In this latest Final Fix, Tony Cable reveals how he avoided a call-up for National Service duty in his earlier days as an apprentice.
On 20th June 1963 I completed my apprenticeship and became a ‘journeyman’ electrician. It was my 21st birthday.
I don’t remember a lot these days but somehow I can recall a lot about that particular day. Being 21 was a milestone in your life then; 18 tends to be the age that everyone celebrates becoming an adult now, but not in my day.
My parents gave me presents and a crisp £5 note. I was mad on darts back then and was due to be playing in a darts match that night, so needless to say the fiver didn’t last long.
I had started work in 1957 and, as there was National Service then, I always expected to be called up when I was 18 in 1960. Because I was an apprentice, however, I would be deferred until I was 21. As it was, the call-up ended in early 1960 and I didn’t have to go in the end.
Although there was part of me that was glad of this, I’d been brought up expecting to go from childhood, so in some ways I was quite sad as I’d accepted that it would be a part of my life. One of my fellow apprentices was terrified of being called up and he used to feign illness and headaches all the time hoping he wouldn’t be accepted. I can also remember it being very easy to identify a service man as they always stood straighter.
Back to my 21st birthday, and to mark the occasion I was given my own apprentice who had to carry my tools. I was on a large site in Croydon with about 60 operatives, and they had a whip round and bought me some new tools. They had all signed a card and there hanging in the tea hut above where I sat was a key about 4 foot long, cut out of ply wood. I took it home and it stayed in my bedroom until the day I got married and left home.
One of the buildings we had completed was the Greyhound pub and we all popped in there for a drink at lunch time. Of course this type of practise wouldn’t happen now (and quite rightly so) as building sites can be dangerous places. We only had half an hour and we all made our way back to the site – me being one of the last.
The foreman and the engineer were waiting for us at the entrance yelling at everyone as we were five minutes late and they were being stopped 15 minutes’ pay as result. I was the unlucky one as I got a severe telling off and was told that it was all my fault. They even considered sacking me, but I think there would have been a riot if they had!