IF a new Commons Bill goes through, Britain could see the return of National Service.
Participants will serve for a single year, and service could consist of “charitable work” or “care for the elderly” – among other things – according to emerging details on the proposed move.
The Bill’s fate is undecided as it is set to be debated in the new year.
This week, the Springfield Hotel near Halkyn Mountain hosted a meeting of the North Wales and Borders branch of the National Service Association for the RAF, whose members are made up of the last generation to experience National Service.
Some of the ex-servicemen gave their memories of the compulsory service.
l Reg Youd, 77, of Rhostyllen, near Wrexham, served at RAF Lyneham as a safety equipment technician.
He said: “On night shifts, we could sleep providing we knew the aircraft were ready to service.
“We’d be in bunks and an RAF policeman would come round with a dog and wake us by letting the dog lick our faces.
“Once, I wasn’t prepared, so I lashed out and the dog bit my beret. You can still see the hole in it.
“The lads would have a laugh. When we handed out parachutes, we’d say to the recruits ‘Let us know if it works when you get back’.
“Most played along but sometimes you’d see their faces go pale.”
Mr Youd was 23 when he was conscripted for National Service.
He said: “I think a lot of people viewed it as two years stolen from their life.
“I wasn’t particularly pleased. I’d just started earning £12 10s (£12.50) as a plumber and that went down to £1 8s (£1.40) with the Air Force.”
l Ronald Sand, 80, of Mold, was 18 when he became a wireless operator.
He said: “I ended up in Lybia on a base in the middle of the desert.
“There wasn’t much I could say about it except it was hot and quite boring. It was just work and sleep.”
Sparky the dog, a favourite with the young men, helped break the monotony.
Mr Sand said: “Because there were dogs coming in from the desert, the military police on the base would shoot them. They’d warn us so we could hide friendly dogs like Sparky.
“One man wanted to bring Sparky home with him but I heard after that Sparky was shot. That really upset me.
“Another time someone tried to break into the base with a donkey to carry stolen goods, but the thief ran off. The donkey ended up tethered outside the guardroom.
We didn’t know what to do with it. Strangely, no one came back to claim it.”
Mr Sand was doubtful as to the usefulness of National Service.
He said: “It didn’t exactly set me up for life. I became a commercial artist when I left.
Knowing how to do 20 words a minute in morse code didn’t help much.”
l Ken Williams, 78, of Mold, said National Service shaped his future.
He said. “I’d been in university studying chemistry, maths and physics. Within three weeks of seeing my results, I got the letter.
“They asked me about my background. I said: ’I’m a chemist,’ thinking I would become a petrochemical technician.
“Instead they said: ’Ah, that’s okay. We could do with people to work the radio and radar.”
Fortunately, Mr Williams’s understanding of physics meant he could teach recruits and serving members of the RAF about radio technology.
He said: “I ended up working with the RAF all over the country, doing technical training, and later became a teacher. It changed my life. Not many people can say that.”
It wasn’t all smooth flying, though.
Mr Williams said: “During square-bashing – getting new recruits in shape – they had us marching. I was at the front, it was a windy day and I didn’t hear the order to wheel left.
“Being tall, it was quite obvious when I went marching off alone. I had to run round the perimeter of the camp twice as punishment.”
l Peter Pemberton, founder of the Association, is 78 and lives in Hope.
He said: “I spent 22 months in the canal zone of Egypt, dealing with equipment.
Some of the lads had it different. It was a mixed bag but I had a few adventures courtesy of Her Majesty’s Forces.”
Among them was clambering up the sides of the Egyptian pyramids in full view of the Sphinx, playing hockey at 95°F and playing piano alongside a trumpeter in a touring jazz band.
He said: “I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the idea of National Service. It was the first time I’d left home and we were just dumped at the train station in Chester.
“I arrived at Bedford, the forces bus turned up and they started shouting at us to get on. One of the other recruits said: ’We’ve not even joined yet. You can’t shout at us!’, but it was all done with tongue firmly in cheek.”