Greenhill Grammar school, Oldham

WEST OLDHAM HIGH SCHOOL

CLASS OF 1947 AND NATIONAL  SERVICE

by  Fred Brook, January 2015

 

The year of 2014 has passed by, leaving behind it a lot of memories.  Not least that it was 60 years ago that the first 6th form the School had, the small remnant of the intake of 1947, took the new fangled Advanced Certificate of Education and proceeded on to various forms of Higher Education then available.  But for the majority of the boys who were in the intake of 1947, the Autumn of 1953 and the Spring and Summer of 1954 were the seasons during which we received our Call-up Papers, ordering us to register for National Service and to begin the process which led to most of us ending up wearing Her Majesty’s uniform in one of the three armed forces.

The Second World War in Europe ended in May of 1945.  The War in the Pacific ended in  August of 1946 when atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki .  Thus began a steady demobilisation of the armed forces, both men and women, who had been called up “for the duration”.  A great relief to all concerned.  The vast proportion of men in the armed forces were not Regulars, but were Conscripts – they had been compulsory recruits.

Within a short time of the War’s ending, it became apparent to the Labour Government, led by Clement Atlee, that it did not have sufficient numbers in the armed forces to keep up with its commitments.  There was a large Army of Occupation needed in the defeated Germany, and large garrisons needed in many of the former colonies in Africa and in the Far East, such as Malaya.  So, conscription was re-introduced.

The National Service Act of 1947 aimed to provide an annual recruitment of 150,000 healthy men, to serve in the Army, Navy or Air Force.  Men employed in farming, coal-mining and the  Merchant Navy were not called up.
I got my Call-up papers in March of 1954.  I had my medical and was pronounced fit, and I then asked to be deferred until I was 21 and had completed my studies at university (I was not sure which one I would go to, although I had been provisionally accepted by two).  This deferment was granted.  It would appear that quite a lot of the class of 1947 were deferred, mainly due to needed to finish apprenticeships and professional qualifications such as accounting and law.

Those of my schoolmates who entered at 18 faced a very uncertain world.  It was far from peaceful. Thankfully the Korean War had ended, a conflict fought mainly by  National Servicemen, but there was danger in any number of postings, Cyprus, Malaya, Kenya, Libya, the Canal Zone of Egypt, where real bullets were being fired. And hovering over all this was the threat of a nuclear war between the East and West.  There were lots of worried parents and girlfriends and wives at that time.

Frank Smith served the Army Education Corps, Teddy Wareham in Libya, Peter Marner in the Signals at Catterick (where he played cricket and rugby for the Army).  Colin Fletcher, Brian Lees, Geoffrey Kelly and Billy Harrison all wore the blue of the Air Force, as did Colin Bentley for a short time before he was invalided out .  These are just a few I know about.  I would be interested to learn of others.

In July of 1954 I stood on Manchester Exchange Station among lots of others, waiting for the train to Darlington ,  and subsequent connections by train and lorry which got me to Catterick Camp and two years serving in the Royal Signals.

Basic training was something you suffered.  Learning to march in time in squads, to clamber over assault courses in all weathers, and to attack empty houses on the moors whilst not  losing your rifle when doing so.  I did lose mine on one assault, tripping over a rock and watching it land barrel first in the peat.  I was promptly put on a charge for this offence.  Basic training was followed by trade training for a couple of months, in my case on a teleprinter, and then I was sent south to Brighton to a secret unit [which everyone in Brighton seemed to know about] to learn codes and ciphers.  And then on to Germany to do just what I had been trained to do in Signal Centres in Bielefeld and Minden.  I met quite a few lads from Oldham during my time in Germany, but none I had gone to school with.  I was demobilised in July 1959, in plenty of time to go to University once more, this time in Newcastle on Tyne, to gain a Diploma in Education, to go on top of my degree from London School of Economics (for which I was treated with some suspicion by my officers during training).

National Service began a gradual fade-out from 1957 onwards, and the final call-up took place on December 31st 1960.  Some of my classmates never did it.  Dennis Elwell, with his Doctorate in Physics and a lengthy education, outlasted it.  Alan Holt was exempt because he was engaged in scientific work.

By my reckoning, all the lads in the West Oldham High School intakes of 1948, 1949 and 1950  were eligible for conscription, but  those who formed the first intakes into Greenhill Grammar School were not.  We lads of West Oldham High School were among the tailenders of National Service.
I have no regrets at having done it.

Fred Brook. January 2015