Cambridge University student shares experience of National Service in Finland as UK plans proposed

Daniel Simojoki, a British-Finnish student spent a year in national service with Finland's military has doubts about its introduction in the UK
-Credit: (Image: Daniel Simojoki/PA)

A British-Finnish student, who completed a year of national service with Finland's military, believes the scheme could "instil discipline" and impart "valuable life and social skills", but he harbours reservations about its implementation in the UK.

Daniel Simojoki, a 20 year old history student at the University of Cambridge, has an English mother and a Finnish father. He served with the Finnish Defence Forces in the navy for a year from July 2022 to June 2023 when he was 18.

Despite always living in Fareham, near Portsmouth, Mr Simojoki felt a "sense of patriotism" when he received a letter about conscription in Finland, prompting him to step forward even though it was optional due to his dual citizenship.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is keen to introduce a new form of national service for 18-year-olds, which would involve them joining the armed forces or participating in public service volunteering over a year.

Daniel Simojoki is a history student at the University of Cambridge
Daniel Simojoki is a history student at the University of Cambridge -Credit:Daniel Simojoki/PA

Mr Simojoki expressed that national service could "instil a level of discipline and teach people valuable life and social skills" if implemented in the UK, potentially evolving into a rite of passage over time.

However, he also voiced concerns that it might seem "unreasonable and unfair". While he felt a "necessity" to protect his country due to its proximity to Russia, he couldn't identify an "equivalent necessity" in Britain.

Mr Simojoki shared with the PA news agency: "I think it would probably instil a level of discipline, teach people valuable life and social skills and foster a sense of community within groups doing it together as well as with wider community." He believes that over time, it could become a cultural rite of passage.

In Finland, he said young men often volunteer for national service out of a sense of purpose and patriotism. "I saw the necessity and wanted to do my part to protect my country but I don't see an equivalent necessity in England so being told to do national service would seem unreasonable and unfair," he explained.

He further added, "I've always said that if they tried to put something similar in Britain there would be riots and I don't feel that motivation is there people don't feel like they have that sense of duty."

During his military service in Finland, Mr Simojoki was stationed on a ship where he was trained in weapon and navigation systems and took part in combat simulations. He described the experience as "challenging but positive".

Daniel Simojoki spent a year in national service with Finland's military and has said the scheme could "instil discipline" and teach people "valuable life and social skills"
Daniel Simojoki spent a year in national service with Finland's military and has said the scheme could "instil discipline" and teach people "valuable life and social skills" -Credit:Daniel Simojoki/PA

"It's a massive adjustment from civilian life, you go in one day, you're handed a uniform and suddenly there's a whole military culture there," he said. "There's a lack of sleep, there's an expectation to just get on with things and you're part of an organisation that's not about you.

"On the other hand, I made very close friends and you get trusted with responsibilities that give you value and worth. I learnt a lot about myself and new-found limits and at the end of the day, it's quite good fun. It was a challenging but positive experience."

Mr Simojoki described his time in the navy as having two distinct types of days: those spent in port and those at sea.

While docked, he would focus on physical training and equipment maintenance, whereas days at sea involved mine warfare training, including deploying practice mines and participating in simulated combat exercises.

He shared that readjusting to civilian life post-service was a gradual process, particularly with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine highlighting the possibility of being recalled to duty. "After coming out, it sort of hit me, especially with the Ukraine war still going on, the significance of the fact that I could be called back and told to fight," he reflected.

The thought of potential recall plays heavily on his mind, influencing his outlook on future personal commitments.

"That's got to me more and that definitely has an effect on my life because I have to keep in the back of my mind that when I get married and have children, I might be called up to war and possibly die." He emphasised the gravity of such a prospect, especially for those without a choice in the matter.

"That definitely has an impact and that's why I don't think it's a thing that should be taken lightly, especially when people don't have a choice. I had a choice, uniquely."

The idea of conscription is something he considers significant, concluding, "If people didn't have a choice, I think that's quite a big deal." Mr Simojoki has expressed that the ingrained culture in Finland means compulsory military service is "very accepted", a sentiment he believes is not mirrored in the UK.

"Every guy grows up knowing that he'll do his year in the army, it'll be formative, and he'll have the stories just like his dad and his friends," he explained.

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"There's such a culture so it makes it very accepted but I just don't think the same thing exists in England." He added: "There's no idea that men, or anyone, is more responsible for defence or should be required for community service."

When questioned on whether he would participate in national service in the UK if called upon, Mr Simojoki said: "I think I would accept some sort of social responsibility but I would question the effectiveness and motives of the scheme,".

"I wouldn't agree fundamentally with the idea and I would think that quite a big sacrifice was being demanded of me, but at the end of the day the law is the law so I wouldn't disobey."