National service kept military going

I note Mr Thompson’s comments in his letter headed, “The 1950s are seen with rose-tinted spectacles!”.

For my part, I should have started my National Service in January 1960 but was on a deferred extension until July 31 1960. I then received paperwork to inform me of intended call-up and would I note if it was the RAF or Army I wished to enter and return the paperwork.I was called to the joint recruiting offices in Hull mid-August along with around 20 other young men who were due for call up.

There were some younger men who were intending to sign on as Boy Entrants and we were all put in a room where we had to sit exams. We were told after lunch whether we had been selected for the RAF. In the region of 10 had not and that included those volunteering for Regular service. The ones for call-up were escorted along the passageway to the Army section. We remaining ones were interviewed and asked what was our selected trade to go into the RAF. I was at that time intending to join the North Riding Police as it was then after my two years so said it would be the RAF Police. Because National Service was coming to an end the men were told that if they wished to follow their trade it would mean they would have to sign on for a minimum of three years. Other than that there was Dental Orderly, Nursing Attendant, Clerk, Driver and Mess Stewards. Airfield Construction was one of the few units that took in National Service tradesmen along with Ground Electrician.

Those called up at 18 years of age were either unemployed or in non skilled employment and found little choice of job selection other than above simply because most of the trade courses were too long for them to go on and not a feasible option. Far fewer National Service men served in the RAF than the Army and even less in the Navy. From the mid 1950s onwards possibly 80% plus of those who signed on for Regular service in whichever arm of the military were simply unemployed or not in apprenticeships so looked on military service as a ‘Job’.

I commenced my National Service on October 10 1960 at RAF Cardington, then to RAF Bridgenorth, sitting further exams at RAF Bridgenorth for the RAF Police. My Station Police course was at RAF Debden and my dog course at RAF Netheravon. I was posted to RAF Coningsby and then to RAF Finningley. Demobbed October 10 1962.

The National Servicemen and the enlisted recruit were treated exactly the same. In the RAF the only two exceptions between National Service and a Regular recruit was pay and the uniform. National Servicemen got a very rough serge-type material No 1 dress and the Regular got barathea.

Everyone has their own times which were the best times in their life and it is not for Mr Thompson to suggest Tony Jenkins is wrong. My time in the RAF were two of the best years of my life without a doubt, be it patrolling in H Bomb areas or guarding the Vulcan squadrons or patrols in Doncaster at weekends.

Both National Service and enlisted Regular had the same and at times horrendous eight weeks of ‘square bashing’, bed packs, inspections, kit being thrown through the windows by the instructors. Civilian clothes had all been sent home. That eight weeks broke the hardest of men and it benefited every man who ever went on the square or slept in a 32-man billet, it seems other than Mr Thompson. Some of what happened in those days in training would not be allowed now. It was simply to instil discipline and obey an order. I do not see what Mr Thompson’s 25 years and a book have to do with ‘Square Bashing’. The training in whatever was no less for a National Serviceman than it was for a Regular.

Aldershot was and is an army garrison town and Catterick was both Army and RAF. Once out of basic training one could wear civilian clothes. So once again Mr Thompson has a slur at National Service men. Nobody knew whether Regular or National Service when in civvies wherever they were in the world serving.

Mr Thompson omits the major conflict after WW2 which was the Korean war when National Service had to be extended as there were insufficient Regulars in the military, the army being undermanned.

Noted from elsewhere which Mr Thompson should possibly reflect before decrying the National Service man: 2.3 million men were called up for National Service over the 13 years the act was in force. Under the 1947 Act it was initially 12 months and was extended to two years due to the Korean War. 395 National Service men were killed in action and 200 died by military accident in the 13 years of National Service. It is an accepted fact that had it not been for the National Service man the military would have been unable to function as it did because there were not the men volunteering. Even the RAF Police in around 1956 to 59 were heavily dependent on National Service men. Ironically when I was demobbed they were turning men away from the RAF Police.

Mr Thompson should read, ‘National Service, Elvis & Me’ by David Fowler (a local man),’The Call Up’ by Tom Hickman or ‘Stand By Your Beds’ by David Findlay Clark and get an insight to National Service.

Sadly it is Mr Thompson who continues to see the world through those rose-tinted glasses.

Crime statistics released by North Yorkshire Police reveal a steady month by month increase in the number of crimes reported to Scarborough Police (August 19 Evening News).

PJS Waller

Woodville Avenue