Andover History and Archaeology Society
THE May meeting of the Andover History and Archaeology Society took place in Andover’s Guildhall, a venue that has recently been used, owing to the increased numbers attending the society's meetings at the museum.
Some meetings will still need to be held at the museum however, and it is advisable to check the society's website for details.
The speaker this month was popular member Greg Gregory who chose to talk about ‘National Service’ and his own experiences of that period. Indeed, ‘National Service’ is something that is gradually disappearing from memory because the youngest national serviceman is now coming up to 75-years-of age. In the years 1947-60 every young man reaching the age of 18 became liable for ‘call up’ to spend 18 months, later two years, in the armed services.
For each of these young men, the experience of doing ‘National Service’ was different. Some spent their time in the UK while others served overseas in places such as Germany, Austria, Jamaica, British Honduras, Nigeria, Aden, Jordan, Gibraltar, Malta, Iraq, Christmas Island or Hong Kong. Many more were called to fight in the conflicts of those years – in Palestine, Korea, Malaya, Egypt, Kenya, Cyprus and in the Suez Crisis.
The first intimation of ‘call up’ was an announcement in the newspaper specifying the age group that was required to register, and in Andover registration was done at the ‘Labour Exchange’. That was followed by a medical and an interview at Salisbury for young men from Andover or at Reading for those from Whitchurch. Some weeks later, an official brown letter came through the letter box with details of where to report, how to get there and a postal order for one day’s pay.
Then started the experience all national servicemen shared – basic training. The military discipline and the physical demands of this intense period of training made it hell for many of the teenage conscripts but within a few weeks they were transformed and given their postings.
At this time, Britain was strengthening its presence in the Suez Canal Zone where trouble had erupted, sanctioned and encouraged by the nationalist Egyptian government. Greg was posted on active service to RAF Ismalia, one of the many camps along the canal. Illustrating his talk with photographs taken at the time and with his own colourful sketches, Greg spoke about what living conditions and daily life were like for the young men serving there, and how they contrived to make the best of things. On a personal level, his National Service had been done in the company of a great bunch of lads and, although he had not always thought so at the time, he was pleased to have had the experience.