When did national service end in the UK? This is why it was introduced

This is why national service was first introduced in the UK <i>(Image: Ben Birchall/PA)</i>
This is why national service was first introduced in the UK (Image: Ben Birchall/PA)

Rishi Sunak has said 18-year-olds would be forced to carry out a form of national service if the Conservatives win the general election in July.

Under the Conservatives’ new proposal, young people would be given a choice between a full-time placement in the armed forces for 12 months or spending one weekend a month for a year “volunteering” in their community, the Tories said.

The Prime Minister said the policy would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose”.

In an apparent pitch to older voters, he said volunteering could include helping local fire, police and NHS services as well as charities tackling loneliness and supporting elderly, isolated people.

When did national service start in the UK?

The UK Parliament website explained: “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.”

But this meant 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, such as in in Germany, Palestine, and India.

“The government concluded that these requirements could only be met effectively by continuing National Service in peacetime,” adds UK Parliament.

“This was not, however, popular, especially now that Britain was no longer at war.

Bournemouth Echo: This is when national service ended in the UK
Bournemouth Echo: This is when national service ended in the UK

This is when national service ended in the UK (Image: PA)

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

Following this, national service came into force in January 1949.

This 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. 

UK Parliament continues: “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.”

When was national service stopped in the UK?

In the UK, national service ended in 1960, however “periods of deferred service still had to be completed”.

Following this, the last national servicemen were discharged in 1963.

What countries still have national service?

National service in various forms still exists in countries around the world including in some European countries and South Korea.

All able-bodied men in South Korea must serve in the armed forces for a period of 18 to 21 months under a conscription system set up in response to the threat from North Korea.


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Members of K-pop band BTS made headlines around the world over the last year as they began to fulfil their mandatory duties.

In Israel, military service is compulsory for the majority of both men and women over 18 years old, with men expected to serve for a minimum of 32 months and women a minimum of 24 months.

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In Switzerland, 18 weeks of military service training is mandatory for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30, along with yearly refresher courses.

Longer, civilian service is also possible for those unwilling to serve in the military due to their conscience and mainly involves assignments focused on social welfare, healthcare and environmental protection.

In Sweden, all citizens must complete a military enlistment form the year they turn 18 and, if selected, are obliged to enrol in basic military training.