UK

Finn who completed national service says it could teach valuable skills

Daniel Simojoki served with the Finnish Defence Forces in the navy for a year in 2022.

Daniel Simojoki spent one year in national service in Finland
Daniel Simojoki spent one year in national service in Finland

A British-Finnish student who spent a year in national service with Finland’s military said the scheme could “instil discipline” and teach people “valuable life and social skills” but he has doubts about its introduction in the UK.

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

Mr Simojoki has always lived in Fareham, near Portsmouth, but when he received a letter about conscription in Finland, he felt a “sense of patriotism” to step forward – even though it was optional due to his dual citizenship.

Daniel Simojoki was trained in weapon and navigation systems during his time in military service
Daniel Simojoki was trained in weapon and navigation systems during his time in military service

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to introduce a new form of national service for 18-year-olds, which would see them join the armed forces or take part in public service volunteering over the course of a year.

Mr Simojoki said he thought national service could “instil a level of discipline and teach people valuable life and social skills” if it was brought into force in the UK, with the potential to become a rite of passage over a longer period of time.

He also said it could seem “unreasonable and unfair” as he felt a “necessity” to protect his country due to its proximity to Russia but said he couldn’t see an “equivalent necessity” in Britain.

“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,” Mr Simojoki told the PA news agency.

“I think over a longer period of time it would have a wider cultural and societal effect as it became more of a rite of passage.”

He added that young men in Finland would volunteer for national service because there is “that sense of purpose”, saying he undertook it “in the sense of patriotism”.

Daniel Simojoki said he found military service ‘challenging but positive’
Daniel Simojoki said he found military service ‘challenging but positive’

“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 said.

“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.”

The student was stationed on a ship during his military service in Finland where he was trained in weapon and navigation systems and engaged with combat simulations, saying the experience was “challenging but positive”.

“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,” Mr Simojoki 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.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, pictured on a visit to defence vehicle manufacturer Supacat in Exeter, wants to introduce a new form of national service
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, pictured on a visit to defence vehicle manufacturer Supacat in Exeter, wants to introduce a new form of national service (Aaron Chown/PA)

“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 said there were two types of days in the navy, days at port and days at sea.

For the former, he said he would spend time exercising and repairing equipment while for the latter, he would be trained in mine warfare where he would drop practice mines at sea and engage in simulated combat drills.

He added that it “took (him) a while to adjust back” to civilian life after leaving the military with the prospect that he could be called back to fight at any point throughout his life.

“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 said.

“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.

“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.

“If people didn’t have a choice, I think that’s quite a big deal.”

Mr Simojoki said the culture in Finland makes compulsory military service “very accepted” but he feels the same ideology doesn’t exist 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 said.

“There’s such a culture so it makes it very accepted but I just don’t think the same thing exists in England.

“There’s no idea that men, or anyone, is more responsible for defence or should be required for community service.”

When asked if he would take part in national service in the UK if he was called upon to do so, he said: “I think I would accept some sort of social responsibility but I would question the effectiveness and motives of the scheme,” he said.

“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.”