by Derek Rosser
There were seven of us in that poky little office. They are scattered far and wide across the globe now but I expect that, if they ever read this, they will recognise themselves.
We were all engaged in a common pursuit called ‘Avoiding Conscription’. The last ‘War to end wars’ had been over for about eight years but the government of the day, in its wisdom, found it necessary to maintain the armed forces at full strength to ensure our continued survival.
Needless to say those of us upon whom the burden was likely to fall did not support this point of view. We were, however, given little opportunity to argue our case.
The ritual began at the age of eighteen when all males were obliged to register for National Service and be subjected to medical examination. The examination appeared to consist of coughing while the examiner retained a firm hold upon your vital appendages. To make absolutely certain, you were instructed to touch your toes while he carried out a close scrutiny of your posterior orifice.
Should you not succeed in escaping, a mirror would be held to your nose. If it misted over you would be pronounced A1 fit for active service. There were various attempts, even at this early stage, to be judged unfit. That which afforded me the most amusement was the lad who turned up with a note from his mother insisting that he was too delicate for military service. However, the vets were up to most of the tricks and you were unlikely to get away with it unless your father was the Mayor (or your sister was sleeping with the Mayor’s son).
Thinking that the benefits of being declared unfit might well be outweighed by the resulting disadvantages I chose not to hide my disgustingly healthy condition. Accordingly I left the building with a piece of paper certifying that I was fit to be shot at almost anywhere in the world.
Phase 1 of the battle to avoid conscription was now well and truly lost. However, since I was an indentured apprentice, I need not start worrying for another three years when my apprenticeship would be completed. Maybe, by then, there would no longer be a need for National Service.
The three years passed all too quickly and, with the approach of my twenty first birthday, there was no sign of any repeal of the National Service Act. It was time to consider the available options and come up with the strategy for Phase Two.
I was aided in this by my employer who invoked a weapon called ‘Deferment’. This meant that, provided my employer could convince the authorities that leaving my job would be detrimental to the well being of the State, I would not be conscripted (yet).
This was not a cancellation of sentence, merely a stay of execution. It did, however, provide a breathing space in which to plan Phase 3.
So it was that seven of us were gathered in that little office with ‘SECRET-NO ADMITTANCE’ painted on the door and escape plans being feverishly debated within. We had been imprisoned there for almost four years now and had still not come up with a foolproof scheme. Such ideas as had been considered were abandoned as too impractical, too expensive or too painful.
According to the law of the land, if we managed to remain free until our twenty fifth birthdays, we would no longer be liable for National Service. We were all well past our twenty fourth birthday and aware that our deferment would not be extended for another year. It was time for drastic action and two of the group took it. They beat a hasty retreat across the Atlantic where, as foreign nationals, they could feel safe.
I must admit to having given a great deal of thought to bolting down the same hole but…there was a snag. During my four years in the wilderness I had met, courted and married the love of my life. We are still together so I have to put it like that or she will do me a serious mischief.
Anyway, our financial position was so precarious that there was no way we could afford two fares across the pond. My wife, understandably, refused to allow me to disappear on my own despite my promise to send for her as soon as I could raise the fare. So it was that I surrendered to the inevitable and settled down to await the buff envelope with OHMS in the corner.
I didn’t have to wait for long. It arrived one day in late September containing a travel warrant and inviting me to present myself on October 16th at RAF Cardington to commence my National Service.
By now the escapees had safely landed in Canada and were, no doubt, sniggering at the fate of their ex colleagues. We had been finally caught, one by the Royal Navy, two by the Army and two by the Royal Air Force.
The journey to, and arrival at, Cardington was not an unqualified success. But that’s another story...