I've told you a little about the fearsome Fijian warriors of pre-colonial times, but you might not know that their descendants punched well above their weight in the Pacific campaigns of World War 2. After their attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese forces swept into parts of New Guinea and Solomon Islands, threatening islands further south and east and indeed, Australia and New Zealand. In response, the tiny Fiji Military Forces recruited more than 11,,500 volunteers, eager to answer the call.
For King and Empire
The volunteers' response was driven by their belief that it was the highest honour for a man to fight for his chief. King George VI was the highest chief of all and Fijians' loyalty was total. To Fijians, the new British Governor stated the obvious when he told the Council of Chiefs in 1942: "The business of brave men in time of danger is to fight, to suffer, to die if need be: but above all else to seek out the enemy and fight him..."
Armed with Owen guns, 303 rifles and grenades instead of spears, clubs and slingshots, the soldiers of the 1st Battalion and 1st Commando were so effective in the Solomons that the Americans wanted more Fijian units, praised by one naval commander as "the finest that we have had... at any time since we have been in the South Pacific". When the soldiers returned to their islands, chiefs and families at war's end, their distinguished service earned them an enduring reputation. Today, Fiji troops are valued for their contribution to UN peace-keeping forces all over the world. Readers of Death By Tradition, my second Fiji Islands Mystery, may remember the enigmatic chief, Major Ratu Osea (retired) who led such missions in Sinai and Kosovo. Fijian soldiers also proudly serve in the British, Australian and New Zealand armies.
Stranger than fiction?
Private Esivoresi Kete's story would be laughed off as impossible in a thriller, so to convince you I'll quote directly from Oliver Gillespie's Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War.
"During an attack on an enemy strongpost he was shot through the head, the bullet entering behind the right ear and coming out below the left eye. When the Japanese found him they took his clothing and his rations, bayoneted him twice in the chest and once through an arm and believed him dead. The area in which he lay was thrice shelled by American artillery after the patrol to which he belonged retired. But he still lived, and in a period of semi-consciousness he crawled into the Japanese dugout in which he was found (three days later). Kete completely recovered and returned to his home on the island of Kadavu." Private Keti would have been given first aid by an orderly like the one in this photo.rr
Soldiers who sing
Fijian soldiers appear often at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, part of the Edinburgh Festival. Why not take five minutes to enjoy their performance?
I would love to answer any questions from readers about Fiji, or indeed about my books. Just leave me a message on bmallsopp.com or email me at email@example.com.
I look forward to hearing from you!