Say ‘National Service’ to the younger members of the Shanklin community and they might think you are talking about the National Health Service. However, say the same words to the older members and the response might not be printable!! So, what is or was National Service? It was a period of time during which all young men had to serve in the Armed Forces. Registering at the age of 17, a deferment, or delay, may be granted if serving a recognised Apprenticeship or other training such as University thereby entering at the age of 21.
Why? Well the First World War ‘consumed’, and I make no apology for using that word, a lot of men and as there were not enough volunteers, ‘conscription’ or National Service was invoked to bring the numbers up and thus every able bodied man had to go.
Come 1939 and the Second World War. Men already serving and due for release were kept in. Many volunteered ‘just to win the war’, or as it was put on their Service Documents, “For the duration of the present conflict”, meaning ‘when I have won the war for you, I want to be released.’ However there were still not enough men so the 1939 National Service Act came into force. At first it was men aged 19 – 41. In 1941 the age was raised to under 51 and in December of that year unmarried women of 20 – 30 were called up.
‘But the war finished in 1945. Why did National Service continue until 1960?’
With the end of the war, those who should have been released at the end of their term during the war were released as were those who signed ‘for the duration of the present conflict’, and of course those who were called up for the war effort. This left the services very short of men, so the 1947 National Service Act was brought in. Men over 18 had to register for 12 months service with 5 years on Reserve. In 1948 this was extended to 18 months and with the advent of the Korean War, extended to 2 years in 1950. The final call up was in 1960.
Two facts people are not aware of, between 1945 and 1960, 1.1 Million men served in the Army, 433,000 served in the Royal Air Force and about 140,000 served in the Royal Navy. 395 national Servicemen were killed in action and another 200 lost their lives in accidents
And the second? Bevin Boys. What are, or were Bevin Boys? So many men had been taken from the mines to serve in the Armed Forces, the mines were short of men, so Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour and National Service at that time devised a method whereby 48,000 men were drafted into the Coal Mines instead of the Armed Services.
National Service now? Find an ex National Serviceman in Shanklin and ask him. If you did your stint in National Service, how about telling us about it?