THERE are no shortages of books on both world wars but now there’s a comprehensive look at National Service by Berwick Coates, just published by Halsgrove.

We are featuring it here in the hopes it will prompt readers to share their memories and photos of what national service meant to them.

Please get in touch and let us know how Bridport’s finest spent their compulsory two years.

The last of the two and a half million national servicemen who undertook national service were not demobbed until 1963.

It was the Labour Government of Clement Attlee which passed the National Service (Armed Forces) Act in 1948 which decreed that all healthy men between the ages of 17 and 21 were to be called up for 18 months (extended to two years because of the Korean War) and be on the reserve register for four years.

There were ways to escape – be a conscientious objector (though not easy to convince a tribunal of your sincerity), a student (only got you a postponement) a vagrant or you could commit a crime bad enough to be incarcerated for two years. Not much of a choice.

Or you could be in an exempt profession – farming, mining or the Merchant Navy and it was surprising how many discovered a passion for the plough in those post-war years, says Mr Coates.

His book goes on to detail what happened to those raw recruits from their summons, to basic and officer training, what it was like going abroad, the accommodation, the work, transport and mud, domestic life, ceremonial events and leave and of course the personalities.

Anyone with the slightest interest in history or the armed forces will find it a fascinating account of an oft-cited panacea for what ails today’s youth.

It provides insights for those too young to have experienced national service and will bring back a host of memories for those who went through the apparently endless round of square-bashing and spitting-and- polishing, sometimes with endurance and surprisingly often with enjoyment, says Mr Coates.

The 160-page National Service 50 Years On is on sale for £19.99.



Berwick Coates was educated at Kingston Grammar School, and read History at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Since then, he has been at various times an Army officer, writer, artist, lecturer, careers adviser, games coach, and teacher of history, English, Latin, general studies, and Swahili.

He lives in the West Country, where he works as a school archivist. His written work includes biography, text books, general history, local history, memoirs, humour, and light verse. This is his tenth book.

His first historical novel will be published next year by Simon and Schuster.