National Service

National Service, a standardised form of peacetime conscription, was introduced in 1947 for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30. 

National Service was then formulated by the National Service Act 1948 , and from 1 January 1949, healthy males 17 to 21 years old were expected to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, and remain on the reserve list for four years. They could be recalled to their units for up to 20 days for no more than three occasions during these four years.

When "D Simon" was called-up for service with the RAPC this is what appeared through his letterbox - an Enlistment Notice together with a travel warrant and a postal order for 4 Shillings (20p)!!




Images copyright Imperial War Museum

Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in one of the three "essential services": coal mining, farming and the merchant navy for a period of eight years. If they quit early, they were subject to being called up. Exemption continued for conscientious objectors, with the same tribunal system and categories.

During the 1950s there was a prohibition on serving members of the armed forces standing for election to parliament. A few National Servicemen stood for election in the 1951 and 1955 general elections in order to be dismissed from service.

In October 1950, in response to the British involvement in the Korean War, the service period was extended to two years; in compensation, the reserve period was reduced by six months. National Servicemen who showed promise could be commissioned as officers. National Service personnel were used in combat operations, including the Malayan Emergency, the Cyprus Emergency, in Kenya against the Mau Mau Uprising, and the Korean War, where conscripts to the Gloucestershire Regiment took part in the last stand during the Battle of the Imjin River. In addition, National Servicemen served in the Suez Crisis in 1956.

There was an interesting exchange in Parliament concerning RAPC NS Training. Here is what Hansard tells us:

National Service (R.A.P.C. Entrants)

HC Deb 24 November 1953 vol 521 cc181-2 181

Mr. Hayman

asked the Secretary of State for War why the primary training of National Service men entering the Royal Army Pay Corps has to be completed in one month.

Mr. Head

The National Service entrant to this Corps does not complete his basic training in one month. His basic military training is not, however, carried out continuously for six weeks, but is spread over a longer period because he begins technical training in his fifth week.

Mr. Hayman

Will the Minister bear in mind that I have had information that the primary training in one unit has to be completed in a month, that at that place the men training are on duty from 5.45 a.m. until almost midnight, and does he not think that this is too much for a non-combatant unit, and will he take steps to see that it is regulated?

Mr. Head

If the hon. Gentleman will let me have particulars, I will look into them, but I know of no unit in the Army where normally day-to-day duties start at 5.45 and end at midnight. 

The value of Royal Army Pay Corps personnel when employed in regimental units, demonstrated under the most testing circumstances in Korea, was confirmed when the official scheme came into operation. After it had been working for only ten months Sir George Turner told the Army Council that a completely new approach to pay matters had been observed in units. He pointed not only to the success achieved in Korea, but also to the reports received from units serving in Malaya which showed that the arrangements had considerably eased the burden on combat personnel. There were, said Sir George, 129 NCOs with units and 143 in training.

By June 1954 the number of Sergeants in units had risen to 600. It was now clear that it was only a matter of time before all the clerical pay duties in major operational units would be taken over by the Royal Army Pay Corps. Manpower was the stumbling block. The solution was forthcoming when the Army Council agreed that National Servicemen, destined to become pay clerks in regiments, should be first enlisted into the Royal Army Pay Corps. After a short but intensive course in the Royal Army Pay Corps Training Centre they would be posted to regiments as sub-unit clerks. At any time, once the scheme was in full operation, the total of National Servicemen, either in training or doing duty in units, was 2,800. The annual training quota was 800.

An examination of manpower problems overseas was undertaken by a Committee presided over by Lieutenant General Sir Colin Callander. In their report, made in October 1951, the provision of a Paymaster for unit employment was again mentioned. There was a crucial suggestion as to how the manpower might be provided. On this point the report read as follows:

"Battalion Commanders would gladly surrender an Officer vacancy on their establishment if it could be filled by an experienced officer who would be responsible for all pay accounting (the actual payment of troops would still be the responsibility of the Company Commander). A start has been made to assist units by the attachment of RAPC NCOs to battalions, but we recommend that the possibility of appointing an Officer should be considered".

In making his submission to the Army Council in connection with the provision of National Servicemen as sub-unit clerks, the Permanent Under Secretary of State reported that, as a result of the Callander recommendation, Paymasters were being employed on a trial basis in a few major units. For his part the Paymaster-in-Chief was well pleased with the way in which representation at units was developing. He had no wish to commit Paymasters to this type of employment until they had a trained staff of clerks.

The units selected for the "Paymaster Trials" were the 8th Hussars, 18 th Medium Regt RA, 28 Field Regt RE, 1 East Yorks, 1 Gloucester and 1 Royal West Kent. The trials were thorough and intensive. As in the case of NCOs, it was possible to conduct a good proportion of them while the units were in operational areas. The active service epicentre in the Far East had now moved from Korea to Malaya where the East Yorks and the West Kents were serving, The Sapper Regt was in Korea, while the Hussars were in the Rhine Army. The Medium- Regt and the Gloucesters were in the United Kingdom. During the experimental period Paymasters were also attached to units of the Reserve Army. No restriction was placed on the range of duties which Paymasters could be called upon to perform by their Commanding Officers and there was no relaxation in the financial responsibilities of the latter.

The employment of Paymasters in units became official in 1955 when the Army Council Instruction (401) announcing the scheme was published.

National Service ended gradually from 1957. It was decided that those born on or after 1 October 1939 would not be required, but conscription continued for those born earlier whose call-up had been delayed for any reason. In November 1960 the last men entered service, as call-ups formally ended on 31 December 1960, and the last National Servicemen left the armed forces in May 1963.

Some shared memories of National Service

  George Smith Devizes & Stockbridge 1958-60                                                                 
279-tiny_rapc_icon.jpg   Trenuth Seager 1960-62
279-tiny_rapc_icon.jpg Last Man to do National Service - a BBC Special with Lt Richard Vaughan RAPC