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National Service

Young British men in the 1950’s were confronted by the daunting prospect of being “called up” for National Service.

Under the terms of the National Service Act of 1948 all healthy males between the ages of 17 and 21 were obliged to undergo two years of mandatory military training and duty – the first time compulsory military service had been seen in Britain outside of wartime.


Many young 1950’s servicemen spent their entire term in draughty army barracks polishing boots and ‘square-bashing’.

Others were dispatched to the outposts of Britain’s shrinking empire to fight her enemies.

They took on the left-wing guerrillas in the Malay jungle. In Kenya, they tried to outwit the Mau Mau terrorists.

They guarded the Suez Canal. And they went on desert forays in Aden and the troubled Gulf States. Around 400 were killed in action and many more were wounded.

However, National Service was never a big political issue for British youth.

Some young men actually enjoyed their service overseas as it opened up new horizons and experiences, just as it had for their fathers and brothers during the war.

It was simply the conformity, the regimentation and the intense drabness of the post-war world they lived in that provided the spur for revolt.

National Service eventually became unpopular with the new breed of teenager and the last conscripts were called up on 18 November 1960.

By 1 January 1963, there were 5,228 National Servicemen in the Army. All of these were released by the end of May, by which time 2.5 million young Britons had completed their National Service.