This year marks 60 years since the end on National Service. Here, Ronan Thomas shares some of his father's memories of his time served from Wrexham...

When it comes to National Service, Wrexham has seen it all. For many Welsh youth of the 1950s, it was a rite of passage.

My father, Gareth Thomas, knew all about it. Like many others, he was called up for two years of compulsory National Service. Wrexham was his destination.

National Service was the conscription of British men aged 18 to 30, between 1949 and 1963. More than two million took part. Evasion meant imprisonment. Britain was facing the emerging threats of the Cold War and residual imperial commitments. National servicemen served in Korea, Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus, Suez, Aden, Hong Kong, Singapore and West Germany.

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Gareth had no choice in the matter but liked the idea of proving himself. At his Cardiff grammar school (Cathays High), he imagined himself flying a silver fighter jet. His interviewing officer set him an arithmetic calculation. When Gareth could not solve it, the officer said to him: "Infantry for you."

Gareth opted to join the Royal Welch Fusiliers (RWF). The recruiting officer warned him: "The discipline is terrific." The RWF was an infantry regiment founded in 1689 (since 2006 a battalion of the Royal Welsh Regiment). Battle honours included the Revolutionary Wars in America, the Seven Years War, and both World Wars. The RWF was not a South Walian regiment. Recruits came from Birmingham, Liverpool and across North Wales.

Basic training came as a serious shock to the system. In 1955, Gareth was instructed to report to Hightown Barracks. Arriving at Wrexham Central aged 19, he was greeted by bawling RWF NCOs. Red brick Hightown (the RWF's home since 1877) was next.

Burma Platoon, RWF (in PT kit), Hightown Barracks, Wrexham, 1955. Gareth Thomas, middle row, third from right. Photo courtesy of Ronan Thomas

Burma Platoon, RWF (in PT kit), Hightown Barracks, Wrexham, 1955. Gareth Thomas, middle row, third from right. Photo courtesy of Ronan Thomas

Wrexham wake up

The recruits swore their military oath to Queen Elizabeth II. In Burma Platoon, 1st Battalion, RWF, Gareth began six weeks of basic training. His Cold War army number (23189349) was so imprinted he never forgot it. He could always repeat it, instantly.

He was thrust into marching drill, kit and uniform maintenance, physical training (PT), boxing and rugby. There were frequent room inspections by regulars with unforgiving eyes. One sergeant addressed the platoon: "Does anyone here believe in God? That's good, because you're looking at him." The RWF's black silk flash and their white feather fusilier hackles had to be pristine. Infringements were punished remorselessly (by so-called 'jankers' duties). Cap badges had to be flawless. Gareth was punished for a tiny spot on his. His charge before the officer read: Filthy on parade. All of this, in time-honoured British military tradition, designed to mould civilians into soldiers, quickly.

Fusilier forging

Gareth was trained in the Lee Enfield .303 rifle, Sten gun, Bren and Vickers machine guns and Webley revolver. He lobbed hand grenades over brick walls. He used a glass half-monocle to shoot. He took part in many 'schemes' (infantry exercises). Once, his platoon dug in on the windswept slope of a North Wales hill. The men slept with only their steel helmets peeping out.

The Barrack room offered little privacy. A radio blared 1950's hits constantly. Lights out was at 10pm, a bugle sounded Reveille at 6am. Pay was about 30 shillings a week, spent in the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Forces Institute) canteen or in Wrexham pubs.

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National Service offered surreal moments. In 1955 Gareth contracted Spanish Flu. He reported sick with other shivering soldiers, in full kit in pouring rain outside the infirmary. One recruit realised the new officer punishing him was a school contemporary.

Gareth and other recruits were chased across a field at night by drunken Lancashire Fusiliers bent on attacking Welshmen. They escaped. On the range an unhinged fusilier fired at a flock of geese overhead, downing several. Marching through the local countryside, Gareth saw an old man point to a tiny speck in the blue North Wales sky, a jet aircraft. He told them as they passed: "You're all redundant."

Burma Platoon, RWF, Basic Training, Hightown Barracks, Wrexham, 1955. Gareth Thomas is front row, second from left. Photo courtesy of Ronan Thomas

Burma Platoon, RWF, Basic Training, Hightown Barracks, Wrexham, 1955. Gareth Thomas is front row, second from left. Photo courtesy of Ronan Thomas

'Get some in'

After basic training, most of his platoon just wanted to 'get some in' (serve their two years). Meanwhile, RWF drafts came and went, some to Malaya, others to Germany. It was the luck of the draw where the posting would be. Those back from Malaya told him how jungle operations could stain a man's skin green (from tree sap). They were used to talking only in whispers. In the NAAFI, he was amused by the bitter complaints of a recruit looking after the Regimental mascot, a malodorous, bad-tempered Llandudno goat with a tendency to nip its keeper.

During this period, Hightown was alerted following reports of an attempted raid by the IRA (Irish Republican Army). IRA raids on British armouries had occurred in 1953 in Essex and in 1955 in Berkshire. Gareth's platoon was sent into the local countryside in pursuit. At one isolated farmhouse, he was ordered to fire a burst of Bren gun fire through the windows before the building was searched. No IRA men were found.

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In 1956, the RWF were potential reinforcements for the Suez Crisis. Anthony Eden's government (along with France and Israel) invaded Egypt in November after Egyptian leader Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal. Gareth's platoon went though intensive battle training. He experienced live artillery fire and saw tanks crashing though hedgerows. On an assault course, a fusilier was killed next to him after falling from an elevated obstacle. He was issued with blue tropical silk pyjamas. But the Suez Crisis evaporated, after US President Eisenhower pressured Eden to halt it. Gareth kept the pyjamas.

Gareth was demobilised in 1957, remaining on the reserve list for a further four years. He remembered how marvellous it was to wake up the first morning home. He was so fit he could catch up with Cardiff buses.

National Service came at a price, though. Gareth suffered tinnitus and the loss of 25 per cent of his hearing. In any case, the memory of Wrexham stayed with him all his life.

It had been, he joked, an experience set against which all of life's later challenges could be measured and overcome.