Today, at 16 you are not old enough to vote, buy a pint in a pub or ride a motorbike. Yet you can join the armed forces, and commit yourself for four years beyond your 18th birthday*.

*Ours was 12 years!

On becoming legally adult you can then be sent to the frontline in Afghanistan [for example] although come my18th birthday I had a medal, a NGSM {[Naval General Service Medal 1962 [red and white stripe ribbon]} with two clasps, one “Near East” and the other “Cyprus” .

A 16-year-old soldier can train with live ammunition, yet when he goes back to barracks in the evening he isn't old enough to rent an X-rated DVD of Apocalypse Now, a film dealing with the horrors of war – because it is too violent.

Notions of childhood change. During the siege of Mafeking in 1900, Robert Baden Powell recruited 12-year-old boys to deliver messages under fire. They wore khaki and their leader was the 13-year-old Warner Goodyear. But today Britain is the only European country to recruit into the regular army at 16. Perversely those young recruits are required to serve two years longer than those recruited at 18. Far from being a curious legal relic, this rule was re-introduced by the Labour government in 2008. After a six-month "cooling-off" period there is no right to leave. While "unhappy minors" may leave at the discretion of their commanding officer, the fact that there is no "discharge as of right" leaves them uniquely open to bullying and that bullying is more serious if it happens because they cannot leave.

Oh dear!....especially when I first went to my recruiting office when I was 14 years  and 10 months old [May 1953], joining proper, after tests, medicals and administrations, as  a baby sailor 4 months later at Shotley.

There is now a strong lobby to stop all such recruitments joining the armed forces until they are at least of age, namely when aged 18.  It should be noted that in Europe less than 20% [a fifth] of its nations has a volunteer defence force [and now the EU is talking about raising its own armed forces in addition to the overt protection already afforded to Europe by NATO], and we all know from the days of British National Service, that a conscript army [in which the majority of National Servicemen served] is somewhat short of being a dedicated and fully professional service when formed in global peacetime i.e., no world war raging.  So as not to mislead or confuse or invite angry correspondence, I am not forgetting their invaluable and diligent services in many areas of theatre-war, from inception [which was altered a great deal in Parliament, changing the original service period from 6 months to 2 years and start dates for those aged 17 to 21 [with deferments to join at a later date rather than at an early date in the range shown if requested and approved, usually because of employment or full time education].  Many medals were issued, many deaths and battle injuries occurred, and in Korea alone, the three year [1950-53] through-put showed that we had over 60,000 National Servicemen out of a total of 100,000 British men committed, although the boots_on_the_ground numbers at any one time never exceeded 10,000: other theatre-wars involving National Servicemen were parts of the Cold War, Suez Canal Zone, Suez [1956], Aden, Malaya, Berlin Air-Lift, Borneo, Cyprus, Kenya, Palestine, Belize and India. All National Servicemen had been discharged back to civilian life before December 1963.