National Service


In June 1945 the process began of demobilising the thousands of men and women who had served in the forces during the war.  

The government had begun preparations for this in 1944 with the  Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act which allowed men and women to claim back their old jobs in civvy street, provided their employer was still in business. 

Continuing commitments

There was still an urgent need to keep up high levels of military manpower in parts of the world where Britain had strong ongoing commitments – in Germany, Palestine, and India.  

The government concluded that these requirements could only be met effectively by continuing National Service in peacetime. This was not, however, popular, especially now that Britain was no longer at war. 

It was therefore with difficulty that Clement Attlee’s Labour government persuaded Parliament in 1947 to pass the National Service Act.  

National Service in peacetime

It came into force in January 1949 and meant that all physically fit males between the ages of 17 and 21 had to serve in one of the armed forces for an 18-month period.  

They then remained on the reserve list for another four years. During this time they were liable to be called to serve with their units but on no more than three occasions, for 20 days maximum. 

Students and apprentices were allowed to defer their call-up until they completed their studies or training. Conscientious objectors had to undergo the same tribunal tests as in wartime. 

After 1945, however, National Service did not extend to women. 

Operations abroad

In 1950 a further National Service Act lengthened the period of service to two years. During the 1950s national servicemen took part in various military operations in Malaya, Korea, Cyprus and Kenya.  

National Service ended in 1960, though periods of deferred service still had to be completed. The last national servicemen were discharged in 1963.