'I I served my queen and country' - Edinburgh veteran recalls his National Service days 60 years on
From 1949 until 1960, healthy males aged between 17 and 21 were required to serve in the armed forces for two years.
Eric Blackie, 83, who grew up in Haddington and Edinburgh, was one of more than two million who did their National Service in that time. Now a not-for-profit organisation Same but Different has captured the period through the eyes of the men who served.
Eric was first conscripted in 1958 and was eventually posted to Germany as a dog handler in the Military Police. He also later guarded American nuclear missiles in Norfolk.
He says the UK-wide project, called National Service Remembered and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is allowing him to revel in some old memories.
He said: “I am still a member of an RAF association – it’s lovely to look back at photos.
“I think this is important to remind people that citizens had to do their National Service if they were that age – there was no choice.
“Sometimes they didn’t agree, and I can understand that, but it’s good for everyone to know the history.
“I think it’s different now – youngsters go through cadets, army, air cadets and naval cadets. There’s a lot of support for them, but it’s not National Service.”
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.
She said: “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 not exempt from 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 National Service Remembered project after describing his time serving as “the making of him” at the end of last year.
Eric, who now lives in Shrewsbury, went on to a career in the fire brigade following his National Service.
His wife of 36 years, Hilary Rose, has passed away but he has two grandchildren aged 32 and 30 and two great grandchildren who are 11 and six.
Eric does not class himself as a veteran, but he believes National Service laid the foundations for a successful professional career.
“National Service definitely helped me in the fire brigade,” he said.
“I wasn’t in combat or anything, so I don’t see myself as a veteran. But I do have a National Service medal that my daughter bought for me.
“I could understand being called a veteran if I’d been up to my neck in muck and bullets, but I suppose I am in a way, because I served my queen and country.”
The online exhibition and the stories of the featured veterans can be seen at: https://www.samebutdifferentcic.org.uk/nationalservice