This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 341).


START 10:00:00 Opening titles

10:00:18 Scenes on the quayside at Tilbury Docks as soldiers from various regiments and corps in the British Army, including members of a regimental Colour party, board HMT Empire Trooper. Young servicemen are seen writing letters and, in one instance, poking a head out of a ship's porthole. A young mother and child are among the other wives and mothers seen waving goodbye to the soldiers lining the ship's railings and dockers unhitch the last hawser securing Empire Trooper to the quay as she departs.

10:01:01 Scenes in London's West End: British soldiers in uniform (Irish Fusiliers?) mingle with ordinary passers-by at one of the exits to Marble Arch Underground Station, a crowded pavement in Oxford Street (almost everyone is wearing a hat) and people emerging from another Underground exit (?). Two big shire horses pull a plough across a field along a rolling stretch of coastline (Cornwall ?). Scenes showing foundrymen at work at an iron works somewhere in Britain.

10:01:28 An army reservist, a man in his twenties, is seen walking along a street carrying a suitcase and arriving at a depot belonging to a famous London Territorial Army unit, the Inns of Court Regiment. Once back in his army fatigues, he joins a group of National Servicemen gathered around the rear engine compartment of a Daimler Armoured Car Mk II. The Sergeant instructor ticks him off for arriving late and continues his lesson on the Daimler's 95 hp 4.1 litre 6-cylinder petrol engine. A close-up of his campaign ribbons shows that he served in Korea.

10:02:09 A quickly-cut montage of scenes from the 1950-1953 war in Korea where National Servicemen saw action - US General Walton "Bulldog" Walker, commander of the US 8th Army in Korea (seen on the left of the screen whilst conferring with a two-star American general), US troops reinforcements landing in Korea from a tank landing ship (LST) and a landing craft (LCVP), US artillerymen in action with M114 155mm howitzers, the shoulder flashes of a soldier serving with The Royal Canadian Regiment, a Canadian soldier on lookout duty with binoculars, No. 2 Squadron South African Air Force 'Flying Cheetahs' P-51D Mustangs on a Korean airfield, a medical orderly serving with the 60th (Parachute) Indian Field Ambulance sorting out medical supplies, a US soldier greeting Australian infantrymen serving with the 27th Commonwealth Brigade, American motorised infantry and their M3 half-track armoured personnel carriers, units of the Royal Navy at sea off Korea (a Dido Class light cruiser, a Battle Class destroyer and a Fleet Auxiliary oiler), Second World War library shots of an Indomitable Class fleet aircraft carrier in heavy seas (probably HMS Victorious) and the interior of a 15-inch gun turret (?) as the lift for a shell drops down to the magazine down below after a round has been inserted into the gun breech and the huge gun as it is elevated to its firing position, A and B turrets of a 15-inch gun battleship in action and a view of the forepart of a Swiftsure Class light cruiser as a single 6-inch round is fired from B turret during a shore bombardment of North Korean/Chinese positions.

10:02:57 A quickly-cut montage showing the Malayan 'Emergency' where National Servicemen saw action - a view from a jungle clearing in Malaya as an Army Taylorcraft Auster AOP aircraft flies overhead. A low level view of tree tops in dense jungle. An army radio operator on a jungle patrol. Shots showing three sections of British riflemen heading along a jungle river in assault boats powered by outboard motors and British. Gurkha and (possibly) Malay soldiers in the jungle, on the alert for Chinese Communist guerrillas. An action sequence showing an infantryman in action with a Bren light machine gun mounted on a tripod, the barrel of a QF Ordnance 25-pounder Mk III field howitzer recoiling as a single round is fired and a soldier in thick jungle grass hurling a smoke grenade an an unseen target in the jungle.

10:03:27 A quickly-cut montage showing British defence commitments in the Mediterranean, the Far East and in Germany: gunners man 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns protecting Valletta Harbour in Malta, a view of the Rock of Gibraltar, a formation of de Havilland Venom jet interceptors flying over the Suez Canal in Egypt and a formation of unidentified piston-engine fighters flying over Hong Kong Island, British, French and other NATO officers conferring around a map during manoeuvres in Germany, Venom jets flying overhead, British gunners manning a Bofors 40mm L/60 light anti-aircraft gun, a heavily-camouflaged tank in a hedgerow and the gun barrel of a super-heavy 240mm (?) cannon hidden inside a forest as it is elevated.

