More About Life in National Service

I can still remember to this day the smell of the tobacco released from a freshly opened tin

Uniform
I remember my dark green Canadian uniform, whose collar had to be scrubbed white with toothpaste. I never ironed my trousers if I could help it, I would put them under my mattress to press them. We were issued with a sewing kit called a housewife and I learned to sew with no thimble. I never cleaned my shoes until I joined the army. My mother did everything for all of us because that was a miner’s wife’s way.

Fatigues
These were a khaki green jacket and trousers worn when doing some of the more sloppy jobs.

Barrack Room Damages
With every pay, we were all charged, for light bulbs, plugs, anything broken or missing. You couldn’t argue with their decision if you did they just found something else wrong with your hut. The deduction was one shilling per man.

Pay
We got twenty-five shillings a week. An allocation of ten shillings was automatically sent home to your family. With barrack room damages and all the kit you had to purchase there was very little left.

Affairs of the Heart
I can recall men receiving “Dear John” letters. These were letters from girlfriends back home who no longer wanted to continue the relationship and had more than likely met someone else.

The NAAFI
In the NAAFI hut was a billiard table and a darts board. There was a bar and lots of lads smoked. Cigarettes were issued free in tins of 50, and we received one tin per week. I did not start smoking until I was in National Service and then only when I had a drink! The tin had a cutter on the lid and a foil layer to protect the cigarettes. The cutter was used to break the seal. I can still remember to this day the smell of the tobacco released from a freshly opened tin.

Christmas
On Christmas Day the main event was the dinner. It was army tradition that, on Christmas Day, the officers had to serve the men their meal. They actually went round the tables and served the meals to the lower ranks. In Egypt, Christmas was the same celebration as at home, with a meal, a few beers and we’d give each other a prezzy. The officers served us there too. The only real difference was the heat, even in winter it was hot!!

ENSA
ENSA stands for Entertainment National Service Association. This was run by theatrical people. If someone was found to be musical or suchlike they could be conscripted into this group, possibly going abroad to entertain the troops.

Meal Times
Meals were always supervised by the officer of the day. He was always six feet tall, always had a stick under his arm and went from table to table saying, “any complaints?” Even if the food was awful you daren’t say so!!

Fire Duty
When you were put on fire duty you were given a stick that looked like a baseball bat. We often used to say, “how am I going to put out a fire with a stick?”

Whitewash
There was an obsession with painting around the camp; stones, flag poles, owt that didn’t move got painted white.

MPs
The MPs (Military Police) wore white belts. This was handy, because you could see them coming for miles.

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