National Service: Conscription in Briton 1945-1963 by: Richard Vinen Allen Lane 586 pp August 2014
I sought out this book on the recommendation of the venerable Sir Keith Thomas. In a recent Diary column in the London Review of Books, Sir Keith referred to Vinen's work as "...superb history ...". I wouldn't presume to contradict that, as indeed it is, but superb history for whom? Certainly not for the lay reader who would like to know what it was like to be dragged away from a comfortable home life at a time when perhaps you were starting to earn some decent money.
Who did Prof.Vinen have in mind when he put pen to paper? Clearly Sir Keith and his ilk.Prof.Vinen was not conscripted for National Service, it was all over before he was born. As you would expect, the professor gets his information from diligent research, and the experience of his acquaintances who were for the most part academics and officers.
Vinen's work is essentially a text book. If you are studying modern British history this book is a 'must-have'. But if you want to get a feel for what it was like. If you want to feel the fear of being forced to live eat and sleep with people who you would rather not stand next to on the Subway never mind sleep next to. If you want to experience what it was like to have all your hair shaved off, be forced to wear ill fitting overalls, made to run everywhere in boots two sizes too small, or perhaps too big, while constantly being shouted at, then this is not the book for you.
However, if you do want a book that describes National Service as it really was, then I recommend ‘The Call-Up’ by Tom Hickman which is available from Amazon.com in paperback for about $8.00.
And yes, I was called-up, and served my time in the Infantry, and ultimately became an officer, and pleased and proud to serve - after I came out.