10:04:12 Dramatised scenes showing an industrial apprentice John Saunders (played by Lane Meddick) stepping out of the front door of his 1930s council house home in Lewisham, South East London, and opening a letter in which he is instructed to report to his local National Service allocation centre for a medical examination (the date reads 9am Tuesday 23rd September 1954). He tells two workmates about his news; the younger one tells him that he too has received his call-up papers although he's married. They set off to work along a residential street where there are hardly any parked cars.

10:05:01 John Saunders reports to the registration clerk at his local National Service centre and, in company with other conscripts, fills out a form with his personal details. Shortly afterwards, whilst sitting in a waiting room with other young men, he is summoned for his medical examination. A middle-aged doctor wearing a bow tie examines his mouth and teeth and the sight of his right eye by placing a card over his left. Another conscript has his heart and lungs checked. The doctor examining Saunders moves his upper body side to side. Having passed the medical, Saunders sits down in front of an Army Major for a preliminary interview. They shake hands at the end of the interview.

10:06:01 A Bedford OY three-ton lorry arrives at the entrance to Catterick Camp, North Yorkshire, and drops off John Saunders and other new National Servicemen. The sign above the Guard House announces that this is the home of the 68th Training Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC). A sergeant instructor leads the men to their accommodation. Sanders gazes in dismay at the bare walls of his new home and the bare unmade beds. He briefly fantasises about his ideal bed before he then sits down on the bare metal springs and tests them for comfort. The following morning, dressed in his training fatigues, Saunders dons his RAC beret and hurries off wth the rest of his barrack mates for roll-call; one of the younger National Servicemen dashes back to retrieve his belt. Saunders and the rest of the new intake are next seen studying photographs and books about their new life in the RAC. Inside a classroom, they are seen seated behind tables as a Sergeant instructor addresses them; they then take part in a written test designed to determine their intelligence and aptitude for service with the Royal Armoured Corps. Afterwards, Saunders is interviewed by a Major who is the Personnel Selection Officer (PSO). Then he and his barrack mates are led out onto the parade ground by a drill sergeant for their first introduction to traditional Army 'square-bashing'.

10:08:16 Reel 2. A sequence showing the sergeant instructor getting Saunders and his comrades to improve on the standard of their 'square bashing' followed by scenes inside the barracks where army boots are kept spotlessly clean, the bolt of an SMLE No. 4 rifle is kept in proper working order with regular oiling and a belt buckle polished to a shine. Saunders writes a letter home in which he describes aspects of life at Catterick Camp - long jumping into a pool of water, rifle shooting, scaling a wall, yet more 'square-bashing', a tug o' war with a birch tree in which the rope breaks and instruction by the drill sergeant how to present arms on the parade ground. After five weeks, he and the rest of his intake take part in a passing-out parade on the successful completion of basic training; taking the salute is a Major-General (possibly the local District Commander) with the officer in charge of 68th Training Wing and his Adjutant. Saunders and his mates descend on the camp canteen and buy themselves pints of beer which they drink with evident pleasure.

10:10:08 In a sequence that opens with an impressive front view of a Centurion Mk III and the muzzle of its 20-pounder gun only inches away from the lens, an instructor sergeant points out the main features of this tank to Saunders and five other RAC trainees at the beginning of their eight weeks training on tanks. Scenes filmed inside a tank turret simulator where Saunders takes his turn in the gunner's seat and uses the gunner's periscope to aim at crude models of enemy armoured fighting vehicles. A sergeant instructor from the 17th/21st Lancers orders him to set the gun sights for a target one thousand metres away and he scores a direct hit with the rifle mounted in the tank turret simulator. A view through real tank gun sights of two old lorries in use as hard targets on Warcop gunnery range in Cumberland near the Scottish border. A hit is scored on the target on the right with a 20-pounder round. Inside the turret, a new 20-pounder round is inserted into the breech by the loader whilst Saunders in the gunner's position brings the gun barrel up to a new elevation. An exterior shot as the 20-pounder gun fires a second round and, two seconds later, scores another hit. Saunders is pleased with his gunnery skills.

