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National Service Conscription in Britain, 1945-1963 by Richard Vinen

National Service Conscription in Britain, 1945-1963


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As the military's needs wound down and Britain ceased to be a great power, National Service came to be seen as just an embarrassment, and its culture of rank and discipline something which many British people were by the 1960s running away from. This book offers us an understanding of National Service in pos

How Britain’s military conscription shaped post-war history. Only for the boys , it lasted from 1945-1960 most young men having to serve their two years. And after the dreaded square bashing and the horrors of being catapulted into army life there was the question of what would you end up doing, learning a new trade, peeling endless amounts of potatoes or front line fighting? Richard Vinen contends we cannot understand post-war history without examining conscription and his book will be of great interest to not only those who suffered but for anyone interested in this period of British history.

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National Service Conscription in Britain, 1945-1963 by Richard Vinen

Richard Vinen's new book is a serious - if often very entertaining - attempt to get to grips with the reality of National Service, an extraordinary institution which now seems as remote as the British Empire itself. With great sympathy and curiosity, Vinen unpicks the myths of the two 'gap years', which all British men who came of age between 1945 and the early 1960s had to fill with National Service. Millions of teenagers were thrown together and under often brutal conditions taught to obey orders and to fight. The luck of the draw might result in two years of boredom in some dilapidated British barracks, but it could also mean being thrown into a dangerous combat mission in a remote part of the world. By any measure National Service had a huge impact on the nature of British society, and yet it has been remarkably little written about. As the military's needs wound down and Britain ceased to be a great power, National Service came to be seen as just an embarrassment, and its culture of rank and discipline something which many British people were by the 1960s running away from. But without a proper understanding of National Service the story of post-war Britain barely makes sense. Richard Vinen provides that missing book. It will be fascinating to those who endured or even enjoyed their time in uniform, but also to anyone wishing to understand the unique nature of post-war Britain.


Vinen's clever and careful book is surely the definitive history of the two million young men conscripted into the British Army from the end of the Second World War to the early 1960s. The era of national service now seems like ancient history, but from the routines of the parade ground to the horrors of Korea, Vinen restores it to life with a searching eye for detail and impressive human sympathy -- Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR Written with compassion and insight, Vinen's book brilliantly recreates the atmosphere of postwar Britain by examining the relatively shortlived experiment with military service ... [Vinen] draws parallels with the experience of France, on whose modern history he has published several fine books -- Tony Barber Financial Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR National Service may prove to be the most original social history book of 2014. It is written with cool, elegant lucidity and there are neither ideological tricks nor obscure jargon. The book is bigger than its ostensible subject, embracing class, masculinity, sexuality, compliance, rebellion, combat atrocities, petty crime, notions of national identity, group solidarity, the fallibility of memory and what it means to be a man -- Richard Davenport-Hines Guardian Vinen has given us the kind of book that every professional historian surely wants to write: not only with a mastery of its voluminous original sources but also a sensitivity to the rich human detail, by turns authoritative, thoughtful, poignant - and funny -- Peter Clarke Financial Times [Vinen] has a good eye, and clear relish, for institutional absurdity -- John Sutherland Evening Standard

About the Author

Richard Vinen is the author of the highly-praised A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century, The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation (published by Penguin) and Thatcher's Britain. He is Professor of History at King's College, London.

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Book Info

Publication date

28th August 2014


Richard Vinen

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Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd


640 pages


Military history: post WW2 conflicts
Military life & institutions



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