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The End Of National Service
by Juliet Rowe
Hands up those of you who agree that the word why is over-used these days. Didn’t we just make do and shut up in our day? When and where were far more du jour! Why rolls off of the lips of the younger generation far more than we ever thought or even dared. Today’s youngsters do like asking the powers that be for answers. Whether they get the answers they are looking for, well that’s another matter.
In case you hadn’t heard, we have just celebrated the 50th anniversary commemorating the end of the National Service, with early 2011 due to witness the decommissioning of the Ark Royal. Here at Senior Selections we have a little inkling that some of our readers themselves may have served. This is of certainly a sign of the times, bearing in mind that the ‘Mighty Ark’ was the Royal Navy’s flagship; our defence tactics these days seems to be via the air, leaving the vastness of the oceans a little redundant in our expenses.
Onto thoughts of today’s errant and displaced teenagers, with focus and direction in short supply, oft heard to be asking why. Would it serve these youths well to service their people? How effective would the loudest, most brash Sargent Major be with today’s young adults? The immense unemployment figures and the fight – expensive just took on a new meaning – for that increasingly elusive place at university is causing untold distress. And yes, there have been whispers of bringing back the National Service. In July last year, David Cameron unveiled pilot plans for a National Citizen Service for 16 year olds to commence this summer, as part of his ‘Big Society’ programme. Money of course was an issue, however the support was overwhelming. According to Cameron, it would encourage those from different social groups to mix, contributing to the ‘tragic waste of potential in this country’.
Do you remember what it felt like when you left school? Leaving school is a little akin to being chucked out of a routine and thrown into a world without one. It is down to you to create your own life. You can strive to become the best in whatever you choose or you can take it day by day (or worse, end up finding that there’s nothing that motivates you).
At the height of the tuition fee protests – and the Commons vote – the level of anxiety amongst young people about the cost of education, and getting a job when they leave, shows the ‘day to day’ concerns for youngsters: young men experience most street violence, young women struggle with their body image, they all feel they’re not being heard. Speaking to young people, one realises that they genuinely care about the community, their impact on society and not just simply, consumers, as is often assumed.
We have been speaking to Edward Album. Born in 1936, Album served in the National Service in 1954, his story is bound to resonate with many of you. Born in 1936, neither Mr Album nor his family would have dared to question his duty to the nation. Nor would they have considered questioning it. It was simple! “You did not think so much about whether it was right, like we do so often these days”, remarks Album. Can you imagine a teenager today grinning and bearing, asking no questions? Album passed the exams for Oxford University to read Classics – he was 18. He had to defer university for the two years he was ‘called up’. He had the time of his life!
Watching Edward reminisce, there is a twinkle in his eyes as he recounts his days in Aldershot for the basic training (The Navy was his first choice, however his eyesight let him down), onto Yeovil and then to Dover to work in the Transport Unit as a 10-tonne truck driver, earning £1.40 per week. Actually, in many aspects, times haven’t changed. As Album says, “those of us privileged enough to have had a good education, were considered a potential officer fairly early on”, he had been in the Cadets at school, where he had been taught drills and how to march with a rifle (remembered perfectly today, as practised with an umbrella during our interview!).
Asking Mr Album for his views on bringing back National Service, money as ever is the issue, though so invaluable the experience, he thinks it would benefit youngsters enormously to have a three-six month project, but “whether we can afford it or not is another question. Every politician should experience this to see what it is all about. In those days, empathy was very much a factor as, all of our school masters had been through a war”. There are huge benefits to being part of the forces; physical, mental, emotional and social awareness being at the top of the list.
Today, it seems many of us agree that national service would be a huge benefit to many youngsters, especially those not in full-time education after 16. One such idea is to make it compulsory for any school-leaver not entering into higher education to complete one year of national service, with a contemporary version of the National Service. How about offering a choice for those taking a gap year between studies, to gain experience in the Army, RAF or Navy? It would provide them with those skills that only our grandfathers/great grandfathers are likely to be familiar; firm discipline, a sense of worth, healthy lifestyle, a regular salary, a chance to see the world, respect to their elders and national pride.
For those who are against such a scheme in modern-day Britain, might see logistics and cost of putting thousands into uniform as key hindrances. Others see the sending of teenagers into an even more strictly controlled institution straight from school might not teach them how to make it on their own. This of course depends on each personality. For it can make someone even more dependent on others and less able to fend for oneself.
Notwithstanding the current antisocial behaviour, does discipline not begin at home? ‘Hooligans’ after all are made, not born. Is one to blame parents for the erratic, apathetic and disrespectful youths prowling our streets? Let’s not forget that with the developments in technology, cannon fodder is, fortunately, no longer a current issue as it was in our day. We do need to be aware that the military will not solve our problems of antisocial behaviour. The logistics, uniform and training are of course an obstacle and an expensive one. Surely this is not the only cure for the current malady of lack of direction and motivation?
Let’s not forget recent reports on the British Army….does it have a good record in creating mentally stable well-rounded individuals? Are today’s soldiers immune from depression, alcohol addiction, aggressive, bullying behaviour? Anti-social skills would appear to be a sign of the times.
If we did bring it back, unpolished shoes would swiftly become a thing of the past. The same goes for our very own home-grown ‘hoodies’ and lack of decorum on the streets. Urging young people to commit to some sort of voluntary programme is no bad idea, particularly if it gets them thinking about the needs of others. Edward Album and his delightful nostalgic journey down memory lane – the discipline, the friendships he made which remain today, the camaraderie and the respect for his elders – belongs sadly to times gone by.
Why, he even bought his own original 10-tonne truck eight years ago, so sentimental was he for the vehicle he captained of all those years ago. The truck is truly his most cherished pleasure, well, that is to say after his wife, children and grand-daughter….Why not enhance the energies of our misdirected youths with a period of service; those 12 months have the potential to change someone’s life, approach and mind-set. That is surely priceless.
Feel like I have done a service to my nation…