The Conservative leader recounted how he completed a similar scheme while at school. “I was in the cadet force and enjoyed that,” he said. “I also did visits to elderly, vulnerable people in Windsor — did their shopping and things like that.”
Interesting. So, here's the way that said scheme worked at Eton...
In one's penultimate year (that is, the first year of A Levels), one had to choose whether one would go into the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) or do Social Service. Your humble Devil—harbouring no army fantasies nor being tremendously good at heavy lifting or anything approaching vigorous exercise—chose the latter option.
One or two afternoons a week, we would wander to our assigned social service project. Mine was, as it happens, helping kids in a Slough school for the disabled (or "learning difficulties", as its known now); ostensibly, we would help them with reading, etc. but much of the time it was simply to help the teachers to keep order amongst the children for a little while.
Social service wasn't too onerous—certainly less so than spending our weekends hiding in ditches or the other entertainments enjoyed by those in the CCF—and, to be frank, much of the time we spent nowhere near as much time doing it as we should because there simply wasn't enough for us to do.
As such, myself—and another couple of pupils assigned to the same school—took advantage of the other main reason for choosing social service: we dropped into a pub on the way back and had a few drinks. It was quite relaxing really...
Naturally, I wouldn't doubt Dave's word—and, of course, it might have been different then—but I would be extraordinarily surprised if he had done the CCF ("the cadet force") and social service ("visits to elderly").
In any case, the compulsion part of the scheme certainly didn't exist in the next year—although, of course, many people remained in the CCF (and many went on to join the forces). It should be noted, however, that within the bounds of the school rules, all of this was compulsory: you had to choose one or the other.
But perhaps he was, in fact, some kind of saint with a lot of time on his hands. Who knows...?
UPDATE: commenter Asa points out that, in fact, it was perfectly possible to do both.
Hello! Just thought I'd offer my experience as a similarly schooled chap to Dave, I did the cadet force for a year (GCSE time) and the year after (before sixth form) had to either continue as nco cadet or do community service (which I chose)
My mistake—I was interested in neither as I spent almost all of my last three years wielding an oxy-acetelene torch in the Art Schools.