Permission to speak, Sah! In the aftermath of the Second World War, over two million men were conscripted to serve in Britain's armed services. Some were sent abroad and watched their friends die in combat. Others remained in barracks and painted coal white. But despite delivering such varied experiences, National Service helped to shape the outlook of an entire generation of young British males. To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of National Service, Historian Dr. Colin Shindler has interviewed a wide range of ex-conscripts, from all backgrounds, across all ranks, and spanning the entire fourteen years that peacetime conscription lasted, and captured their memories in this engrossing book.
From them, we experience the tension of a postwar Berlin surrounded by Russians, the exotic heat and colour of Tripoli in 1948, the brief but intense flashpoint of the Suez Crisis, and the fear of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. But we also hear about the other end of the scale, the conscripts who didn't make it outside the confines of their barracks, or in one case, beyond his home town. Through these conversations we learn as much about the changing attitudes of servicemen as war became more of a distant memory as we do about the varied nature of their experiences.
We see, too, the changing face of British society across these pivotal years, which span everything from the coronation of Elizabeth II, to the birth of rock 'n' roll, to the beginning of the end of the Empire. The stories within these pages are fascinating. And they deserve to be told before they are lost forever.
This book is not merely a history of National Service but also a social history of the late 1940s and the 1950s. I was about 18 months too young to 'enjoy' National Service but did subsequently spend just over a quarter of a century in the Regular and Territorial Armies so the descriptions are entirely familiar to me. Things have of course changed dramatically but in many ways have come full circle as having passed through the Cold War scenario we are now right back in what is now a much smaller world beset with tribal/sectarian insurgencies. Will/should National Service return? The answer I feel is a resounding 'no', it was of its time and that time has gone. If however you want to get a feel of that time then you could do far worse than to read/listen to Colin Schindler's excellent book.
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An lot of references of others experiences, which by the nature of this book are highly condensed. I was in the army at that time and not one went without his "Grip Chart" which was ticked of every day with the saying "Days to do getting few" which went to show how much this invariably scruffy bunch viewed their service commitments. Amazing though what some authors will do to create a book.
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