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Memorial to be built for Muslim soldiers who fought and died alongside UK troops in World Wars | UK News

A memorial is set to be built for Muslim soldiers who fought and died alongside British and Allied forces in both World Wars.

Set to be erected at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire, the 13.2m minaret-shaped structure is to be constructed with brick and terracotta sourced from different parts of the UK and inscribed with the stories of Muslim soldiers who fought for the crown.

Architect Benny O’Looney, who designed the memorial, told Sky News he was inspired by travels to the Indian subcontinent.

Architect Benny O'Looney
Image:
Architect Benny O’Looney

He said: “The idea is, as you approach the memorial, it draws you in. And you can see there’s more detail, more information, more craftsmanship.

“The idea is to show a panorama of the Muslim soldiers’ service in the World War from the gritty 1914. This incredible narrative of plugging the gap and saving the expeditionary forces on the Western Front.”

At least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers are reported to have fought with the Allied forces in the First World War and 5.5 million in the Second World War. Nearly 1.5 million Muslims were killed in action.

The memorial’s design tells the story of sacrifice while reviving traditional crafts, and Mr O’Looney says it will incorporate work from a sculptor and an Islamic calligrapher.

An artist's sketch of the monument
Image:
An artist’s sketch of the monument

Its site has been chosen at the NMA, a 150-acre visitor site on the edge of the National Forest, alongside commemorative memorials for Sikhs, Gurkhas and others.

Irfan Malik’s ancestors served in both World Wars.

“Both of my great-grandfathers Captain Ghulam Mohammad and Subedar [roughly equivalent to warrant officer] Mohammad Khan were part of the Great War, and my two grandfathers were part of the Second World War serving in Burma,” the GP from Nottingham told Sky News.

“They all descended from Dulmial village, which is based in the salt range in Punjab, in present-day Pakistan, a very famous military village.”

Irfan Malik's great-grandfather Subedar Mohammed Khan
Image:
Irfan Malik’s great-grandfather Subedar Mohammad Khan

Dr Malik said the memorial at the NMA has been a number of years in planning.

“I’m so glad we are near to fruition now, so that we can remember this forgotten history of the Muslim soldiers in both of the Great Wars and looking at Muslim contributions globally as well,” he said.

“It’ll be a symbol of remembrance of those campaigns, the sacrifices made, and also an opportunity to educate our younger generation to improve community cohesion in this country.”

Is conscription coming back? How it’s been used in previous wars – and what a UK ‘citizen army’ would involve in future | UK News

Conscription hasn’t been used in the UK for more than 60 years. 

But comments from top military officials about what could happen if NATO goes to war with Russia have made the possibility of being called up to fight feel closer than it has in generations.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the outgoing head of the British Army, said such a conflict would need to be a “whole-of-nation undertaking”, which reignited a debate about defence cuts and volunteering to fight.

Here Sky News looks at how the UK has used conscription before, and what military experts and the government say about bringing it back.

What is conscription and when did the UK last have it?

Conscription legally requires certain groups to join the armed forces.

It was introduced in January 1916, 18 months into the First World War, when a law required all single men aged 18 to 41 to join up.

There were exceptions for certain workers and people considered medically unfit, and a few months later married men were also called up.

The law wasn’t popular; more than 200,000 protested against it. About 2.5 million men joined through conscription, which lasted until 1920. Although the main conflict with Germany ended in 1918, conscription was extended to “enable the army to deal with continuing trouble spots in the Empire and parts of Europe”, according to the UK parliament’s website.

Conscription returned in the Second World War, adding about 1.5 million people to the army, and was extended to women for the first time.

It started with “limited” conscription in May 1939 – as fears of another war in Europe grew – requiring single men aged 20 to 22 to sign up for military training. In September of the same year, when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, the law was toughened and widened to men aged between 18 and 41.

Conscription applied to women – those who were unmarried and childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 – from December 1941. At the same time, the age ranges for men were changed – requiring military service up until the age of 51 and some form of service until 60. This was driven by a shortage of men for roles in the police and other services during the war.

Is conscription likely to make a comeback?

Military experts are split on whether conscription is a realistic prospect in 21st-century Britain.

Military analyst Professor Michael Clarke told the Sky News Daily podcast the UK will probably have to go back to having a “citizen army” – but stressed this is “not the same as conscription”.

“It will need to be a citizen army, but a citizen volunteer army of the sort that we’ve had in the past, and we will probably have to have once again in the future,” he said.

The UK army has “almost never” had conscription during its more than 360-year history, he said, adding it was “completely antithetical to the British thinking on the military”.

But former UK defence secretary Michael Fallon told Sky News it was time to “think the unthinkable” and consider conscription.

Not that he was a fan of the idea: “Conscription to most professional soldiers, and I count myself as one, is absolute anathema,” he said.

“Britain’s armed forces have traditionally and culturally relied on long service, volunteer, highly professional soldiers with huge experience – and that is really the way we would all want it to go on.”

But given the current global situation and defence funding cuts since the end of the Cold War, he said it was time to “get over many of the cultural hang-ups and assumptions” and “look carefully” at conscription.

“Sooner or later, if the military can’t improve the way they recruit, then, if it comes to conflict, obviously they will have to look at other methods,” he added.

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‘Right time’ to think about conscription

What has the government said about conscription?

Any talk of the UK introducing conscription to the army if NATO goes to war with Russia is “nonsense”, the armed forces minister, James Heappey, has said.

