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A minor comment that has stuck by me

Brian Robinson obituary
Trailblazing cyclist who became the first Briton to complete the Tour de France and three years later, in 1958, win a stage

OK, age 91, pretty good going.

before doing his National Service with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Mild- mannered when not on two wheels, he then worked for his father’s carpentry business — which specialised in making coffins — and trained in the evenings. He competed for Britain in the men’s road race at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games alongside his older brother, Des,

Something he said earlier. Perhaps in that flurry of interest when he got knocked off his bike more recently.

Something along the lines of “If you were an Olympic hopeful you were never sent abroad in your National Service”.

Not sure why that comment has stuck but it did.

10 thoughts on “A minor comment that has stuck by me”

  1. No, national servicemen were never sent to war, or even anywhere thought to be at risk of hotting up.
    But plenty of people from the real army have competed at the Olympics. And Bath Rugby have a winger who is “full time” army.

  2. @Philip
    I was sure that National Servicemen saw service in Korea, so I looked it up.

    “The experience many men had of being thrown into combat situations, such as in Korea, Malaya and Suez, would never be forgotten. Men with minimal training were expected to fight guerrillas or cope with riots or civil war situations.

    Between 1947 and 1963, a total of 395 National Servicemen were killed on active service.”

    Ref: National Army Museum website,

  3. Bloke in North Dorset

    Quite a few Olympians were serving. Most famously, in some eyes, Heather Stanning was serving in the RA when she won 2 Golds in 2012.

  4. Is it possible it’s a misquote or a slip of the tongue, and he was actually talking about deferment? I know university students could have their National Service deferred until they graduated, because my dad was one of ’em. He wasn’t called up until 1956, when he’d have been 24.

  5. I remember (you may be too young to do so) that Emil Zatopek was an officer (?Captain) in the Czechoslovak army in the years leading up to and including the 1952 Olympics.
    Having sporting “heroes” adds to national prestige so substitutes for fighting units (and I bet having Vitaly Klitschko as Mayor Kyiv discourages some of Putin’s cannon-fodder), so the comment makes sense.

  6. Charles Brecknell
    October 27, 2022 at 12:35 pm
    OK. I’m wrong.
    Sending inadequately trained men into battle is super stupid. No doubt the units in Korea suffered higher casualty rates than regular troops. (Any data, Charles?) Only Putin would make the same mistake.

  7. @philip
    If you think about it, WW2, certainly as far as the British forces were concerned, was fought by the equivalent of National Servicemen – conscripts. OK they had a longer time to acquire the necessary skills overall because of the length of service but many would be sent into battle with about the same amount of training as NS troops.

  8. Bloke in North Dorset


    In those times it was possible to train infantry to a basic standard in 3 months. The problem with conscripts fighting abroad to defend people they don’t know is moral and motivation. The infantry loyalty system helped.

  9. Any professional or good amateur sportsman who was “called up” generally ended up with a fairly “cushy billet” at the selection or training depot provided they were willing to represent said outfit in their sport of excellence. There was fierce sporting competition between regiments, depots and other establishments, so they did their best to grab the top sportsmen.

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