British Armed Forces veterans honoured in UK-wide project to mark 60 years since the end of National Service

·4 min read
Michael Wilkinson, 87, is one of 18 veterans involved in the groundbreaking National Service Remembered project
Michael Wilkinson, 87, is one of 18 veterans involved in the groundbreaking National Service Remembered project

British Armed Forces veterans’ exploits during National Service 60 years ago will be front and centre of an innovative UK-wide new heritage project.

18 former servicemen, including men who served in Egypt, Jordan, Singapore and Iraq, are involved in a National Lottery-funded project called National Service Remembered.

It has been 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.

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, powered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, provides a valuable insight into a unique period of Britain’s past.

Michael, who was first conscripted in 1953, said: “Working with the team from Same but Different on this project has been a totally positive experience.

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

“This project has already influenced me. I look back on it as being a very positive experience.

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

Ceridwen, whose organisation Same but Different use the arts for positive social change and to highlight inequalities and bring communities closer together, 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 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.

National Lottery players raise £30 million every week for good causes and play a critical role in supporting people, projects and communities during these challenging times.

North Wales resident Elwyn Davies and Oswestry’s Ken Grain are two further veterans involved in the National Service Remembered campaign.

Elwyn, 83, who served in Egypt and was stationed at Caterham in Surrey, helped guard equipment that had been sold off by the British Army at the end of the Suez Crisis.

And his inspirational story is now being showcased with the help of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which uses money raised by The National Lottery to inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage.

The Fund creates positive and lasting change for people and communities and Elwyn says National Service Remembered is preserving his priceless memories.

Elwyn, who was first conscripted in 1955 and lives with wife Margaret, 83, said: “I would think that unless our stories were documented, the whole experience of National Service would be lost for ever.

“It was, after all, something which affected thousands of young men at that time and was a big part of growing up.”

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
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

Ken, 89, lives in Oswestry and was posted at Singapore with the RAF as a Radio Direction Operator during the 1950s.

He met Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, during her official visit and went on to work as a teacher when his time during the Forces came to an end.

Ken was first conscripted in 1950 after growing up in East Ham and said: “It's been fascinating going back into my National Service life and remembering.

“It's important to remember it because a lot of people felt that it was a wasted opportunity but it was the best thing for young people.

“I think the project is a very good way of letting people know what happened during National Service. I was one of the lucky ones and it helped me with my future life.”

Same but Different would love to hear from anyone who wants to share their experiences of National Service - particularly anyone who was conscripted and has connections with Dorset. To contact the team or to view the exhibition, which will be touring the UK later in the year, please visit www.national-service.co.uk