My National Service in the Royal Artillery 1949-1951
My National Service memoir of my service with the Royal Regiment of Artillery 15th Independent Observation Battery as a Surveyor RA starts and ends with a picture. Below I am fresh recruit, happy in anticipation of all that lies ahead. This picture that is probably worth more than the proverbial thousand words, also tells its own story. I am very young man, perhaps someone with more of a youth about me than a man.
My picture in Chapter 14 as I conclude my National Service in Hong Kong two years later is also worth a thousand words. Click here if you want to skip ahead and look. It shows a young man, and with a lot more of the man in him. A man who has learned a lot about himself and the world through shared experiences with comrades, a man who has lived in a radically different part of the world to Surbiton, Surrey, and has learned from it. A man too, who because of his National Service had a chance to further his professional goals as a surveyor. And in the vernacular of the Service at that time, a man who “had got his service in and his knees brown.” Between these two pictures is my attempt to tell the story of how it all happened.
In all of it, is the Royal Artillery; I am proud to be a Gunner.
My experience was not unique. Countless others experienced much the same. Nevertheless my experiences are small pieces of military and social history and as such are worthy of some note. Nothing heroic or dangerous is described here compared to that experienced by some National servicemen in the conflicts of the time.
Written 50 years and more after my service, I was greatly aided in the preparation of the manuscript by the almost weekly letters I wrote home to my late father that he faithfully preserved. Photographs taken at the time and that survived over years jogged my memory too.
In writing it I have tried to recapture the spirit of what I saw and experienced at the time and avoid hindsight. Any mistakes and omissions are mine.
For many National Servicemen their service was an adventure as was mine, taking me to Hong Kong, the most distant posting in the British Army at the time. Today, when so much has changed in the world, it all seems rather unbelievable.
Originally written in March 2002, reviewed and revised for internet publication January 2014.
Smithfield, Utah, USA.