A 17 year old army cadet has chosen to defy terrorist threats by wearing her cadet uniform to and from school. All police and military personnel, including members of the combined cadet force, have been advised not to wear their uniforms in public thanks to the increased risk of attack from Islamic militants.
Intelligence gathered late last year suggested that some jihadist cells in Britain were hoping to stage attacks similar to that which claimed the life of Fusilier Lee Rigby on the streets of London in 2013. Consequently, last December army chiefs issued advice to all cadets not to wear their uniform in public. The warning came a week after police and military personnel were similarly advised.
Andrew Halls, headmaster of King’s College School (KCS) in Wimbledon, southwest London, wrote to the parents of children at the school who belong to its Combined Cadet Force, passing along the military’s advice.
But Michelle Hughes, who already has 12 A* GCSEs to her name and has represented England at athletics, chose to ignore the advice. “I saw the email from the headmaster and so did my mum, but I was going to wear the CCF uniform anyway,” she said. “I don’t really feel at risk. My mum wrote back to the school saying that she had not brought us up to be scared of anything.” She added that a number of her fellow cadets had also chosen to wear their uniforms in public.
Her mother Rose Hughes, a single mother of four who came to Britain from Nigeria, said: “I am not going to be afraid of evil frustrated people. That is the way I brought up my children. I brought them up to work hard and achieve and fulfil their potential.
“There are crazy people out there who take their frustrations in life out on other people, but this country is peaceful and I do not want my children to be afraid. Let the terrorists be afraid, they are the ones who should hide.
“It is a wonderful privilege to be alive and to live in a country like Britain. Nothing is risk-free, but on the whole this country is safe. I want my children to be on the right side of life, to do the right thing and fulfil their potential. The only thing you have to be afraid of in life is fear.”
Halls said that he respected the decision, but felt that it was his duty to pass on the message. “I respect Michelle’s mum’s message. I think it is admirable, but I would not want to enforce it if anyone did not feel comfortable with it. What would be really awful would be if we packed in the CCF because we thought it was risky . . . We have two boys in the sixth form on army scholarships and we are very proud of that.”
The CCF, founded in 1948, has almost 43,000 cadets divided into army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines sections. There are more than 260 CCF units in British schools, of which the vast majority – about 200 – are within private schools.
The CCF says its aim is “to enable the development of personal responsibility, leadership and self-discipline”. Cadets learn an array of skills depending on which branch they join, but all are taught to drill and to fire the L98A2 5.56mm Cadet General Purpose rifle.
Thomas Garnier, who is both headmaster of Pangbourne College in Berkshire and the liaison between schools with CCFs and the army, said it was up to each school to interpret the advice given by the army to suit their circumstances. “Given the different situations schools are in, a school in an inner city might take a different view to a school in the country where pupils board,” he said.
In contrast with Kings College School, Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, said that all his pupils were instructed to change into their uniforms only once they had reached the school. “You have got to put the potential risk to children first,” he said.
Garnier commented that the decision to wear the uniform in public “does seem brave”, adding: “They [the cadets] have a right to say they are not afraid of this threat, to say: we are not afraid of people who want us to feel afraid.”