National Service

Leaving Home to start National Service Training

James Caroll served his National Service between 1956 and 1959 in Oswestry.

length of audio 2 mins 10 secs.

James and friends relaxing outside their billet c. 1956

James and friends relaxing outside their billet c. 1956

James: Paul Anka had a hit record when I went in, I’m so young and you’re so old. I remember that because I was going through a really depressing, horrible, you know, first day away from home. And not just me but everyone else. You know, when we were in the billet of the night you could hear a pin drop and probably a few lads crying because it was so, it was so traumatic being away from home, it was horrible.

Hilary: Well could you say a bit about that? What was the journey like? How did you feel?

James: The journey?

Hilary: Yeah like when you left? I mean I remember yesterday you said that you remember your mum doing the ironing.

James: Oh aye, yeah.

Hilary: And she maybe shed a bit of a tear when you kind of walked out the door?

James: Oh aye yeah. Yeah well it was a train, it was a train ride to, a train ride to Oswestry and it was, that was miserable, just sitting on the train wondering what you were going to face all that. And then just untold lectures when you got there. And then it’s just, it’s just, the army is just a … it’s just an erm… it’s just shouting all the time. It’s just erm just persistent orders and, and, what’s the word for it now, oh it was on the tip of me tongue then, it was there It’s just discipline right from the start as soon as you go in. And they’d say to you, they get all the lads together and say ‘is there any hard cases here? If there is, step out’, you know. And they’re all like that. And you do get some hard cases there but everyone’s quiet ‘because if anybody thinks they’re hard they’ll never beat the army. So remember that and don’t step out of line, if you do you’re for the high jump.’ But then it’s in training, it’s when they, you’re being spoken to, it’s just this barrage of screaming at you all the time.

Ron Jones started his National Service training aged 18 in 1952 in Devizes before being stationed in Nottingham in the Royal Army Pay Corps. In the following extract he describes how his time spent in National Service changed his outlook and character:

length of audio: 3 mins. 26 secs.

Hilary: Do you think that your character changed in anyway when you went into National Service?

Ron: My character, when I went in I was an eighteen year old boy. And I did have boyish thoughts. You know, I was very slow to grow up you might say. But when I came out, I was a twenty-year old man. And my, my thoughts on life completely changed. I got to thinking about responsibilities. Whereas when I first went in there were no responsibilities. I couldn’t care less. Also, you might say I was very unfit. When I came out I was very fit because of basically because of the training and what went on, oh yeah it changed your character all right. It changed you from a boy to a man. I mean I saw lads going in there and they were like me. They didn’t know what was going on but you did when you came out. You knew exactly what was going on and you began to appreciate life more.

Hilary: What do you mean?

Ron: Well at first I used to, shall we say roam the streets with a couple of friends of mine. We’d go to the pictures. We’d go to Sefton Park and play football or something like that. We didn’t have grown up responsibility. But when you went in the army the whole thing changed. The first couple of weeks as I say that was a nightmare. I wondered what had hit me because I’d not been used to anybody telling me what to do. What time to get up of a morning. Where to go and have my breakfast. What to take with me. How to dress. I’d not been used to that, after a few weeks you really got used to it and your lifestyle changed. It changed from being shall we say freelance to respecting authority.

Hilary: How did you feel about that?

Ron: I wasn’t very pleased at first. But it’s one of those things that you get used to. You knew you had to do it. You couldn’t refuse to do anything. If somebody gave you an order and if they had the rank you obeyed that order without question.


James Carroll recalled the sense of camaraderie and his feelings about being demobbed from National Service:

length of audio 1 min. 14 secs.

Hilary: What about when you were demobbed? How did it, you know, how did you feel about that?

James: Oh I was ecstatic. Ecstatic because I was I remember one of the Sergeants walking in I think I was abusing me gear or something and he went, something, he threatened me this was before I went out. He says ‘don’t think that you can’t get another group, a group was like another two or three weeks or four weeks added, you know, don’t think because you’re supposed to be going out tomorrow or something like that, that you can do, carry on anyway today otherwise you’ll be …’ do you know what I mean? But I remember getting told off. I think I was abusing me kit in me, kicking me kit bag all over the place or something. And he which I could have got done again, kept in, and that’s the least thing you’d have wanted to do. But I remember when … I remember when erm the day I was going out, say I had about four, three or four really good mates that I knocked around with all the time. I remember going round and putting ten cigarettes under each one’s mattress, you know, all me three or four best mates. I remember doing that. Because that’s what you all did like, you know.

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