The week after the Coronation Mr Webster, one of the other juniors and I made our way past County Hall, along Cliff Parade, then down Back Lane with the high walls of Wakefield Prison on our right, to what used to be called the Labour Exchange at the bottom of Westgate. We had a date with a Mass Radiography machine. While I was waiting my turn to strip off to the waist and spread-eagle myself on the fearsome-looking contraption, I just happened to notice a large wall poster which stated that young men with my birth date were required to register for National Service on Saturday 13 June - not by the 13th but on the 13th - just four days later. Quite how I was supposed to know that, had I not happened to see the notice in the Labour Exchange that day, remains one of life's little mysteries. On that same day, Dad got through the post the proceeds of the sale of our house in Salford. It was a cheque for £113. That afternoon, Dad immediately opened his first-ever bank account, with the Yorkshire Penny Bank then located at the top of Westgate facing Market Street.
Above: This is the former Labour Exchange. In the background is the tower of Wakefield Prison and part of the walls.
When I got home that evening I re-read the Royal Army Education Corps pamphlet, which I had secreted in my bedroom without telling my parents that I had it, and then wrote a letter to the Army Recruiting Office expressing my interest in signing on. I received a reply by return of post telling me, not inviting me I noticed, to report for an interview at their Leeds office. Return of post is not a concept that many people understand these days. The postal service and businesses were very much more efficient in 1953 so official letters were usually answered on the day they were received.
The interview, with an Army sergeant, on 12 June, left me disappointed and depressed. Apparently there were very few vacancies in the RAEC and, although my educational qualifications were adequate, most successful applicants had university degrees. The next day, 13 June, I dutifully went back to the Labour Exchange and registered for National Service. I was the only one there.
A week later I filled in a form that I had found in the Radio Times magazine, to sign on as a regular airmen with the Royal Air Force. The application form was headed There's a Place for You in the RAF
. There were questions on the form about nationality. Naturally I answered that I was a UK citizen and, in answer to another question I stated, innocently, that I had no family connections with the Irish Republic. I didn't know until the year 2009 that all my relations on my Dad's side, going back to at least the year 1760 were Roman Catholics from County Mayo.
Without telling my parents or anyone else, I cycled into Wakefield to post the application form at the main post office in Market Street. I received a letter from the RAF, again by return of post, enclosing a recruiting booklet and inviting me, not ordering me, to visit their recruiting office in Cookridge Street, Leeds, to see what they had to offer a 17-year old with 6 GCEs. At least, I thought, the RAF is more polite than the Army.