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National service

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National Service was the name given to the system of military conscription employed in Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland) between 1949 and 1960. The same term is still used to describe the compulsory military (and sometimes civilian) service that is still implemented in some countries, including Singapore, Greece, and the Russian Federation.


Great Britain

Conscription had been introduced in 1939 and continued after the Second World War. It was formalised in peacetime by the National Service Act 1948. From January 1 1949, every man over the age of eighteen was expected to serve in the armed forces for eighteen months, and remain on the reserve list for four years thereafter. The period of basic duty was extended to two years in 1950 as a response to the Korean War, although the subsequent time in the reserves was reduced by six months to compensate. National Servicemen who showed promise could be commissioned. The Territorial Army and other reserve forces, which the former National Servicemen joined to fulfil their reserve commitment, expanded massively between 1949 and 1963, with units in almost every town and full regiments and battalions in many.

Although it officially ended on 31 December 1960, the last National Serviceman, Lieutenant Richard Vaughan of the Royal Army Pay Corps , was not discharged until 13 May 1963. The last man to actually be called up for National Service was Private Fred Turner of the Army Catering Corps , who was discharged on 7 May 1963.

It was the first and only time that peace-time conscription occurred in the UK. The British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were voluntary professional organisations before National Service began and have returned to that status since the end of National Service, despite repeated calls from social conservatives for a return to enforced conscription. The only times when conscription had previously been introduced by the Government were during the later First World War and during the Second World War.

National Service had a profound effect on British society and culture. Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones, along with many young men, first heard and then played Rock and Roll whilst stationed in West Germany; authors like Leslie Thomas and David Lodge wrote books based on their experiences; actor Oliver Reed, comedian Tony Hancock, and his writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson developed their talents whilst serving in the armed forces. Most importantly, though, National Service gave something for young men to rebel against, and the end of National Service was when the idea of the teenager in Britain really began.


In Singapore, the NS (Amendment) Act was passed on 14 March 1967, under which all able-bodied male citizens of 18-21 years of age are required serve a compulsory military service of two years. Upon completion of full-time NS, they undergo reservist training cycles of 40 days a year for the next 13 years.

The rationale behind conscription is two-fold. Firstly because it has a population of about 4 million (as of 2004), an army solely comprised of regulars would simply be too small to adequately defend the country (although many similar sized and smaller countries do not have conscription). Secondly, it fosters a certain amount of harmony, specifically, religious/racial harmony.

Currently, women are not required to serve National Service, though there have been debates about the issue.

Films about National Service

Great Britain

  • Carry on Sergeant (1958)
  • The Virgin Soldiers (1969) (based on the novel by Leslie Thomas)


  • Army Daze (1996)

See also

Last updated: 05-07-2005 03:09:47
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04