1. ITV Report

The Welsh veterans of Korea who 'grew up' on national service

Dillwyn Jones served with the Welch Regiment in the Korean War. Photo:

National service ended 50 years ago today.

On 16 May 1963, the final national serviceman was demobbed, and an era of peacetime compulsory conscription for 18-year-old men was over.

Around 2.5 million young men were called up in that post-war period - an estimated 100,000 from Wales. Many served within the UK, many on peacekeeping duties in British territories around the world. Many were sent to a divided Germany, and many fought on the frontline in conflicts such as Korea.

In the decades since, some say the sacrifices of those national servicemen have too often been forgotten, others that conscription should be brought back to tackle present-day problems.

National service began in 1949. The vast majority of conscripts went into the army. The first conscripts served for 18 months.

In 1950 the Korean War started, British troops fighting as part of a United Nations force in a battle between north and south.

National service was extended to two years and many Welsh conscripts became part of the Welch Regiment which was sent there.

Fred Hart, from Newport, remembers being called up and finding out he was to go to Korea felt "adventurous - the thought of going abroad was quite thrilling."

Looking back on his period of service, he says "I suppose I grew up really."

Dillwyn Jones, from Bridgend, has vivid memories of being called up - and the long journey to Korea on the Empire Windrush. "When you go in through those army gates, you've got to make the most of it."

Looking back now, he says "I wouldn't have missed it for the world." His national service medal takes pride of place alongside those of his brother, who served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

Hugh Salmon, from Cardiff, became an officer with the Welch Regiment in Korea.

He describes national service as "an amazing experience, it opened my eyes to the world in a way that I would never have managed otherwise".

The brutal reality of conflict is something which still touches him. He remembers a firefight in which a member of his platoon was killed. Aged just 20, it was his job to inform the man's family, an experience he still remembers as "terrible", and "really very sad."

Graham Long from Abersychan, near Pontypool, says "the furthest I'd ever been was Barry Island - and I thought it was wonderful" to go abroad. He remembers carrying a photograph of Doris Day with him in the trenches in Korea, and said the experience of national service "made me into a man."

"There should be more people remembering national servicemen who did their bit and was forced to do it - they should be remembered more than what they are."

Rachel Silverson, Curator at Firing Line - Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier - says national servicemen formed "an integral part of the armed forces" in the postwar period. The conflict in Korea is often known as 'The Forgotten War', and she says that national servicemen have previously not been given the credit they deserve.

National service was wound down from 1957, a reflection of Britain's lessening imperial duties, a more modern military, and a gradual discontent with the burdens that it placed on young men and the economy.

Lieutenant Richard Vaughan of the Royal Army Pay Corps was the last to be demobbed - on 16 May 1963 - after travelling back from Germany, where he was stationed.

It may have ended five decades ago in Britain, but many countries in Africa and Asia still have a system of conscription. Germany only suspended it in July 2011.

The idea of bringing back some form of conscription in the UK has been talked about repeatedly in recent years, as a way of tackling perceived problems surrounding young people's sense of duty or purpose.

It was a good talking point among students at Cardiff & Vale College. Some say it would "teach young people discipline and respect" - others that it would be "unfair" to postpone their opportunity to start a career.

The Ministry of Defence says it has "no plans to re-introduce it."

For now, the memories of that era are left to the men who grew up with national service.