Private George Crook, 1st Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment, remembers his call up for national service and how his choice of destination came to nothing.
George Crook
Private George Crook

If you would like to start when you were 17 and expecting to hear from the Ministry of Defence.
Oh yes, well it came as a surprise actually. You know, you are 17 and you get this envelope through the letter box and you have got to report to an office. Mind slips me exactly where the office was. It could have been in Woking, I am not sure. Anyway it was not an Army person it was a civilian person who had done the interview. He just said to me after I had sat down I have got 3 choices. I knew the Navy was out of the question because one would have to volunteer for the Navy but I thought "Ah, I would like to go into the RAF" and he said "Yes, you can go in the RAF but you would have to sign on for an extra year" and they said "That is better than the Navy because they would want a far longer period" and I thought well, I don’t want to sign on and it is an inconvenience breaking an apprenticeship to go into the military service. Of course then I did not know how good it was going to be. Anyway I said I was born in Wales, lived all my life in Surrey, I would go into the Welsh Regiment because, I remember this well, they were serving out in Jamaica and that is a lovely place to go. So he said "Well, yes, I can put you down for that". So I said I would like to go in my father's regiment as a second choice which is the Horse Artillery which is an Artillery today. He said "Yes, we can put you down for that too". So I said "Can’t I just do 2 years in the RAF?" He said well I will put you down but it will be the RAF Regiment which you won’t get near an aeroplane, you'll just patrol a perimeter. So, anyway, off I go and back to work and eventually I am 18 and I get another envelope. I have got to report to Kingston, I am in the East Surrey Regiment and my face did drop I must admit. East Surrey, that is infantry, you walk everywhere. Anyway I reported to Kingston and the only bit I am not sure of, did I have 6 weeks at Kingston or 4 weeks at Canterbury or was it the other way around?. Anyway Kingston was a bit of a bind really because it is square bashing and you are breaking in your boots and they did need some breaking in believe me. You are given this uniform and I mean it was just a bundle and as I mentioned earlier you had to stand in line to wait for the iron and by the time I got the iron to iron my tunics and trousers it was red hot and I thought I would put a fancy pleat in the back, scorched my uniform and I was the very first one of our intake to be put on a charge and I was marched by the Company Sergeant Major in to see the Colonel and they had removed my shoe laces and belt as punishment I think. It wasn’t a serious crime, I wasn’t going to top myself, and I think I had three days confined to barracks, were allowed into Kingston you know. I never scorched my uniform after that. Then eventually you had your marching out parade when Mum and Dad come. I didn’t expect to see them there because nobody had cars in those days because it was all buses in those days. You jumped on the Greenline Bus. It was very hard for them to get to Kingston.