How National Service turned me into a man

RAF mates

RAF mates - Credit: Archant

There was a lovely summer house over Hainault Park with a tiled roof, it was beautiful.

The area that’s now filled with wood chippings used to be a paddling pool and we used to sail our toy boats in it and run wild in it during the summer.

The summer house was quite large and we could play games in it and all different things, and then going back there in the 60s I saw that it was totally wrecked,

It had had its wooden chairs ripped up and its windows had been smashed. Kids had knocked tiles off the roof and eventually it was taken away.

That was a very sad sight, and I often wondered why it had been treated so badly.

The only thing I could think of was that when National Service, the boys who were growing up grew disenchanted with something.

My National Service was with the Royal Air Force, and we had lads from all over the country – even from as far as Devon and Cornwall.

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There were of course boys from London, but there were tough nuts from Scotland as well and within six weeks of basic training, you could see that even those Scottish boys who wanted to beat everyone up had been knocked into shape by the trainers.

We were all turned into men.

I served two years and they were fantastic, it gave us as boys an insight into growing up and being taught values and I saw boys from very rich homes in our biilet – they had no common sense at all.

Couldn’t darn their socks or sew a button onto their shirts. One fellow in my billet tried to get around it by turning his socks back to front so the holes would be on the heel – he was soon found out at the first kit inspection.

Discipline was a big deal, and you would be pulled up for anything.

I was pulled up once for putting my hands in my pockets and had to do three days waking up early, getting changed into full kit and being inspected by the sergeant.

I’d spent the night before pressing my trousers and shining my shoes but he’d always find something, like a speck of dirt on the back of a button, and then he’d make me run back to my billet and shine it all some more.