National Service was the name given to the system of military conscription employed in the UK between 1949 and 1960.
From January 1 1949, every man over the age of eighteen was expected to serve in the armed forces for eighteen months, and remain on the reserve list for four years thereafter. The period of basic duty was extended to two years in 1950 as a response to the Korean war. Although it officially ended in 1960, the last National Serviceman was not discharged until 1963.
The British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have been professional organisations since the end of National Service, despite repeated calls from social conservatives for a return to enforced conscription.
National Service had a profound effect on British society and culture. Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones, along with many young men, first heard and then played Rock and Roll whilst stationed in West Germany; authors like Leslie Thomas wrote books based on their experiences; Tony Hancock, and his writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, developed their talents whilst serving in the armed forces. Most importantly, though, National Service gave something for young men to rebel against, and the end of National Service was when the idea of the teenager in Britain really began.
Films about National Service:
- Carry on Sergeant (1958)
- The Virgin Soldiers (1969) (based on the novel by Leslie Thomas)