When doing the drill corporal thing movement was always strictly by numbers. When in academic mode later and questions of historical demographics arose, the statisticians were always trying to get a fix on the actual numbers rather than other matters that tended to clutter minds.
Now as we totter past all the cars with BG, LT, LV and PL markers around our streets and the municipal car park that overnight last weekend became a Romanian Travellers Camp, the issue of numbers again comes to mind.
The latest fuss is that in January this year, instead of having large numbers from Romania and Bulgaria there were fewer than predicted by some. Those who did not come made entirely rational and sensible decisions. The weather was filthy, the roads were a mess and on the farms little or nothing was being done.
Others point out that despite this dip in the figures we still have a lot of people from those places and more are coming. That some predictions were excessive is par for the course in this kind of debate. Actual analysis is not, this is forbidden territory because of modern sensitivities.
However, the crisis in the Ukraine has at least reminded us that a nation state does not mean a coherent and single group. In the Baltic states there are minorities and some of those are Russians. It is likely that a number of our recently arrived "Lithuanians" are in fact from their Russian minority, once rulers, now very much ruled.
Movement can occur for many reasons. There is ordinary economic or personal movement, there is induced movement, either push or pull or both and there is forced movement which can take various forms. In the present migration into the UK we see elements of all these.
At the moment the excitements are about that from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But the ones to watch if only because of the numbers are those from a number of places in Africa and from locations further East.
Nigeria is in the headlines at present and the figures there are instructive. The figures given in one source suggest that it's population at present is around 170 million. A hundred years ago, when the British fully established their ruthless and oppressive colonial rule (stopping internal wars etc.) in 1914, it was 17 million.
By the time independence was gained it had increased to 48 million. So when there is debate about GDP, poverty etc. in order to have a population that is more prosperous it would entail huge real growth, distributed widely and with little outward capital flows arising from criminality and corruption.
Looking around Africa it is clear that this has not really happened in parts where there have been other major population increases. A corollary is that there will be population outflows wherever it is possible and they will go where they can.
Even if these outflows are only a small percentage of the population of the countries of origin if they go to places with much smaller populations they will have a greater impact. If some of these places have multiple inflows from many sources the aggregate effect is going to be large.
The consequences possible include a progressive transfer of poverty levels to locations with inward movement as the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of economic growth, notably in economies more dependent on service sector activity.
If along with ordinary movement there is also a transfer of criminal or other divergent elements unwanted and stressing politically in their home locations this again will have consequences.
Who knows what could happen? At present there are a limited number of major grain growing areas in the world. One is the Ukraine, one is the Mid West of the USA at risk of major drought and there are others that are vulnerable.
It is quite possible that suddenly severe grain shortages could induce high levels of movement that are entirely unexpected.