From: J Michael Booth, Bramhope, Leeds.
I READ with great interest Prof Vinen’s Saturday Essay re National Service (The Yorkshire Post, August 30).
The first thing to strike me was that he had absolutely no first-hand knowledge of his subject. For him to state that anyone employed in farming was exempt is totally untrue. I was employed on a large farm in Lincolnshire in 1952 but that didn’t stop the Government from calling me up. I didn’t want to go, but I thought that if I had to, I might as well join the regiment or corps that I chose, thereby hopefully learning something that would be of future use to me.
In the event, I signed on for an extra year (a total of three years in all). The extra year gave me a choice of regiment and 42 shillings per week as a “Regular” rather than 21 shillings as a National Serviceman.
That was one of the best decisions of my life. I joined the REME as a vehicle mechanic and to my surprise, enjoyed it very much. Apart from learning a trade, and contrary to Prof Vinen’s beliefs, the Army taught me a lot. Basic training taught me personal hygiene and esprit de corps and also how to mix with all strata of society, all of which proved to be of great use in later life. I am not so stupid as to say that I enjoyed every minute, because I didn’t, but I certainly came out a better man than when I went in. My last 18 months were spent at Catterick, attached to the 68th Training Regt, RAC at Waitwith Lines, and for anyone to live for six months in the toilets, living on stolen food, would be impossible. Prof Vinen must have a vivid imagination.
He appears to believe that National Service was treated as some form of Probation Service and after basic training National Servicemen “seemed to do a good deal of doing nothing”. I suggest that before he wrote his essay he should have visited the West Country village of Lynmouth and spoken to some of the older residents who survived the disastrous flood of Friday, August 15, 1952. Such people would have told him what a wonderful job was done there by National Servicemen and regulars alike. Unlike your correspondent, I was there and there is no doubt that they did a great “national service”.
Similarly, not long after that, the National Servicemen kept the nation’s haulage companies going by running petrol tankers to refuel service stations during the big tanker drivers strike. There followed the great East Coast Floods. Again National Servicemen lived up to their name.
Come back National Service!