Veteran's National Service Days remembered in exhibition

It has been 60 years since National Service ended in the UK.

Some of Ken's photos
Some of Ken's photos

The exploits of veterans during their National Service will be at the forefront of an innovative UK-wide heritage project.

Michael Wilkinson was conscripted in 1953, serving his National Service at Hednesford, before serving in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt during the Suez crisis in 1956.

The 87-year-old said he believes the project, powered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, provides a valuable insight into a unique period of Britain’s past.

He is among 18 veterans taking part in the project, many of them coming from the Midlands region.

They include Ken Grain, David Ryan, Eric Blackie and Galvin Carville, who were conscripted through Hednesford.

It has been 60 years since National Service ended in the UK and the campaign captures an important period of the country’s cultural history through the eyes of the men who served.

Ken Grain on National Service

Mr Wilkinson, who now lives in Chester, said: “Working with the team on this project has been a totally positive experience.

“It has brought back memories of happenings I have not thought about for many years.

“Nowadays people spend too much time on social media and don’t get involved with mixing with people. National Service put all kinds of people together. National Service is a forgotten thing and younger people don’t know about National Service or the two world wars.

Mr Grain, 89, was posted to Singapore with the RAF as a radio direction operator.

The second oldest of the veterans involved in the campaign, he was conscripted in 1950.

Ken Grain

“It’s been fascinating going back into my National Service life and remembering,” he said. “It’s important to remember it because a lot of people felt that it was a wasted opportunity but it was the best thing for young people.

“I think the project is a very good way of letting people know what happened during National Service. I was one of the lucky ones, and it helped me with my future life.”

Mr Ryan, 82, was conscripted during the final year of National Service after graduating from university the year before.

He served in the Royal Artillery and Army before going on to work as a teacher when his days in the forces had come to an end. He recently celebrated his diamond wedding anniversary with wife Heather.

“Anything that gives extra light to our history is useful to pursue,” he said.

“For many it was a positive experience, broadening horizons. We must remember it was not all ‘Carry on Sergeant’ – people died.”

David Ryan
David Ryan on National Service

Mr Carville was conscripted in 1954 while living in Slough. He said: “I had a very good National Service. People should realise it’s important because no country with just a regular army has ever won a world war. It’s all about the volunteers and draftees. I was 18 when I was called up.

“I went for training first and then they sent me to a radar station in Peterhead, in Scotland, and I stayed there until I came out.

“It was lovely – I saw a part of Scotland and used to do exercises with the Americans. It was good fun, and I enjoyed it because I enjoyed the work."

Mr Blackie was first conscripted in 1958 and was eventually posted to Germany as a dog handler in the Military Police. He also later guarded American nuclear missiles in Norfolk.

He said: “I am still a member of an RAF Association – it’s lovely to look back at photos.

Eric Blackie
Eric Blackie on National Service

“I think this is important to remind people that citizens had to do their National Service if they were that age – there was no choice.

“Sometimes they didn’t agree, and I can understand that, but it’s good for everyone to know the history of our country,” he said.

The men’s stories are now being showcased with the help of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which uses money raised by The National Lottery to inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage.

Ceridwen Hughes, photographer and founder of Same but Different, has combined striking portraits, video interviews and written narratives to bring alive conscripts’ experiences in the exhibition.

She said it had been a rewarding experience and a valuable archive has been brought together.

She said: “We are really grateful to the players of the National Lottery who funded this project along with the Armed Forces Covenant Fund.”

Those who completed their National Service included Brian Blessed, Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins. Television veteran Johnny Ball, who served in the RAF during the 1950s, is also supporting the Lottery-funded National Service Remembered campaign after describing his time serving as the making of him at the end of last year.

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