Mr Heappey said the UK “long had plans” readied for “mobilising volunteers” in the event that Britain enters a new conflict but stressed that “nobody is thinking” about bringing back conscription.

Number 10 has also ruled out any suggestion conscription was under consideration, saying there were “no plans” to change the British military’s “proud tradition of being a voluntary force”.

Read more:
Are we heading for World War Three?
British citizens should be ‘trained and equipped’ to fight
Putin ‘approached US about end to war’ – Ukraine latest

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‘There’s a 1939 feel to the world at the moment’

What is a citizen army?

A citizen army is made up of volunteers from the public, rather than career soldiers.

At the beginning of the First World War, 750,000 men volunteered to join the British Army in just eight weeks.

The volunteers had to undergo a series of medical and fitness tests before being accepted as a soldier.

Admiral Lord West, the former head of the Royal Navy, told Sky News this week that the UK would have to “mobilise” in the event of a war between NATO and Russia, hinting citizen volunteers would likely be part of that.

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What is the difference between conscription and national service?

National service was the standard peacetime form of conscription in the UK, introduced after the Second World War.

It came into force in January 1949 and required all men aged 17 to 21 to serve in one of the armed forces for an 18-month period.

It was discontinued in 1960, with the last servicemen discharged in 1963.

The UK’s political parties have debated whether or not to reintroduce some form of the service at a number of elections since the 1960s.

Often, calls to bring it back now focus on volunteering or public service for young adults, separate from the military.

Last year a thinktank proposed a “Great British National Service” volunteering scheme that won the support of the leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, and former Tory minister Rory Stewart.

It proposed a “civic” national service scheme for 16-year-olds that would see them complete a certain number of volunteering hours, although it would not be mandatory.

What happens if you refuse conscription?

People who refuse conscription on moral grounds are referred to as conscientious objectors. They may object to fighting for political, religious or other reasons.

In the First and Second World Wars, conscientious objectors had to appear before a tribunal to argue their case.

If it was accepted, they may have been given a non-fighting role. If it was dismissed, they had to join up or risk being fined or jailed.

VR headsets and simulated sandbags – the armed forces using virtual worlds to rehearse wars | Science & Tech News

I’m watching as war breaks out in the Lake District.

Tensions have been escalating for months between blue forces from the south and red forces in the north over disputed territory around Kendall. Now a helicopter has been shot down and both sides are attacking.

It’s an exercise, of course. Not on a military training ground, but in a non-descript building on an airfield in Lancashire.

But the room I’m standing in is filled with people representing different branches of the armed forces, the RAF in flight simulators, infantry personnel in VR headsets crouching behind a wall of simulated sandbags, with surveillance drone and satellite intelligence teams in front of large video screens.

The military has been using computers to practice battles for decades. Flight simulators with realistic terrain to train pilots are the best example.

But what’s happening here is different.

It’s one of the first examples of what’s known as a Single Synthetic Environment – a “digital twin” of real-world 3-D terrain and airspace – being used to train the military.

Armed forces around the world are exploring the power of these virtual worlds in which to rehearse wars.

clarke

‘We’re going to see a blurring of the physical and digital world’

“Historically the simulation and the simulator were together – we’ve separated those two,” said Lucy Walton, head of training at BAE Systems, which is developing the technology.

“It replicates the physics, it replicates the real world terrain and now we have one that everybody uses in the same central system.”

The concept may sound familiar – it’s the same technology used in massively multi-player online gaming environments (MMOGs) – and perhaps not surprisingly the people behind those games are involved here.

Clarke

“We’re going to see a blurring of the physical and the digital world,” says Mimi Keshani, co-founder of Hadean, a London-based software firm that has worked with companies like Minecraft to build their virtual worlds.

“You’ve got a huge amount of complexities to manage, and different levels of fidelity from different people interacting. So in this system, we’ve got people in Typhoons and assets flying above the ground, we’ve got land forces. All of them need to see different things, but they need to see it in a common operating picture.”

The system has 60,000 AI ‘entities’

The system exploits massive improvements in the speed and power of cloud-based computing, as well as machine learning and AI software.

On top of the military forces involved in the exercise, the environment has “layers” like weather systems added on top. One crucial element typically missing from large-scale military training exercises are civilians.

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Is the British Army up to scratch?

This experimental system has 60,000 AI “entities” each representing a civilian in the virtual environment that responds to the actions taken by the military.

The potential advantage to the military is obvious.

In a time of limited defence budgets, training virtually and at scale can save millions in fuel, ammunition and personnel movements required for large scale military exercises. And the training isn’t limited to remote locations out of the way of towns and civilian airspace.

Nor is it vulnerable to the prying eyes of rival nations’ satellites.

Worries over pressures on budgets

“This allows us to train on a more frequent basis. So people don’t only get to go on large scale exercises once in an 11-year career, they could do this every week, if you wanted to,” says Ms Walton.

But there are concerns that as the technology continues to improve, blurring the lines even further between the real and the virtual world, that real-world military experience is lost.

Read more:
How much does the UK spend on defence?
VR creator says new headset can kill you if you lose in a game

The idea of bringing all branches of the armed forces together virtually to train is “very, very welcome,” according to Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of the Defence Select Committee.

“My worry is, because of pressures on budgets, that we will see the flight simulators, we will see these digital classrooms take over from getting out into the field and doing real-life experience in a battle group, regiment or brigade.”

An ever-expandable virtual environment may be ideal for training armed forces, but can it recreate the true conditions in which life-and-death decisions are made in combat?