10:11:06 Scenes in a classroom on a tank commander's course in which trainees are seen speaking into their radio microphones and being taught tank tactics by a sergeant instructor using a sand table as a teaching aid. Saunders and other trainees are taught how to fit a new tank track on a Centurion tank; he is seen completing the job by hammering a track pin into place with a sledge hammer (he has the RAC's 'mailed fist' cap badge on his beret). With the help of an exact reproduction of the driver's position and controls in a Centurion tank, a sergeant tank driving instructor show the trainees how the two main gear levers (one for each tank track) are operated. Four Centurion tanks are seen being taken for a drive by trainees; in the commander's cupola of one of these tanks is Lance-Corporal John Saunders. A Centurion tank is seen travelling through a deep puddle and over rough ground.

10:12:02 Railway train carriages full of British soldiers waving goodbye from open windows leaves a train station somewhere in England. British 'Squaddies' are seen off-duty in Trieste, on their own and with a local girlfriend, in the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt taking a ride in a horse-drawn taxi and shopping in a street market or souk (note the Canal Zone shoulder flash on the REME mechanic) and skiing down an Alpine slope in the British zone of Austria. British Squaddies do some window shopping in a German city (possibly Paderborn) at Christmas time.

10:12:48 Lance-Corporal Saunders inspects the big signboard at the entrance to the British Army Of The Rhine (BAOR) Normandy Barracks at Sennelager near Paderborn and heads off with a comrade through the camp past its ex-Wehrmacht barracks. Scenes during BAOR manoeuvres on Luneburg Heath (?): British infantrymen dig in as a Centurion Mk III tank covered in tree branches and camouflage netting moves up and comes to a sudden halt. A tank crewman produces a pot as he and his comrades prepare to have a 'brew up' for tea. An impressive shot of a Centurion driving up to the camera before coming to a stop. A tank troop officer and the troop's senior NCO watch Saunders and his crew clamber down from their Centurion; Saunders walks over and reports to them. Off duty, he is seen with his crewmates yelling encouragement to footballers from the touchline, slugging it out with another squaddie in a boxing ring during a regimental boxing contest and strolling out of the barracks entrance with one of his mates.

10:14:10 A line of fully-armed British infantrymen board a Bedford QL 3-ton lorry at the beginning of NATO manoeuvres in north-west Germany and lorry heads off down a road. A Centurion Mk III tank covered in tree branches moves up (good sound of a tank engine) with Saunders in the commander's cupola and his gunner with his head out of his hatch next to him. An assortment of armoured fighting vehicles is seen motoring along narrow roads and through quiet German hamlets - notably an M16 anti-aircraft half-track fitted with quadruple Browning .50 calibre machine guns, an M4 Sherman tank equipped with a dozer blade (both towing conventional supply trailers), a Centurion tank towing a mono-wheel trailer and a Centurion Mk I armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) named 'Comforter' by its crew.

10:14:55 A medium artillery gun crew prepare its BL 5.5 inch gun for action. A Royal Artillery troop or battery commander shouts, "Five rounds gunfire! Fire!". Ordnance QF 25-pounder field howitzer detachments and a Centurion Mk III tank bombard 'enemy' positions. An RA observer (wearing a 2nd British Infantry Division shoulder flash) lying in the prone position observes the fall of shot whilst his radio operator takes down a message . At an artillery battery command post, a radio operator speaks into his radio microphone whilst two RA officers plot target ranges on maps in the background. 25-pounder teams in action. Explosions as shells burst on the training ground. British riflemen advance into action with Centurion Mk III tanks and drop to the ground to take cover from 'enemy' fire. An 'enemy' light machine gun team (French/Belgian/Dutch troops?) opens fire. A British riflemen serving with the Sherwood Foresters (note the 2nd Division 'cross keys' shoulder flash) takes cover. Bullets from the 'enemy' light machine gun strike the ground. A tank commander wearing an RAC tank helmet climbs into the commander's cupola on a Centurion tank; its turret traverses and its 20-pounder gun fires a round. Another Centurion tank opens fire. Infantrymen lying prone on the ground fire SMLE No. 4 rifles and a Bren light machine-gun and an infantry officer fires a Very pistol. An infantry Lieutenant with the 7th Armoured Division 'Desert Rats' shoulder flash and armed with a Sten gun orders his men to advance. British infantrymen overrun the two-man 'enemy' machine-gun team and take them prisoner. A two-man 'enemy' tank-hunting team armed with a German 'Panzerschreck' 8.8cm bazooka lying in wait among pine trees opens fire on an advancing Centurion tank. Infantrymen riding on its engine deck scatter and thunderflashes (?) burst in the foreground.

