We often hear people referring to National Service and whether it should be brought back or not. But what was it and how did it affect our young people? After two world wars, it was decided that all young men should receive military training. Also known as peacetime conscription, it was compulsory for all fit and able men between the ages of 18 and 30. What would young men think of this now?
National Service was to last for a period of 18 months but when the Korean War broke out in the early 1950s, this period was extended to 2 years. When it was introduced in 1949 until it ended in 1963, over 2 million British men had served time in the Army, Navy or Air Force. So, why was it deemed necessary in times of peace?
Britain had been left plundered by the cost and scale of World War II involvement and also had many overseas territories to look after from the days of the Empire. There was also a need for troops to be stationed in post-war Germany and Japan. We were rather stretched in terms of responsibilities. To top it all, the Cold War era was then upon us with increasing tensions between the U.S and the Soviet Union. India voted for independence in 1947 so the British could no longer call on the vast Indian Army for help anymore.
This goes a long way towards explaining why the government felt it essential for conscription to continue after the Second World War had come to an end. After a period of initial training, the young men required to complete National Service were often posted overseas to places like Egypt, Borneo or Libya. Imagine how strange that must have been for some young men who had never left their home village before?
Some of these young and relatively inexperienced men would have found themselves involved in front-line fighting as struggles for independence resulted in guerrilla warfare in some of our colonies. There were also tensions in communist areas such as Korea, where tank warfare was in operation. Ever wondered what it’s like to drive a tank? For your own taste of National Service, why not try a Tank Driving Day. For more information, visit https://www.armourgeddon.co.uk/tank-driving-experience.html
The reasons why National Service came to an end was that Britain’s global position had changed and warfare itself was evolving. No longer the superpower it once was, there was less need for huge numbers of troops to protect an overseas empire. The development of nuclear weapons also meant that a large defensive army was no longer a deterrent. The training of so many young men was also becoming a burden on the regular army and took valuable skills and labour away from the economic world of gainful employment.
Many had truly horrible experiences whilst others look back fondly about times of camaraderie and opportunities they would never otherwise have been given. Some would have been camped in very basic, cold facilities whilst others would have purpose-built barracks with central heating.