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National Service turned boys into men

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How National Service turned boys into men

THE National Service Act of 1948 called for all physically fit males between the ages of 17 and 21 to serve in one of the armed forces for an 18-month period. I know. I was there.

In August 1949 I went, complaining, unwilling and with some slight fear and doubt like every other 18-year-old, to the RAF initial training centre at Padgate, part of Warrington, then in Lancashire. In the ensuing seven weeks we were transformed from a rabble of unkempt, wary and grumbling youths to a disciplined body in highly polished boots and carefully ironed uniforms, obeying orders without question.

Surprises began early. Several immunisation jabs resulted in half a dozen of the heftiest lads fainting flat on the floor. Uniforms came along on the second day so we had to send our civvy clothes home in a parcel. We were all given ID cards and a service number which I remember to this day, and we had to stamp this on all our ancillary items such as shoe brushes.

We were divided into ‘flights’ of about 20 lads, with a corporal in charge. Very quickly you learned that his two stripes meant he was your God and you did what he said, instantly. These corporals turned human occasionally and taught us how to iron our trousers, polish our boots and fold our blankets very precisely every morning before breakfast. Imagine! Twenty 18-year-olds suddenly aware of what their mothers did.

The training centred largely on the parade ground (‘square-bashing’). This was not only to get us to march in time and in step (normal or slow), but to instil in us that when an order was given you obeyed, again instantly. At the same time we were being gradually welded into a team.

There were more interesting days when we had somewhat perfunctory lessons in aircraft recognition, using leftover charts from the war, and we were taught to shoot. Curiously though (and I have never understood this) we spent some time stabbing sacks of hay with bayonets while screaming as loudly as possible. Surely by 1949 there would be no more fighting with bayonets?

The hardest work we did was on the nights before barrack inspections. Everything was polished, especially the coke stoves in the middle of the room. I was lucky being there in August; what did they do in winter when the stoves would be on most of the night? The floor had to shine which, considering 20 pairs of boots hammered it all day, took some doing. Imagine again: 18-year-olds polishing floors as if their lives depended on it.

There were compensations: a 24-hour pass, for instance, with much-reduced ‘forces’ rail fares. I went to Blackpool with two mates from my flight; the Tower Ballroom was packed as it rained all day. There was overnight guard duty so you had the next morning off, and a turn in the cookhouse so you could choose to have two puddings instead of a main course.

The first occasion when we were allowed to make a choice was towards the end of training when we were asked to consider what we wanted to do for the next 18 months. This was the moment which I think made the whole conscription affair worthwhile for most of the lads, at least in the RAF. I don’t know what it was like in the other two services.

Officers arrived and set out a range of possible activities, such as aircraft engineer, air traffic control assistant, drill instructor, clerical and admin, motor mechanic, radio operator and others that I can’t remember. I was out of all this as I was already working for the Met Office when called up and would continue the same job afterwards, though in uniform.

For some of them the call-up had undoubtedly interfered with their lives, their jobs and their plans. But from what I saw, for the vast majority it suddenly gave them a chance to do something useful which they could carry on into civilian life in 18 months, except that in October 1950, because of the war in Korea, the government added another six months.

We were not asked for our choice of personal pronouns, we all ate whatever food was provided, missing breakfast was a crime, no one had allergies, we didn’t drape protest messages over the site offices, we did not dare to take offence at being told what to do 100 times a day, and if the next training task was to run two miles, we did it, no matter how unfit we were in the first couple of weeks.

You find that last paragraph hard to believe? All true. I was there.

National service was the same all over the world. The above is an English experience. I did national service in the winter of 1972. We  were required to complete three months initial full-time training, followed by an annual commitment of three weeks part-time training for three years. Labour got in in November 1972 and scrapped it.

I was  in the last intake.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Yeah but the military has gone woke now, probably a requirement to have/use pronouns etc now.

    Would be a good idea tho, i rekon it should be compulsory for every school leaver regardless of age or sex. Shake em up a lil and teach them something useful, plus a detox from their devices would do a world of good even if its just a few months boot camp style instead of 18mnths.

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    • In many ways I agree with you but then some I don’t. I for one didn’t and never needed too as I was a disciplined hard working young man having been brought up that way and spent all my younger years in scouting and tramping shooting and so on. Most of my friends the same and remember we grew up with men who had been to war. I started work with men that were returned service men.
      Looking back at them in later life some things stand out. There were many broken and scewed up, who came home to nothing and started all over again. Some never recovered. Many became alcoholics.and family violence was there aplenty.
      Many of their children grew up in rough neighbourhoods.
      It was only the Mums who seemed to hold it all together although their were some who did service who were just as badly damaged as their men.
      But for the young that our school system fail and who simply have no guidance, boot camp works. Have had some young ones do that in the past and it changes their lives. Know of some at the present time it would be the makings of them. Never learnt the basics at home and just go along getting into trouble and usually on a benefit or such.

      Life is too easy for them. Those are the ones that should be sent for 12 months boot camp. Interestingly kids that do outdoor education such as Spirit of Adventure , Outward bound and Graham Dingles courses change for the better.

      Graham was among our group at High School and he was fit bugger then.

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  2. So boys should be forced into serving the Party.

    The primary purpose of all armed services is to control the domestic population. Statistically you are way way wayyyy more likely to be killed by your own armed services than by some other country’s.

    They are there to serve the Party.

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  3. From the article:

    …….”obeying orders without question.”…….

