War is something we see on TV, read in the news, play in computer games and watch in films.

Nearly 80 years on since the UK was last at war demanding a national effort against an enemy in an existential fight, war feels almost fantasy to us.

We can only imagine the outrage, horror, fear, dedication and hope.

On a visit to Westminster this week, I read down the names of the MPs and their sons killed in the wars carved in stone at the top of the Great Hall.

I always pause at town and village war memorials to take in names of lives lost, many often from the same family, thinking, there by the grace of God.

Teenagers, sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, lovers and friends lost fighting for the country, a concept few of us can comprehend.

As the mother of sons, my feelings range between rage, sadness and acceptance that that was how it was as I read down the long lists.

On the train home, I read the words of the chief of the British Army, who told a conference this week that our army had dwindled to such an extent that it was too small for any future land war.

The UK should train and equip a 'citizen army' to prepare the country to be ready.

Calling up civilians to prepare for battle. We’ve known nothing like it in our lifetimes.

We read about Ukraine and Russia conscripting young men and Russian young men fleeing the country to avoid it, but it feels so far out of the realms of life in the UK.

For the first time, the horrifying prospect had been mooted of my sons being called up to be ready to fight in a war, a horror mothers through the ages have faced as generations of men have fought for Britain.

But 2024 is a different world, in beliefs, patriotism, knowledge, ideology, technology and motivation.

Conscription today would surely be men and women, for a start. 

My first thought was no way. Not my sons. But, faced with invasion, attacked like Ukraine two years ago, how would we really feel?

Whatever our beliefs about violence, war, killing, how we react in the face of someone like Putin, and the horrors he is comfortable with inflicting, attacking our land? 

I suspect our softly softly jaw jaw jaw solution would escalate to war war war to protect and preserve life as we know it. Perhaps fight not flight really does click in in the face of attack and hell of war. 

The government was hasty to respond. There are absolutely no plans for conscription – none whatsoever. They would say that wouldn’t they? Hardly the most deft public relations exercise months before a general election.

When the it states emphatically: “The government has no intention to follow through with that. The British military has a proud tradition of being a voluntary force. There are no plans to change that” what can we really believe?

But the army had publicly urged ministers to 'mobilise the nation' in preparation for a wider conflict against Russia.

This is big, unsettling and cannot be ignored.

Even if I clung to my sons’ coat tails, pleading them not to sign up, would they even want to fight? I can’t see it. As a family unit, today, we would identify as pacifists with strong anti-war beliefs.

Fighting is not in their natures – but they  have never faced with existential crisis.

They are ideal citizen’s army fodder; fit, well and in their prime. 

Neither ever considered an armed forces career, and were flabbergasted when a few of their school friends took that route, at 18 and at 22.

General Patrick Sanders has sewed the seed about what might be to come. We must take it seriously.

The UK is unlikely to escape the consequences of all-out war and must be prepared for what may lie ahead.

Ukraine brutally illustrated that regular armies start wars; citizen armies win them, he said.

Our own army is inadequate to face a war by itself.

We need to be doing what nations in Eastern and northern Europe are already busy with - laying the foundations for national mobilisation.

Action needs to be taken now to develop an army designed to expand rapidly with a citizen army, he said.

It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Technology in warfare has moved on so much with roles that previously did not exist on the battlefield a century ago and those that did obsolete.

Conscription was first introduced between 1916 and 1920 - during the First World War - unmarried men from the ages of 16 to 40 were summoned to bear arms for their country.

By the Second World War, single men between 20 and 22 were required to serve. As it escalated, men aged between 18 and 41 - except those who were deemed medically unfit or workers in key industries - had to register for service, expanding to anyone aged 18 to 51 liable to be drafted. 

Then National Service Act came into force in 1949, conscription became a major part of British life once again.

A national mobilisation affects every family.

The genie is out of the bottle. 

As terrifying as it feels, we need to get our heads round what we might be called on to do when we never believed it could happen again.