They also served
Volume 41, Number 6, June 2003
In today’s “enlightened” Britain conscription is perhaps unthinkable, today it would be seen as overly militaristic or threatening and would certainly be viewed as another example of the by now infamous “infringement of civil liberties” that seems to be the standard cry of anyone who doesn’t get their own way these days. True, it is perhaps difficult for those of us under retirement age, who have grown up in a world where our armed forces have played a smaller and smaller role on the International stage, the sword having made way for the slick smile of the politician, to envisage such a time, where young men were forced into joining something against their will, where they were literally thrown in at the deep end and where many never returned from the operations on which they were sent. It is difficult to both envisage that time and to see why it would, some 40 years later, still hold such a place in the hearts of those on which it was “inflicted”. Of course there is no doubt that many who did serve look back on their demob as the happiest day of the whole experience, but many also look back on their time with great fondness, thousands stayed on in the forces after their “duty” was done and carved out if not glittering then certainly satisfactory careers and for many it sparked a passion that has stayed with them for life; we know hundreds of own readers only collect medals today because of the time they spent as National Servicemen. The last Sunday in June, this year June 29, has been designated National Service Day and will be marked by the unveiling of the National Service Memorial at the National Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffs. In conjunction with this, and to mark the 40th anniversary of the last Servicemen to leave National Service, the National Army Museum is holding an exhibition entitled “730 days until Demob” – being a look at “conscription” and the post war British Army in its change of role from warriors on the world stage to policing and peacekeeping actions supporting other Nations with UN or NATO backing. Much is known about those who joined up in 1939 and fought across the globe in the succeeding six years, the stories of WWII are well documented; but between 1945 and 1963, when the last National servicemen left the forces, over two million men had experienced service life and those years of experience are often overlooked. Certainly as a medal collector it is all too easy to ignore the post-war, pre-Falklands conflicts for which “only” clasps (if that) were awarded in favour of the more “glamorous” Victorian actions or well known WWI battles; after all the guerrilla wars of Kenya or Malaya don’t hold the same allure as Islandhawana or the Somme but for those who fought there or in Cyprus, Aden, Borneo, Suez et al, the experience was just as real, just as terrifying and, tragically for many, just as deadly. Certainly the war in Korea, during which many National Servicemen fought and died is one that our hobby, has embraced more than the “minor” campaigns but even that conflict (despite the huge influence of M*A*S*H) seems to come a poor second when compared with earlier or later actions. National Servicemen have often felt that “poor second” was to be their lot in life and have long campaigned for more recognition, firmly believing that their role was just as important as those of the “regulars”. The unofficial “National Service Medal” has, of course been around for some time and whether as a collector you agree or disagree with such awards there is no denying that with over 100,000 of this particular medal purchased to date many of those to whom it matters most feel that it at least goes some way to making up for the lack of other decorations. The unveiling of this new memorial, designed by Ian Stewart who also designed the National Service Medal, the Normandy Medal and others is another step to honouring those who in their own words “also served”.
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