    On entry, they quietly place their aspirations in the containers provided, their brains in the buckets & their individuality down the toilet.

    Just the scenario that gives government officials & social conservatives of all stripes teeny little hardons.

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    • Well said
      ”obeying orders without question.”

      Oh to be back to that.
      no thanks.
      With brutal Sergeants using young men as emotional cannon fodder and punching bags..with no repercussions.

      The 1960s NZ where people in mental homes were physically and emotionally abused
      The 1960s NZ where people in orphanages were physically and emotionally abused
      The 1960s NZ where people in state institutions were physically and emotionally abused
      The 1960s NZ where people in parochial schools were physically and emotionally abused

      obeying orders without question is exactly what Agenda 2030 is about.

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  4. It was the best of times. Boys became men and found that a trade or blue-color job would enable them to pay off a 3-bedroom house, have 3 children, and enable their wife to stay at home to look after their children and manage the household.

    So much young men of New Zealand have lost in the 60 years since.

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      • “Certainly sorted me out.”

        And you had a job or career available that would pay you enough to run a household on that alone.

        How much would a man in Auckland today need to earn per year to pay off a mortgage on a very modest 3-bedroom house and have a stay-at-home wife?
        $150,000?
        $200,000?

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        • The national armed forces slavery that our Editor & a few others get all misty eyed about is well descibed in Te Ara:

          ……”A more limited form of national service (selective conscription by ballot) was introduced in 1961. This ended in 1972. The Territorial Force became a voluntary reserve service which supplemented the regular, professional force.”……

          And I wouldn’t get too carried away with providing or even preparing to provide for a stay at home wife & home ownership on the 15/- per week CMT payout. Some employers paid the difference between normal wages & the pittance but others did their best to surreptitiously get rid of the part time soldiers as they interrupted work schedules.

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          • My point is that the working environment those days allowed a working man to support a household on a single income.
            This has been lost in both the West and Far East, which is a major reason for the plummeting birth rates.

            Whether or not plummeting birth rates is a good or bad thing is the subject of another discussion.

            I am not a Greenie, but as a zoology graduate I understand the concept of “carrying capacity.”

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            • You’ll get no argument from me on house prices & their effect on the society that we all profess to want.

              From my very rusty memory we went from an average house price equalling 3.5 of annual gross wages/income in the mid fifties to a multiple of 13 in less than sixty years.

              Without habitation there’s little (quality) procreation.

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  5. Had this conversation with a mate who spent time in the navy, he thinks all should have to do military training, I on the other hand left the bullshit they call school to go into the work force at 16 and have never left, so think there should be the option of that how ever if you leave the workforce to sit on the dole sorry off you go to training camp

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  6. For those of you with short memories, at the time of CMT NZ was the width of a pussy hair away from sending conscripted troops to Vietnam. Up until then overseas postings were from the regular forces but the USA were putting pressure on our piss weak government to beef up this country’s support. Those of us who opposed CMT weren’t suicidally inclined:

    🎶
    “Well come on all of you big strong men,
    Uncle Sam needs your help again,
    He got himself in a terrible jam,
    Way down yonder in Vietnam,
    Put down your books and pick up a gun,
    We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun

    And its 1, 2,3 what are we fighting for?
    Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn,
    The next stop is Vietnam,
    And its 5, 6,7 open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
    WHOOPEE we’re all gonna die

    Well come on wall street don’t be slow,
    Why man this is war go go go,
    There’s plenty good money to be made,
    By supplying the army with the tools of the trade,
    Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb
    They drop it on the Vietcong.

    And its 1, 2,3 what are we fighting for?
    Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn,
    The next stop is Vietnam,
    And its 5, 6,7 open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
    WHOOPEE we’re all gonna die

    Well come on generals let’s move fast,
    Your big chance is come at last,
    Gotta go out and get those reds,
    The only good commie is one that’s dead,
    And you know that peace can only be won,
    When you blow them all to kingdom come

    And its 1, 2,3 what are we fighting for?
    Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn,
    The next stop is Vietnam,
    And its 5, 6,7 open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
    WHOOPEE we’re all gonna die

    Well come on mothers across the land,
    Pack your boys off to Vietnam,
    Come on fathers don’t hesitate,
    Send your sons off before its too late,
    Be the first one on your block,
    To have your boy come home in a box

    And its 1, 2,3 what are we fighting for?
    Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn,
    The next stop is Vietnam,
    And its 5, 6,7 open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
    WHOOPEE we’re all gonna die”
    🎶

    Fuck the USA & fuck their never ending wars!

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  7. I did officer training for 11 months and a subsequent year of deployment. Didn’t enjoy it much but it made me resilient, and taught me a lot about firearm safety. Virtually all was done in Afrikaans and god forbid you speak English – The Language of the Anti-Christ. Looking back, it probably made me resourceful, cunning and streetwise, but I did not enjoy it and was glad when it was over. Most South African men my age had similar experiences and when we get together the experiences we had often get chatted about. I’d highly recommend it for any young school leavers who don’t have apprenticeships or tertiary education planned. Would sort out a lot of societies issues.

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  8. Bit of useless information for you lot, the last bayonet charge was in the afghan wars, it was the Aussys, a small unit operation run into an ambush run out of ammo and went at the fuzzies with cold steel yelling like banshees, only two where shot advancing and they routed the Enemy.
    The old ways still work and work well, havnt heard of any charges in Ukraine, but that war is being called the drone wars.

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