A Hoylake man has had his first novel published at the age of 76.

"The Unknown Conscript" by Peter Saunders, a retired journalist for the Liverpool Daily Post, is a gripping story set in the only period in British history when there was universal conscription in what was regarded as "peacetime."

Peter went into journalism because he thought it would be a good introduction to what he had always wanted to do, to write fiction.

But the demands of daily news coverage and a growing family meant his ambition went onto the back burner until retirement.

He was prompted to make a start on his novel The Unknown Conscript by the realisation that it was more than 50 since he had been demobbed after completing National Service in the RAF.

The book is the story of a youth growing up in the England of post-World War II austerity, shabbiness and continued rationing. He is one of that legion of 2.5 million young Britons who were called up for National Service in the armed forces, normally at the age of 18.

It lasted from 1947 to 1960; young men were plucked from Civvy Street to take part in a brutal full-scale war in Korea under the banner of the United Nations, and for policing duties in trouble spots like Malaysia, Kenya, Egypt, Cyprus and Aden, where they faced the hostility of groups seeking independence from the British crown.

Most of them were not old enough to vote (the qualifying age was 21), but 400 were killed, a further 200 died in what were described as ‘accidents’ and many more were injured, some seriously, on active service or during rigorous training.

Some suffered trauma as a result of their service.

Peter explained: “I felt the time was ripe for a re-assessment of the impact of National Service on that generation.

For many people, it is now regarded as history. When my daughter read my manuscript, she said: ‘I didn’t know anything about this, Dad.’

“More than 100,000 National Servicemen did their basic training at RAF West Kirby, which closed in 1959. But until veterans placed a memorial outside the former entrance to the camp in Saughall Massie Road, I doubt whether many West Wirral people under the age of 50 would have been able to tell you exactly where it was located.

“The best-selling novelist Len Deighton was among many subsequently distinguished recruits who did their square-bashing there.

"He told me that despite inquiring in shops and filling stations nobody was able to help him find the former camp site when he visited the North-west some years ago.

“The majority of National Servicemen served in the army, and that is why I have set my novel in an infantry battalion which is eventually sent out to face bombs, bullets and street riots in the Mediterranean.

"The book is fiction, not an accurate service memoir. Some reads may recognise Cyprus and Eoka, but I meant the setting to be in a sense allegorical, to typify the sort of experiences many National Servicemen face in the dying days of Empire.”

Peter’s elder daughter, Kate, a former pupil at West Kirby Grammar School, beat him in the publishing stakes.

Her book, "Eighteen Layers of Hell: Stories from the Chinese Gulag," about China’s horrific system of labour camps, was published by Cassell in 1996.

The Unknown Conscript (260 pages, £9.99) by Peter Saunders is published by Woodfield Publishing Ltd and is available online at www.woodfieldpublishing.co.uk