Recently, I've been thinking about The Beatles and the fact that, for the next seven years or so, every few months will be a fiftieth anniversary of something they did. This has revived my interest in the band, and also in the 1960s in general. Since I now have newspaper archives at my fingertips I thought I'd read a few news stories to get a feel for the period. And as I did, I found something very peculiar.
The story begins in November 1962. A death of the member of parliament for Rotherham had caused a by-election. And on November 30, the Times reports that 21 servicemen had applied for nomination papers to stand as Independent candidates.
Before long, the number of applicants began to snowball. On December 1, the Times reports that a total of 30 applications had been received. By December 4, the number had risen to 57. And by March 8, a whopping 493 applications to stand as a candidate had been received, of which 193 of them were from identifiable members of the armed forces.
In the end, only three people actually stood: from Labour, Conservative and an Independent. Not even the Liberals bothered to field a candidate in such a safe Labour seat. None of them were from the armed forces.
So what happened? There was another by-election on the same day which did not seem to attract the same kind of attention. On December 1, The Times ran a story suggesting that these applications were an attempt to get out of service without actually having any intention of standing for election. This was because people in the armed forces cannot stand for election into government, so these men would have had to be approved by an advisory committee.
Indeed, this did happen: a sergeant who was allowed to leave the army to stand in this by-election later decided not to stand, saying he felt he didn't have enough experience.
Even though National Service had ended in 1960, the last servicemen to be conscripted didn't leave until May 1963 and I wonder if this wasn't some kind of protest against it, but that seems a little far-fetched.
Of course, it may just be that the initial reports of high numbers of applicants prompted more soldiers and hoaxers to send in their own applications as a light-hearted swipe at authority.
″21 "Service Men" As Candidates″, The Times, Friday, Nov 30, 1962; pg. 8
″Services Check on Candidates″, The Times, Saturday, Dec 01, 1962; pg. 6
″Hoaxers rally to Rotherham″, The Times, Tuesday, Dec 04, 1962; pg. 8
″March 28 Poll in Two Towns″, The Times, Friday, Mar 08, 1963; pg. 8
″National Service Nears End″, The Times, Monday, May 13, 1963; pg. 7