Becoming a man 162



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It was May 1953 when I completed my eight-week stint of ‘square-bashing’ which, to the uninitiated, is basic training that everyone has to endure on joining the armed services. It comprises largely of learning to march with precision, obey orders instantly and without question and becoming physically fit. As I said, everyone had to do it, with little variation, in the army, navy or air-force, and the RAF was the service I had been conscripted into. To anyone who has never even been on a military camp before, square-bashing came as a considerable shock!

I spent my first few days as an airman at a unit where we were kitted out with all the paraphernalia we were going to need in the next couple of years – uniform, underwear, boots, hats, cutlery, and immunisation jabs (that last item causing quite a few to faint while queuing!). Then we were put on a RAF bus which took us to the unit where we were to do the basic training, a place called Wilmslow, near Manchester. All was quiet on the bus, just the general chatter you hear on any public transport, as we started to get to know each other. There were about 30 of us, plus a couple of corporals sitting in the front seat, next to the driver who took no notice of us at all – I guessed we were considered to be well below their dignity!

Brian in RAF (See Arrows)

After about half an hour, the bus drove through the gates of Wilmslow and pulled up alongside a row of billets. The two corporals in the front seats got up and descended to the ground ahead of us, then they turned to face the vehicle and all hell broke out! I’m sure anyone who has been in the services will know exactly what I am talking about, but for those in ignorance, the two corporals appeared to go completely insane. The shouted and screamed at us, using words I couldn’t repeat here, telling us to get off the bus; they then read out each of our names (in the same lunatic shrieks) and when we responded we were told to RUN to billet number 3, or 4 or whatever one they wanted each of us to go to, to find a bunk, dump our meagre luggage there and then run back out to where they were. We were then made to spend the next hour trying to learn how to march, on the square!

The next few days were lived through at the same frantic pace, being shouted at in the same shrieks as in those opening moments; in fact they continued to treat us in the same way until our eight weeks were completed and we ‘passed out’. But after the initial shock and fear of our arrival there, most of us grew to really enjoy the life, so unlike our civilian occupations and so energetic, with drill, route-marches and gym sessions virtually every day, from dawn to dusk. I have to confess, the food was pretty good too: nourishing, well cooked and tasty, so that by the time my comrades and I had finished our eight weeks of learning discipline, and were ready for regular postings to trade-training units, and I think most of the others were just about as fit as me and they had ever been up to that time, or at any time since! I was bursting with energy, deeply tanned, because I joined up at the beginning of summer and most of our time was spent out of doors, and I was actually genuinely happy, simply because I was feeling so fit.

I would have to say, after the first fright, I really enjoyed the two years I spent in the RAF, I made a lot of mates there, some of whom are still friends to this day, 60 years later, and I learned to be a man, with a disciplined mind and respect for others, something I believe is sorely lacking in today’s easy-going and politically correct world.

Perhaps National Service should be brought back, if only to prepare our kids for the lives they are going to have to live, once they grow up and go out into the wild, wild world.


What do you think? Do you agree with Brian’s last lines here? Should military-like training be compulsory or necessary for young men (and women)?

Brian Lee

  1. Not having Military training , either Compulsory or Voluntary, for our young folk is the root cause of so many problems in to-day’s world…..did my generation no harm and in fact has the opposite reaction…..we learned to be a responsible part of our community…..

    3 REPLY
  2. National service was a truly important part of my life it brought together young men of all walks of life .In our platoon we had Greeks Italians policemen farmers this was 1969 the Korean War had ended and a lot of our NCOS were young veterans .Not one of us was angry about the draft we believed in why we were there so yes bring back national our young men & women would benefit greatly by serving Australia in this way

  3. Another great yarn Brian. My Dad was in the RAAF during the 2nd WW and whilst he seldom spoke about the war itself he would often tell us about life in the service. His stories were much as you describe. I think you have similar values and principles to him and I suspect that military service had a bit to do with shaping and forming that.I certainly didn’t agree with all of Dads views but I did take on board a lot of his advice about what would hold me in good stead throughout my life.
    When I was 18 years old National service was compulsory in Australia and I would have been called up but for a change in government and the abolishment of national service. I often wonder what would have been and how would my life have unfolded had I gone into the Army. But that is another story. For now I must agree that maybe a bit of military type training would serve our youth well. Not all will agree; in fact some will think us bonkers for even suggesting such a thing.

  4. I don’t agree with it, and If I had a son or daughter young enough to put in National Service I would be out there protesting it. It might not be such a bad idea if Governments did not want to keep taking them to war. But why kill off the youth we already have, only to have to bring in more immigration when they do..that is what happened after World War 2 and why the White Australia Policy ended.

  5. National service is a good idea, but people should sign up for war zones voluntarily. I never agreed with sending conscripts to war. Many countries still have national service.

  6. I can understand what people are saying when they say it will give them a sense of responsibility but the problem is that these kids are not the same as were. This is generations who thinks we should be euthanized so they can have more. I doubt they would accept this and what is worse..give them a gun and they just might go out and shoot anyone with grey hair lol

  7. I agree a lot of the unemployed youth would be employable after a few months in the forces.

  8. I’ve always thought it was a good idea, after all there’s no discipline in schools, no respect from the young, not all young, we know some lovely young people, but it would teach them to have pride in themselves and respect, and I don’t mean sending them of to war, but a two year stint in the forces could work wonders!!

  9. It will never happen, I was just thinking about this..they do not want to give under 30’s the dole for 6 months, do you really think they would pay them a soldiers salary instead? A soldiers salary is a Government paid wage

    2 REPLY
    • I guess one way to look at it is at least the wage would be earned. And hopefully some attitudes would change….just maybe

    • I would be in favor of it, if it was disaster relief..when we get these cyclones and floods..Australian’s need help and these kids are young and fit

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