Teen recruit hopes exploits of Muslim Victoria Cross heroes will inspire new generation

Young UK cadet was motivated by bravery of men such as Fazal Din, who was awarded the VC

A teenage Royal Marines cadet hopes a better understanding of the stories of Muslim heroes in the British military will inspire more Asian youngsters to join up.

Salahudeen Hussain, who is being installed as the Lord Lieutenant's Cadet on Thursday, is believed to be the youngest person to complete the gruelling Special Forces selection march known as the Fan Dance, in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.

The role will see him accompanying Queen Elizabeth II's representative in South Yorkshire on official duties – but he also hopes to inspire other Muslims.

The cadet corporal, 16, said he hopes stories of Muslim heroes in the British military, including those who received the Victoria Cross, will inspire more Muslim youngsters to join up.

"I've had to do lot of digging myself," he said. "My dad and I went to the Imperial War Museum and, on the top floor, they have a place dedicated to VCs and there are a number of cases that commemorate these Muslim soldiers.

"But it's something you don't see talked about. They're often left out of history books and the school curriculum, but I think it's important people know about them."

The teenager said he was particularly inspired by heroes like Fazal Din, of the British Indian Army, who was killed in action in 1945 and awarded the VC.

"He was mortally wounded by a Japanese officer while clearing out a bunker, stabbed straight through the chest by this officer using a katana," Mr Hussain said.

"And he proceeded to remove the sword, kill the officer and then lead a charge to countless other bunkers before filing his report and, unfortunately, dropping dead."

Other Muslim VC recipients include:

  • Sepoy Khudadad Khan for action at Ypres in 1914 in the First World War, whose outnumbered machine-gun team were responsible for halting the German advance.
  • Naik Shahamad Khan successfully defended their post from three hours of German Army onslaught from a location only 150 metres from enemy positions on the Tigris Front during the First World War.
  • Jemadar Mir Dast at Ypres in 1915. After all British officers had been killed or incapacitated, he rallied the remaining soldiers and led them to successfully complete their attack on enemy forces.
  • Jemadar Abdul Hafiz for action in the Second World War in Myanmar – then Burma – in 1944. He died leading a charge up a steep slope with two sections of troops.
  • Lance Naik Sher Shah who, in Myanmar in 1945, single-handedly broke up two attacks by Japanese soldiers, by crawling in into the enemy ground and repelling them from point-blank range.
  • Sepoy Ali Haider, who, in Italy in the Second World War, was one of three soldiers who survived crossing the Senio River under heavy and accurate enemy fire, and attacked enemy positions.

Mr Hussain said: "I know a lot of young Muslim and Asian people in this country often feel a kind of a disconnect to things like the military.

"But I know that, if everyone knew how involved their ancestors and people like them were, they would want to join up and wouldn't feel like they couldn't."

Mr Hussain joined the Sheffield detachment of the Royal Marines Cadets in 2018 as he began to study for his GCSEs.

Now, Mr Hussain is preparing to be installed as the Lord Lieutenant's Cadet, a role which will involve him accompanying the queen's representative in South Yorkshire, including during the ceremonies to mark Remembrance Day in his home town of Sheffield.

The cadet corporal is hoping to join the Royal Marines Reserve as an officer, and pass selection for the elite Special Boat Service Reserve, when he begins a degree in medicine after his sixth form studies at Birkdale School, in Sheffield. And he is considering applying to join as a regular officer in the future.

'The best desicion'

Mr Hussain told of how he arrived at the military after being bullied and how he now plans some fundraising missions in the footsteps of his military heroes.

"I'd been bullied quite badly and I wasn't really in a good spot but my dad found out about the cadets and he approached me about the idea," he said.

"I didn't want to go, I just hated it. It was vastly outside of my comfort zone. But he sat me down and told me I was free to decide between going and not going, so I decided to go.

"And, honestly, it was the best decision I ever made. The opportunities it has opened up for me have been immense."

He plans a fundraising adventure after his Fan Dance achievement raised more than £6,500 ($8,914) for his cadet unit and the Special Boat Service Association.

Next year, Mr Hussain will attempt the march from Spean Bridge railway station to the former commando training centre at Achnacarry Castle, in Lochaber, Scotland, in the footsteps of the prospective commandos of the Second World War.

Recruits would speed-march the seven miles to the training centre in full kit with their weapons, weighing about 16 kilograms. Anyone not completing the route within 60 minutes was kicked out.

Sheffield detachment commander, Sgt John Daley, praised Mr Hussain for his work to highlight the contribution of Muslim soldiers and said it was an important element of recruitment.

"I think he's bringing it to the forefront," he said. "It's massively important that we remember people from across all society, and different backgrounds, who have supported Great Britain through the toughest times.

"I think it's forgotten quite a lot. And I'd like to see more young people from all kinds of backgrounds joining us. We want to represent our city as best we can and that is from every background.

"We are quite proud of the diversity we've got within the detachment but that can always be improved."

Commodore Phil Waterhouse said: "As the Royal Navy's lead officer for Cadets, I am delighted to hear of Sal's experiences, which are wholly in keeping with those who benefit from the inclusive nature of the organisation."

A Royal Navy representative said: "Cadets form a vital part of the communities they represent and Sal's story is reflective of many who continue to explore the opportunity for fun and personal development in a maritime setting."

Updated: October 28th 2021, 8:09 AM
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