he soon found himself like all the others; simply as a member of a squad who, under a proven methodology and a stream of abuse from the drill corporals and sergeants, had to be broken so as to obey every order instinctively without question.  Even when he came to Bren Gun training and a chance to stand out from the others on a weapon he had expertise in, he found himself being ridiculed – an experience that he would remember for life and one which gave him a contempt for the army and its absurdities at that time - and an everlasting hatred for the corporal who made him look a fool. 

Despite this when Derek looked back on his life in 2003 it was not his experience as a railwayman who had won a prize for the best kept station (Newington), or as a gardener with clients such as Norman Wisdom and actor Jack Warner (PC 49 – “Evening All”), or his voluntary involvement (as an Al Jolson impersonator) with musical concert events for elderly residents in retirement homes, but his National Service participation that he chose to write about.
For him, although he considered himself to be just a number, he concluded his military service made a man of him and he was proud of his association with the Buffs (Royal East Kent’s).  It is clear that Derek would never have reached a high rank, but in hindsight the army had within their grasp an enthusiastic and willing young man with army cadet experience, who could have had a career as a bandsman, notwithstanding the fact that he was a proven first class shot with a weapon he was fully trained and familiar with.  His life could have been so much different, if only .........

Derek’s story is not unique, but just one of those that recall the memories of 2.5 million young men who were called up for peacetime National Service.  He was from Sittingbourne, Kent and his story relates about the 1950’s in a regiment named and associated with its own county.

It is with sadness that I report that 22504474, a number called Derek Bean faded away in Thanet in November 2013.

Offline Robin

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Hi Peterchall.

Even 10 years after you went in, the system hadn't changed, I went through exactly the same procedure in 1960, even down to the brown paper and string.  You were quite right about being part of a team and the 'esprit de corps' gained from working together, I still get a 'buzz' when I am on parade with my Standard.  They were great days.

Per Ardua ad Astra

Offline peterchall

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  • 25.06.1929 - 12.03.2016
In 1950, No1 Reception Unit (1RU) – (Was there more than one?) – was at RAF Padgate, Warrington, Lancs. It took in a batch of recruits (about 80 – 100 at a guess) daily for one-week’s induction. On arrival we were gathered into a hut and given a mug of tea while being sorted into squads. I remember one individual proclaiming that, as a civilian ‘press-ganged’ into the RAF, he wasn’t going to be ‘bossed about' – I wonder how he got on! You really knew that they had ‘got you’ when, later in the week, you were issued with brown paper, string, and address labels for packing your civvy clothes to be sent home.

Where you did your recruit training depended on your day of entry into 1RU. Monday’s entry (mine) stayed at Padgate, at No2 Recruit Training Wing (2RTW), so it was merely a matter of moving to another part of the camp.

To this day I remember our Senior NCO, Sgt Knowles who, with his 3 or 4 Corporals, got his flight to perfection on the parade ground and in other aspects of service life – tidy billets and esprit de corps. He was no softie, but was a father figure to youngsters away from mum for the first time in their lives.

One week of our square bashing was spent on guard duties, cookhouse fatigues, etc and, for my Flight, that fell over Christmas 1950, so it was no home leave for us. The consequence was that I had what was, up to then, the most sumptuous Christmas dinner of my life – Turkey (unknown then in civilian working class life), a bottle of beer, and fags., served by the officers.

I might have been a strange individual, but I got pleasure out of being part of a squad on the parade ground that could march, ‘present arm’ etc in perfect time. Coupled with being allowed to fire a 0.303” rifle and a whole magazine of a Bren Gun, square bashing was great!
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline grandarog

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While I was serving at St Mawgan 1960-1962 there were loads of NS airmen.
  A parade was held during the summer 1962  to bid farewell to the last National Service Airman on the station when he was demobbed. I don`t think he was the last to leave the RAF though, I believe the actual last one was sometime in 1963. :)

Offline Robin

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Will have to keep an eye on this.  I was one of the last few National Servicemen to enter the RAF, being called up in October 1960, with conscription officially ending in December 1960.  I was aged 21 and had just finished a 6 year apprenticeship, so I was not a happy bunny, but having also served 4 years in the ROC I was not averse to wearing a blue uniform.  We did our kit issue at RAF Cardington, in the shadow of the airship sheds, and than went to RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire for 10 weeks 'square-bashing' and indoctrination, passing out just before Christmas 1960, however, I had to report to RAF Hereford on 28 December 1960 for trade training as a clerk, so, when I am asked the question "what did you fly in the RAF", my reply is "a desk". 

Per Ardua ad Astra

Offline Lyn L

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My brother was conscripted into the RN, and then went on to the Fleet Air Arm, ended his time as an LEM (Air) (leading electrical mechanic, air). After that he went on to BOAC, mainly working on VC 10s, but then he joined the Concorde crew workers and loved every minute of that time. He's still Concorde mad to this day, but was very sad to have to retire when he was 65 yrs.
His house is under the flight path, when we stayed with him and his family you could hear it coming long before it passed overhead. A sound of it's own  :)
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life tryi

Offline peterchall

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  • 25.06.1929 - 12.03.2016
Not everyone was called up at 18. If you were serving an apprenticeship, or on an educational course, you could apply for deferment until it was complete. The advantage of that (apart from having no break in your education) was, provided an equivalent trade existed in the service, you were accepted as already fully trained with the appropriate rank and trade pay.

In my case, after a 5 year apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, I was called-up into the RAF on 13th November 1950, aged 21years and 5 moths. After 8 weeks Recruit Training I became a ‘Fitter, Mechanical Transport’ (Fitter MT), with the rank of Junior Technician, sporting a point-upwards single stripe (an “a*** upards Lance Corporal” as my ex-soldier father called me), and getting the appropriate pay (but see later).

Without that apprenticeship backing, I would probably have been put into an unskilled trade totally unrelated to my civilian job – it wasn’t considered economical to give in-depth training to people who were only in for 18 months or 2 years. But the reason I put my first choice as the RAF when Registering was that I wanted to get near aeroplanes – a sort of early version of today’s gap year! At that time I had no idea that the RAF would effectively say “You’ve come to us as a fully trained motor fitter, so that’s what you’re going to be in the RAF, after you’ve spent 8 weeks playing soldiers”.

On the subject of pay, it was a source of discontent that National Servicemen got only 2/3 or 3/4 (I can’t remember which) of the pay of a regular airman of the same status. While that could be rectified by a commitment to sign on (I think for a further 3 years) after our National Service ended, I don’t think many of us were tempted by it. In any case, I was planning to marry, and did so 7 months before my demob, so got an increase in pay via Marriage Allowance.

So as from 12th November 1952 the RAF had to manage without me! Was I glad to be out? – yes. Was I glad I had been in? –yes, both for the experience and for the comradeship that didn’t exist in civvy life. At barrack room level there was no difference between regulars and NS men.
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