Syd Smith - My National Service 1952-54.

I have read with great interest the other comments here from NS men and quite a few of their experiences, as far as those first days, Basic and Trade training are concerned, do coincide with my own time at Catterick.

Mid '52, call up papers arrive and I'm on my way including the Darlington and Richmond railway experience.

I was at 7TR Vimy Lines for the first 6 weeks on basic and I have to say that it was a very real shock to my system encountering for the first time military discipline etc. Have to admit I was not at all happy about being dragged out of "Civvy St" into the army since at 18 years of age I was just really beginning to find my feet. However, it was quickly realised that I was stuck with it and I did as so many (most) of us did and resolved to make the best of it. I have to say that it was a shattering experience but in spite of all the shouting etc. and rushing from here to there doing this and that and getting equipped etc. I never felt that I was being bullied, but at the same time it was totally unreal to anything I had ever experienced before in my life. I am not soft fortunately.

Anyway as stated I was not altogether unhappy with it all and did what was required in terms of "bull" etc. managing to keep my nose clean. Have to say here that many valuable lessons were learnt which stood me in good stead in my later life. Finished Basic at 7TR Ypres and then onto Gaza Lines (4TR) for training as OKC. Did all the keyboard stuff and then onto 5 Sqdn, which was at that time at Gaza Lines (not Brighton), for the rest of the course. After that an NCO's course again on the Gaza Site but in those wooden buildings just in from the main road.

All done there and 14 days embarkation leave before reporting to Denbury Camp Newton Abbot for transmission to Canal Zone, Egypt. From Southampton (nobody saw us off) out on the Empire Windrush to Port Said. 'Nuff said about the time there except that it did seem to go on forever and that the longed for "going home" time was never going to happen. It was not at all the best posting to be at at the time with all the problems there and that is to say nothing of the general very basic living conditions. We did though have that very important thing - our "good mates", and this was I think what made it all bearable, to me at least.

We pressed on and it did happen, that day finally arrived, going home at last. Off to Port Said again on the ramshackle train and onto the Empire Ken. Arrived at Southampton 10 days later again in early morning with hardly a soul about: we had hoped there would be at least some folk to welcome us back.

Back we were and how good it felt. On the train from Southampton and back to Newton Abbot where we spent a week handing in all our kit and getting demobbed. May I say here that I found Denbury Camp with its mostly wooden Spider buildings great, and loved to bits the town of Newton Abbot. I even managed a few nights out there and in the nearby Teignmouth and Torquay. I left there of course in '54 but have since been back just a few years ago and the town is very much the same, including the Station Pub, except that some of the little Market Square has been built on and some of the roads in the Town have been pedestrianised. Loved the place then, still do and still think of it regularly.

From there having been demobed it was a case of reporting to your TA Unit; mine was at Wanstead since I was a Londoner/Essexman. I did not enjoy this since I felt I had done enough in my 2 years "in". Had to do so many Sundays per year with a 14 day camp thrown in. It was all done away with though after a while and I only did the 1 camp at Shornbridge Camp, Folkstone. Later it was on the Z reserve.

My thoughts about the whole experience?. Well I could have done without it very happily but having had to do it I made the best of it and learned very much thereby. I feel sure it did me a lot of good. Tell you what, at nearly 79 years old I wouldn't mind turning back that clock and doing it all again. Best wishes to all.

Syd Smith, 21st July, 2012