'Sheffield is in my heart' - Cadet Sal Hussain on heart-warming encounter at war memorial that made him proud of Steel City

It was Saturday night in Barker’s Pool, Sheffield city centre. A young Asian man in military uniform was posing for pictures in the shadow of the war memorial. He was approached by a group of white males, who had clearly enjoyed a few lagers.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 10:19 pm

It was tense. But what happened next says everything about Salahudeen Hussain, aged 16.

“They hugged him,” says dad Gul, who admits he breathed a sigh of relief. “They said he made them proud and happy.”

The feeling is mutual. Ask Sal about his home city and he says simply: “I’m proud. Sheffield is in my heart.”

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16-year-old Salahudeen Hussain at Burbage Brook in the Peak District. The intrepid teenage Royal Marines cadet is the Lord Lieutenant's Cadet, a role which will involve him accompanying the Queen's representative in South Yorkshire, including ceremonies to mark Remembrance Day

The Birkdale School pupil was delighted to get the reaction in Barker’s Pool. He deserved it.

Sal is thought to be the youngest person to complete the gruelling Special Forces selection march known as the Fan Dance, in the Brecon Beacons, when he was 15.

Now he is the Lord Lieutenant's Cadet and accompanied the Queen’s representative in South Yorkshire on Remembrance Day in Barnsley.

Speaking before the event, Sal said: “It’s a great honour. Remembrance Day has a special place in my heart. One of the first parades I did with the cadets was part of Remembrance Day. Now I will hand the wreath to the Lord Lieutenant.”

Salahudeen Hussain, aged 16, is thought to be the youngest person to complete the gruelling Special Forces selection march known as the Fan Dance, in the Brecon Beacons, when he was 15.

It’s no exaggeration to say he is known to the Royals. His dad, a QC barrister, takes up the story.

“Princess Anne visited the combined courts in Sheffield in June and I had been asked to attend,” says Gul, 45. “As she approached me, an aide whispered in her ear. She moved towards me and said, ‘So you’re Sal’s dad? I’ve heard about everything he’s doing’.”

How proud? There’s more to come.

The cadet corporal is hoping to join the Royal Marines Reserve as an officer, and pass selection for the elite SBS Reserves, when he begins a degree in medicine after his sixth form studies.

Salahudeen Hussain is the Lord Lieutenant's Cadet and will accompany the Queen’s representative in South Yorkshire on Remembrance Day in Barnsley.

So what does he remember of the Fan Dance, the gruelling test for SAS and Special Boat Service candidates who have to complete a route march on a 15-mile course up and around the 2,907ft peak carrying a 16kg pack.

“Towards the end of it when it was starting to hurt I had to remember why I was doing this,” says Sal, the eldest of three children.

“It was to raise money for my cadet unit and the Special Boat Service Association, which supports veterans. It was a way of honouring them, to do something they had done and that kept me going.

“People had donated from all over the globe - £6,600. I would be letting them down if I’d given up.”

16-year-old Salahudeen Hussain at Burbage Brook in the Peak District. The intrepid teenage Royal Marines cadet is the Lord Lieutenant's Cadet, a role which will involve him accompanying the Queen's representative in South Yorkshire, including ceremonies to mark Remembrance Day

He wants to educate the community about the role people from the subcontinent played in World War One and Two, such as Fazal Din, of the British Indian Army, who was killed in action in 1945 and was awarded the VC.

“He was clearing out Japanese bunkers when he was ambushed by an officer and stabbed through the chest,” says Sal. “He removed the sword, killed the officer with that same sword and then led the charge to multiple bunkers before returning to base, filing a report before collapsing.

“He displayed heroism and extreme bravery and that is inspiring.”

Sal discovered this story with his dad on the top floor of the Imperial War Museum in London where there is a place dedicated to VCs. There are a number of cases that commemorate Muslim soldiers.

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

His dad adds the photo shoot in Barkers Pool was overwhelmingly positive but the article which followed attracted the odd misled comment.

Salahudeen Hussain, aged 16, is thought to be the youngest person to complete the gruelling Special Forces selection march known as the Fan Dance, in the Brecon Beacons, when he was 15.

“We just want to remind everyone of what has happened and why the UK looks like it does,” he says. “We love it here but the fact the Empire’s history, warts and all, is not being taught is tragic because it defines a nation.

“If you teach about why the statues are there, you don’t need to pull them down because you have the full picture.”

He’ll be there in Barnsley and knows he will get some glances from people surprised to see a Muslim. “I’ll say do you know how many Muslims fought in the wars?’ It gives me an opportunity to talk which is how we all learn.”

Gul is also proud of Sheffield. “I love this city. It’s fantastic with a really good mix of people. I think there’s so much the rest of the country can learn from where we are here.”

He was instrumental in getting Sal to join the cadets in 2018 after he was bullied at school. It was mostly verbal but got to the point where Sal had to defend himself. For that, he was given a detention, which his dad did with him and suggested the cadets.

“It was out of my comfort zone, but my dad gently gave me the choices - I could go, or I could go,” says Sal, smiling.

He did go, dressed in flip flops and three quarter length shorts. As soon as he walked in, his attitude changed. He loved it. Loved the discipline.

“Seeing them in uniform, immaculate, lined up, marching. It took my breath away seeing how they conducted themselves in the field.

“It put a smile on my face. It helped me with my confidence, knowing that I could command a group of cadets and be a leader helped me at school.”

Sal says his experience shows the value of cadets. “Give it a try,” he says. “It’s not a recruitment office, it helps you as a young person.

“I’ve learnt lots of different things - first aid, abseiling down a viaduct and shooting.”

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

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

Tough. But Sal is tough and has impressed Sheffield detachment commander Sergeant John Daley, who praised Sal 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 added. "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 spokesperson 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."

To sponsor Sal’s Spean Bridge speed march visit his funding page https://gofund.me/e67d0850.

Salahudeen Hussain, aged 16, is thought to be the youngest person to complete the gruelling Special Forces selection march known as the Fan Dance, in the Brecon Beacons, when he was 15.
Salahudeen Hussain is an accomplished cadet and has learnt skills such as shooting
Salahudeen Hussain, aged 16, with Ben Parkinson MBE, the former British paratrooper, veterans' campaigner and author. The Doncaster man is the most severely wounded soldier to survive the war in Afghanistan.