Readers' Letters: National Service was the making of me

Eighteen-year old triplets Allan, Brian and Dennis Kirkby reported to North Frith Barracks, Hampshire following their call-up for National Service in 1953 (Picture: Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)Eighteen-year old triplets Allan, Brian and Dennis Kirkby reported to North Frith Barracks, Hampshire following their call-up for National Service in 1953 (Picture: Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Eighteen-year old triplets Allan, Brian and Dennis Kirkby reported to North Frith Barracks, Hampshire following their call-up for National Service in 1953 (Picture: Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Is Rishi Sunak right to float the idea of a new form of National Service for young people? Take it away…

I am wholeheartedly in favour of National Service. My service changed my life. In 1956 I was working in a foundry when got my call-up papers while living in a Glasgow scheme.

I was transported into a new world I did not know existed. After square bashing I was posted to London for training, then to Antwerp, then onto Germany. I was working on movements of personnel and freight. I was instructed to get a driving licence and to take over the running of a small railway halt dealing with the military trains.

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I travelled all over the continent and flew with secret mail to the American Zone. It was a wonderful experience. On demob I resolved not to go back into the factory but got a job as a trainee salesman. I was retired early by Lord Hanson, opened a new business and was then elected to Edinburgh Council .

Without National Service I do not think this would have been my future. The service opens young people’s eyes to what is possible and gives them a responsibility for their future.

Alastair Paisley BEM, Edinburgh

Harsh realities

The latest desperate policy wheeze thrown up by Rishi Sunak in the general election campaign is that National Service should be reintroduced. Since the last conscript left the armed forces in 1963 and some had entered late because they had deferred service until after university, the numbers who remember the reality (I am one) must be falling fast.

That reality was stark. Conscription was enforced on all healthy males (women, miners and farm workers were exempt) for the sole purpose of maintaining an effective military force eight times the size of the force the UK deploys today and to stock a convincing reserve. It was not a vehicle of social engineering and the National Serviceman had to fight and die in Korea, Kenya, Aden, Cyprus and Malaya. For a few it was exciting and enjoyable, for most it was a tedious and unwelcome intrusion in their lives. Some learned obedience, most a surly disregard for authority, while the regular military disliked the attitudes of the conscripts and the time consumed in turning them into effective troops.

So do not be fooled by this abuse of the term “National Service”. It bears no resemblance to the historic institution but reflects a Tory wish to teach manners to what they regard as the unwashed youth who need to be taught Conservative values.

James Scott, Edinburgh

Past sell-by date

The Scotsman’s articles about the proposal to bring back National Service suggested that this would appeal greatly to the over-66 age group.

Well, here's one 68-year-old who heartily opposes any such idea. As part of the post-war generation, determined to keep our country clear of wars after the horrors of World Wars One and Two, I thought we had escaped from the idea of training our teenagers to kill people. The whole point of a professional and dedicated modern army was to avoid the necessity of calling young people to arms.

Sadly, years of underinvestment and cuts by successive governments have reduced our armed forces to low levels, but the idea that trained soldiers can be replaced by calling up thousands of school leavers is monstrous.

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British society has moved on since the 1950s, and no mythical restoration of a lost era of discipline and military hardship will change that.

Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Edinburgh

Parking payments

I don’t know where Clark Cross (Letters, 28 May) gets his information, but he is wrong in saying “Strange that parking charges have never been introduced for staff and students” at Edinburgh university. As a former member of staff and of the then Parking sub-Committee at Edinburgh University in the 1980s, I can tell him that parking permits were issued to staff members at an annual charge. There was a rebellion among King’s Buildings staff who boycotted the new multi-storey car park there, to which the annual charge applied, and the conflict over this took up much of the sub-Committee’s time while the rebels parked in West Mains Road, to the irritation of the residents.

Some 20 years ago, the price of acquiring planning permission for new university buildings was that the university should have a “parking plan”, whereby parents of schoolchildren and car-sharers had preference in the queue for permits and others were strictly rationed and consigned to remote areas of uneven ground. Charges, of course, continued, as I don’t doubt they do now if parking on university premises is still allowed.

Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh

Swinney’s disdain

In terms of sheer political stupidity. John Swinney's decision to support Michael Matheson ranks even higher than his ludicrous Named Person Bill of a few years ago.

If Matheson had been employed by a private company, he would have most likely been sacked immediately for his actions. But of course, he is in the employ of the Scottish Government and his salary paid by the Scottish taxpayers, so what he did, in Swinney's eyes, doesn't really matter all that much .

Has Swinney learned nothing from the events of the past 16 months? With elections looming, Swinney's disdain for the ordinary Scottish electorate will surely come back and bite him on the proverbial.

D Mason, Penicuik, Midlothian

True colours

Clearly, there is quite a gap in the understanding of what it means to be British by Iain Bruce (Letters, 28 May).

He claims that Scottish identity is different from British identity, but you can't be the latter without being Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish, so it's a falsehood to say it is. Is being a Glaswegian different from being a Scot? What utter nonsense.

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The claim that Scotland has rejected Tory governments since 1955 is as flawed as suggesting that Scots support the SNP. That party has never, repeat, never won a majority of Scottish votes.

Mr Bruce may claim that, “an independent Scotland is just what Scottish patriots crave”, implying that one cannot be a Scots patriot without wanting independence. Again, total bilge.

When I have worn my Scotland jacket with my name below the name of the Scottish team, I feel pride in it, just like anyone who has represented Scotland. It does not imply in any way at all that that pride is exclusive and prevents me from having great pride in being British too.

This is, however, one of the big lies of Scottish nationalism which the majority of Scots reject. We are proud to be Scots and proud to be British too.

Andrew HN Gray, Edinburgh

Role models

Doug Morrison (Letters, 27 May) asserts, without giving any evidence, that Scotland cannot survive on its own outwith the Union.

Iceland. a country about the same area as Scotland, but with only around 300,000 inhabitants, has a higher GNP per head than Scotland. All it has is fish (which it wouldn't have if it were still ruled by Denmark), free geothermal heating, some tourism, and Reykjavik airport.

Ireland, on its independence in 1921, was a basket case, the result of 700 years of English rule. Now it has a higher GDP per head than the UK. An Irishman once told me Scotland has been dealt a better deck of cards than Ireland, but that we are rubbish at playing them.

Norway has oil, as did Scotland, but whereas the Norwegians built up a sovereign wealth fund, the UK Government simply squandered it, with little benefit to Scotland.

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I am not saying it will be easy. I think it will take two generations for the transition to a prosperous independent Scotland, but is there any Irish person who would want to go back to rule by London?

Colin McAllister, St Andrews, Fife

Age-old problems

Jim Stamper (Letters, 27 May) believes that spending more on the NHS will mean that more people will get back to work and thereby “contribute more to the country”. But a significant majority of NHS patients are past retirement age; cancer is primarily a disease of the elderly, as are hip fractures and Alzheimer's disease, and the century-old saying “pneumonia is the old man's friend”, while betraying an old-fashioned attitude to gender nomenclature, is still true, as so tragically demonstrated by Covid.

Mr Stamper's opinion that independence is required to prioritise NHS spending indicates that current SNP government policies fall short in this regard.

After all, it sets the health budget. The NHS in Scotland has always been fully devolved; it was set up by its own Act of Parliament, and has always been run from Edinburgh. I speak from experience; that is the place where I had to go to fight for reasonable and equitable levels of funding for my NHS specialty in the North-East, and assist in determining Scottish public health policies which differed from those south of the Border, ones which we considered to be superior.

Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen

Tory wets

I almost felt some sympathy for Rishi Sunak's drenching last week.

Perhaps his address should be renamed “10 Drowning Street”. Very apt too, given the number of Tory MPs quitting like rats sensing a sinking ship.

Torquil MacLeod, Drumnadrochit, Highland

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