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About A Week: National Service

Peter Hinchliffe recalls some of the delights of National Service.

Oh the things they taught us in Her Majesty’s peace-time Air Force!

* How to work wrinkles out of new boots with a red-hot poker.

* How to put creases sharp enough to shave with into a pair of britches.

* How to arrange sheets and blankets into a perfect rectangular pile.

* And for the lucky few, how to cut grass with nail scissors.

In and among they taught us how to march and kill people.

There was a new language to be learned, a delightful lexicon which included such words as blanco and pull-through, fizzers and jankers.

Basic training came as a shock to the system for 2710309 AC2 Hinchliffe P in the Lad’s Air Force, circa 1953. For me, and also for the other 2,500,000 youngsters. who were called up for National Service between 1945 and 1963.

Mammy’s boys who had never so much as ironed a shirt learned very quickly how to stand on their own two feet. Or I should say how to stamp up and down on them, with drill corporals bawling sweet encouragement into their ears.

Many a National Service sprog will have watched with delighted, and slightly contemptuous, smiles the trials of the recruits in ITV’s Lad’s Army as they painted coal white and did press-ups by the thousand. This was a so-called "reality'' programme.

The lads, all volunteers, reached the conclusion of their basic training ordeal with a Pass Out parade. Back then they went to civvy street, with videos one day to be shown to their children and grandchildren of the time when they pretended to be soldiers.

When we conscripts concluded our weeks of square-bashing at Hednesford, and such-like camps, we had another 96 weeks of service still to do - and no dropping out!

Ah Hednesford, that holiday camp on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire! We sang a song expressing our delight at being there.

They say that this Hednesford’s a wonderful place
But the organisation’s a blinking disgrace.
There’s corporals and sergeants and flight sergeants too
Standing around with not much to do.
They stand on the square and they ball and they shout
They shout about things they know nothing about.
And for all their use they might a well be
Shovelling something nasty on the Isle of Capri.

Actually the words were riper than that, but this is a respectable Web magazine.

After the first two weeks of square bashing, when I had got my kit into decent shape and my boot toe-caps were bright enough to serve as shaving mirrors, I began to enjoy myself. I even found the drill instructors funny - though it didn’t pay to show the slightest signs of amusement.

In the months that followed, when I was posted to a station where jet fighters rent the air day and night, National Service became enjoyable and exciting. Fifty years on, I realise I’m the better man for having served.

Mind you, our square bashing days could never have been filmed for TV. Our drill instructor, Corporal Hudspith, had a voice to drown Concorde.

“You horrible little man!’’ he would have yelled. “Stop pointing that blankety-blanking camera at me or I’ll shove it where the blankety-blanking monkeys put their nuts.’’

The cameraman, in shock, would have dropped his camera on the asphalt parade ground. And the series would have ended before it began.

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