Jacqueline Wadsworth is the author of Letters from the Trenches (Pen & Sword, 2014)
“There’s a fascinating film called They Stand Ready, posted on YouTube by The National Archives ( www.youtube.com/ watch? v= U3aerP7GyWE), which brings to life the way that National Service was promoted by the government during the 1950s.
Clever and sophisticated, it runs for 19 minutes and follows a fictitious ‘ordinary man’ called John Saunders through his time with the Royal Armoured Corps. The film is shot in the style of films that were popular at the time, with sweeping shots of foreign climes and plenty of comical moments, accompanied by a lively sequence of incidental music. The effect is comforting and reassuring.
No attempt is made to deny the difficulties that compulsory service could bring: the disruption to family life and to men’s careers, the nervousness felt by those with no military experience. But a smooth-voiced narrator counters this with the message that many find ‘new self-confidence’ as they work to secure a ‘ free and safe’ world. The enemy is never shown or even mentioned.
Elsewhere on the internet you can find a wealth of personal, first-hand accounts by those who experienced National Service. This Scottish example has lots of interesting ephemera and reminiscences ( rememberingscotlandatwar.org.uk/ Accessible/ Exhibition/ 87/ It-was-easier-to- put- me- in-the-Black-Watch- National-Service), although sadly the short video clips don’t appear to be working.”
Recruits are put through their paces in the Stand By Me footage
They Stand Ready is a classic 1950s newsreel