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Brasso, Blanco and Bull: National Service in Britain: 1948 - 1963

Pay-Day at Ladysmith Barracks, Ashton-under-Lyne, 1950’sNational Service. More than two million men experienced National Service in the 1940s and 1950s. It was a rite of passage and is the theme for an exhibition which opens at the award-winning Museum of the Manchester Regiment, at Ashton-under-Lyne Town Hall, on Tuesday, 2 July.

As well as seeing pictures and artefacts, visitors can listen to recordings of Manchester Regiment veterans in the museum’s recreation of a 1950s eight-man barrack room.

Unlike its European neighbours, Britain has traditionally relied on volunteers. Conscription was briefly in place during the First World War and brought back in early 1939 when the country was rearming. However, at the end of the Second World War, the Government felt it needed to keep expanded forces to cope with the Soviet threat.

Men had to register at 18 and, after a medical, would quickly receive a tell-tale buff envelope through the post, telling them where to report within the next fortnight for the start of basic training. For those who undertook National Service with the Manchester Regiment, this usually took place at Ladysmith Barracks on Mossley Road, Ashton.

Most went into the army or RAF and could expect see out their time away from the front line, possibly in Germany. Others found themselves serving in the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, or end-of-empire trouble spots such as Kenya or Cyprus.

Although National Service did not formally end until 1963, it began to peter out at the end of the Fifties as the Government struggled to cope with the cost of having so many men in uniform.

Cllr Jackie Lane, Tameside Council’s project lead for culture, said: “I’m sure people will find this exhibition fascinating. Men in their seventies and eighties can relive their years in uniform while their children and grandchildren get an idea of what life was like for a young man in the 1940s and 1950s.”

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