Strictly Private - Book 3: Two Bites of the Apple
Excerpt from chapter one
These were days when all males of school-leaving age were required to do a spell of two years' National Service in one of the armed forces. I saw this definitely as an intruding imposition - a chore that I must get behind me before I could focus upon matters that were more important to me. But there was another way that I could treat the experience, in that it could be regarded as an opportunity to take a bite from the apple of adult life, before it became necessary to make a real decision upon the direction that I should take when committing myself to any particular career. And I had the option of doing it straight away after leaving Eton, or waiting until I had completed my education at Oxford University. On the theory that it might be sensible to postpone the most enjoyable period until the last, I had chosen to get the National Service over and done with.
The choice of regiment had been largely determined for me a couple of years previously, during a dinner conversation at Sturford with my father and sister. Caroline had offered the opinion that, as far as London social life was concerned. most of her best friends over that period were officers in the Life Guards; and since it was most unlikely that we would actually be going to war with anyone during the crucial two years of my service, it might be wisest to select my regiment for its social advantages, rather than for any particular concern about warfare, or the way it should be fought.
I criticise myself in retrospect for not producing firmer views of my own upon the matter. It should have occurred to me that the choice of an armoured car regiment should presuppose some liking for, or interest in the mechanisms and maintenance of cars. The whole idea of cavalry regiments nowadays was of dependence upon such machinery when riding into battle. And even if I took the line that there wouldn't be any real warfare, there would still be the exercises, schemes and manoeuvres with which to contend. It should have occurred to me that I had always felt more at ease when standing upon my own feet. Machinery was an appendage in the control of which I had yet to develop any aptitude - especially if I were to consider this as my battle mode. I was of the right material to join the Foot Guards, the Rifle Brigade, or even a Parachute Regiment I dare say. But it was surely a mistake for me to offer myself for training in either tanks or armoured cars.
But the conversation at Sturford led to my father writing a letter to Ferris St.George, who was currently the Colonel of the Life Guards, asking him (as a friend) to take young Alexander into his regiment for his National Service. And although Henry himself would have been disappointed if I had chosen to sign on for a career in the army - judging it to be the right destiny for aristocrats who couldn't do much else with their lives, the Colonel knew well how there had been many a young officer who finally opted to sign on, after experiencing the largely leisured life style that was involved. He was therefore happy to accept my application - after coming down to Eton to take a look at the various boys on his list. And it might be added that, by Eton standards, I had been the most distinguished of the boys thus to present themselves. Not that I have the recollection that any of us were actually rejected - at this particular stage, that is to say.