Thursday 10th January 2019
This New Year’s Day marked the 70th anniversary of the enactment of the National Service Act, which led to more than two million young men being conscripted into the British Armed Forces.
On this anniversary, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, launched a public appeal to find National Service RAF veterans.
The one-time conscripts are now reaching older age. Many face the challenges of later life, such as declining health, and loneliness and isolation.
RAF National Service veterans, and their dependants, are eligible for support from the RAF Benevolent Fund. The Fund, which is celebrating its centenary year, is encouraging members of the public to help them find these people, so they can gain the support their service deserves.
Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, Chief Executive of the RAF Benevolent Fund said:
“National Service was a defining experience for a generation, both for the young men who served and their families and partners who supported them. Now, as this generation reaches older age, they face new challenges.
“The RAF Benevolent Fund believes that no veteran should be left fighting alone, whether that be in the face of financial, emotional or health problems. Too many of the National Servicemen I meet do not class themselves as veterans and believe they are not deserving of this support. This couldn’t be further from the truth, they did their duty – now we, as a society, must do ours.
“We need your help to find these people so we can give them the support their service deserves.”
The sacrifice of National Service
The National Service Act 1948 came into law on January 1st 1949, until it was abolished in November 1960, with the last National Servicemen leaving the Forces in 1963.
In total, the RAF conscripted 388,907 National Servicemen under the Act. At its peak, National Service accounted for 40% of RAF personnel.
Initially, National Servicemen served for 18 months. This was then increased to 24 months in 1950 as a response to Britain’s involvement in the Korean War.
While most National Servicemen did not see combat action, many did. In total, 395 National Servicemen lost their lives.
Conscripts were deployed to fight in Kenya, Malaya (now Malaysia) and Korea. Others dealt with civil unrest in Cyprus and many were posted to Germany, where they were stationed in case conflict broke out with the USSR.
Those who were not deployed still faced significant upheaval of their lives. They stood ready to make the ultimate sacrifice during a time of geopolitical upheaval, with the British Empire declining and the first Cold War hotspots warming.
Case study: Derek Whitaker
Derek Whitaker, 85, served in the RAF from 1954 to 1956 as part of his National Service. He was just 21 years old and a newly married man when he became a radar operator.
“I was not much of an airman, if I’m honest, but I really enjoyed it. It could have been a really hard life but it was not. Financially it was a nuisance, but I am glad I did it.
“I am proud of my service, in a way, but it was a simple thing to do.”
Now sadly widowed, Mr Whitaker looks forward to spending his Christmas holidays at Princess Marina House, the RAF Benevolent Fund’s respite care centre on the South coast.
The RAF Benevolent Fund supports RAF personnel, including National Service veterans. The charity provides things like mobility aids and respite care to allow veterans to live independently. It also provides regular financial assistance to ensure veterans can live comfortably and with dignity, this includes care home top-up fees which ease a significant, costly burden for veterans and their families.
See also Military support organisations