10:16:14 Quickly-cut action scenes during NATO manoeuvres: an air-to-air shot of clouds. Second World War (?) library footage showing paratroopers jumping out of the open door of a Douglas Dakota transport and parachutes floating earthwards during a mass drop. A ground level view of paratroopers landing on a drop zone as Douglas Dakotas (C-47s) pass overhead. British paratroopers advance into action. A paratrooper radio operator with his radio propped up against a tree. Two Venom jets fly overhead. A low-level aerial view of a column of Centurion tanks along a road in Germany. An explosion from a bursting shell. An F-80 Shooting Star (?) passes overhead. British paratroopers advance at the double at the edge of a field and into a wood. A two-man 'enemy' machine-gun team in action. A two-man Parachute Regiment bazooka team takes up position by a road as an M24 Chaffee tank races along, firing its hull-mounted Browning .30 machine-gun. Paratroopers open fire with a Bren gun and an SMLE No. 4 rifle. Scenes showing British soldiers from a conventional infantry battalion advancing with Centurion Mk III tanks in support and occupying a ruined village. The end wall of a cottage disappears as a Centurion tank crashes through it. British paratroopers dash through a village. Three British infantrymen take cover by lying flat by the roadside - one of them hurls a smoke grenade. The attacking infantry with Centurions in support continue their advance under cover of smoke. A round fired by a 20-pounder tank gun demolishes the corner of a two-storey building. An M10 Achilles 17-pounder self-propelled gun moves up through the smoke. Bullets strike a cottage wall. An infantryman fires through a cottage window with his SMLE No. 4 rifle. Two paratroopers stand up in a road as a Daimler Dingo scout car motors past. The end shot shows John Saunders sitting in the commander's cupola of his Centurion tank.

10:18:08 End credits

END 10:18:18

A documentary that offers a robust justification of National Service at a time when large numbers of British troops were stationed in the Mediterranean and the Far East as well as in West Germany, using the story of one young National Serviceman to illustrate the benefits as well as the responsibilities of army life.


Remarks: a film made to illustrate the full range of the United Kingdom's overseas military commitments in the first decade of the Cold War and its reliance on young National Servicemen to make up the numbers of troops needed to make those commitments credible. Whilst the Malayan Emergency is mentioned, there is no reference to the war against the Mau-Mau in Kenya or the low-level insurgency waged by Egyptian nationalists in the Canal Zone that were also happening at this time. Compared with ADM 5071 [COMMANDO - THE STORY OF THE GREEN BERET], also made by the G-B Specialised Film Unit, the blend of dramatised scenes and actuality footage in this film looks unpolished and false. However, the scenes showing units of BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) taking part in a NATO wargame are quite good and show the post-war British Army at a stage when much of its weaponry - notably the bolt-action operated Short Magazine Lee Enfield No. 4 rifle - still dated from the Second World War.

Summary: from 1st January 1949 to 31st December 1960, every healthy British male between the ages of 17 and 21 was expected to serve in the armed forces for 24 months and remain on the reserve list for an additional four years. This measure was supposed to maintain troop levels in an era when the United Kingdom maintained large garrisons overseas. In 1954, the year this film was made, the army consisted of roughly 950,000 men, more than nine times the size of today's army. Two of the overseas postings featured here - Trieste and the Suez Canal Zone - were wound up in the course of 1954. HMT Empire Trooper, seen here embarking with British troops from Tilbury (?), was originally the German passenger liner Cap Norte, captured by HMS Belfast on 9th October 1939 as it was trying to return to Germany.




Technical Data

Running Time:
18 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1715 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
War Office
actor [as John Saunders]
Meddick, Lane
Struthers, Ian D
Bundy, A Frank
film editor
Boote, Cliff
Wells, Frank
Production company
Gaumont-British Specialised Film Unit