BRITISH Armed Forces veterans’ exploits during National Service 60 years ago is at the centre of an innovative UK-wide new heritage project.

15 former servicemen from Dorset as well as men from Wales and the Northwest who served in Egypt, Jordan, Singapore and Iraq, tells their stories in a National Lottery-funded project called National Service Remembered

It has been exactly 60 years since National Service ended in the UK and the campaign, run by the not-for-profit organisation, Same but Different, captures an important period of the country’s cultural history through the eyes of the men who served.

Ceridwen Hughes, photographer and founder of Same but Different, has combined striking portraits, video interviews and written narratives to bring alive conscripts’ experiences in one powerful exhibition.

The men who completed National Service are now a minimum of 77 years old. For this generation of men, compulsory National Service was quite simply what had to be done. An expected commitment of their time, their efforts, and in many cases – their lives.

Geoff Clayton from Dorset was conscripted a few days after his 18th birthday in September 1947.

He said:  “A brown envelope dropped onto the doormat (inside was a four-shilling postal order, a rail warrant and instructions to report to Chichester barracks). I had been conscripted and given my first day’s pay. There followed an army number, a demob number and my AB64. When you are only just 18, two years is a long way off. I wasn’t thrilled about going but it was just something that we all had to do.

“Friday was pay day – 28 shillings. We had to buy our own blanco, Duraglit and boot polish. Not a lot left for tea and Eccles cake at break times or a couple of Woodbines. Nearly everyone smoked. Food was plentiful and very basic. Doled out into one mess tin and tea into the other. If you managed to be towards the front of the queue, you could be early at the washing up bucket.

“We were asked where we would like to be posted to. I suggested Washington or Tokyo where there were R Sigs outposts. They sent me to Lisbon which sounded great until they gave me a travel warrant to Lisburn in Northern Ireland.”

Ivan Russ joined the service in 1954 and served in Cheshire, Yatesbury and finally on Portland in Dorset.

He said: “Portland was on the end of a group of stations, and we had our rations supplied by another station with the result that they chose all the best stuff and kept it. We were getting so much powdered potato that there was a bit of a revolt. We were all confined to camp but that was the only time we stepped out of line. It was a bit farcical really and it didn’t improve the food very much, so it was a bit of a lost cause. The food generally was very ordinary, nutritious but probably a little bit poor.

“When we weren’t working, we’d be sun-bathing or we’d go into Weymouth. We had a pretty easy time. When we weren’t actually doing radar operating, we did quite a bit of time on the naval rifle range. We also did a commando raid although we weren’t commandos – we had to break into our radar site and they had dogs and RAF police patrolling, but we got in. I remember thinking these dogs are supposed to be trained, because a day or two before, the works people had cut the grass so it was all dry, then they set alight to it. When I had to hide, I lay down in the ashes and the dog didn’t pick me up.”

Michael Wilkinson, 87, who lives in Chester and served at Hednesford during his National Service, is one of the British Armed Forces veterans included in the project.

And Michael believes the campaign provides a valuable insight into a unique period of Britain’s past.

Michael, who was first conscripted in 1953, said: “Working on this project has been a totally positive experience.

“It has brought back memories of happenings I have not thought about for many years.

“Particularly so as National Service ceased in the distant past. Congratulations on National Service Remembered – you have all done a wonderful job.”

Kevin Moore, Programme co-ordinator for Dorset Armed Forces Covenant Programme, said: “We became aware of the National Serviceman’s Project that had been completed in Wales and the Northwest and contacted Ceri at ‘Same But Different’ to find out more. We realised this would be an amazing thing to do in Dorset and supported ‘Same but Different’ in the bid to get a Dorset Project funded through the Armed Forces Covenant Trust Fund.

“The Dorset project has uncovered some rich and wonderful stories from a generation that served their country at a time of need but who do not always consider themselves as Veterans as they did not volunteer. It is important that we recognise and celebrate this fantastic generation that gave so much to support their Country in years preceding the second World War.”

Ceri added: “To spend time with these men was a real joy, and we hope this exhibition will inspire children and adults to speak to this older generation about their experiences.

“We are also giving away free, accessible school resources so that this unique part of our national history can be explored by all ages.

“We are really grateful to the players of the National Lottery who funded this project along with the Armed Forces Covenant Fund.”

High-profile stars were far from exempt from conducting National Service, with Brian Blessed, Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins among some of the household names to serve.

And television veteran Johnny Ball, who served in the RAF during the 1950s, is supporting the Lottery-funded National Service Remembered campaign after describing his time serving as ‘the making of him’ at the end of last year.

The exhibition will be touring the UK later in the year and is available to see online at If you want to share your experiences of National Service, or find out more about the project, you can visit the National Service Remembered website at


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