MY FRIEND FRED
With the Rugby World Cup in full flow now, and one or two surprises already, I can't help thinking about the huge influence from the Pacific Islands' players, who are represented in almost every team from the All Blacks to Japan...and teams in between including our own.
Without these amazing players, the World Cup, other International games, and even club games, just wouldn't be the same.
A couple of friends had recently reread my post about Fred Marafono, and thanked me for writing it.
The World Cup, with all it's exciting Pacific Islanders, reminds me of Fred, and the other Fijians, Samoans and Tongans that have served the various family units of the SAS...and continue to do so today, UK, NZ and Oz.
Well, for those that never got the chance to read it, and for anyone that would like the chance to read it again...here it is below.
Kauata Vamarasi Marafono M.B.E.
13th December 1940 – 27th March 2013
In the mid-1970s, I passed SAS selection as a young 20-year old from the RAF Regiment. Only six candidates passed that winter course; five men and one very good young Rupert (officer). I had superior fitness but not much else going for me at the time. The SAS must have seen me as a blank canvas they could turn into one of their own.
The day I was badged, I was sent to Boat Troop, B Squadron. There was no Troop Rupert in charge, just a Troop Sergeant who introduced himself simply as “Fred”. Fred was a giant in every respect; a physically massive individual with a presence to match. When he shook my hand, mine was lost in his. I’d never seen a Fijian before, and in my ignorance, I thought he was a giant Gurkha.
Last weekend, Fred’s funeral was held at Hereford Cathedral. I figured it would be standing room only. Still, I was awed by the sheer number of Regiment lads who had travelled far and wide to pay homage to him. It was easily the biggest gathering of ex-22 SAS Regiment soldiers I’d ever seen. As I scanned the faces of the aging warriors crowding into the cathedral, I saw men I had fought alongside and others who came before me who I only knew through stories I’d heard in the Regiment. The remarkable turnout said everything about Fred. A cathedral full of living legends had come together to pay their respects to the greatest legend of them all.
I’ve attended many funerals of fellow Troopers since I left the Regiment nearly 19 years ago. All have been emotional, but Fred’s moved me beyond measure. Part of that was surely down to the Fijian community who turned out in such large numbers to remember their native son. From the 1960s onward, the British Army has been blessed with having young Fijian soldiers in its ranks and I’ve watched over the years how when the going gets tough, the Fijians get going. Even today in Afghanistan, it’s often the Fijian soldiers who jump in and sort out the mess. But it was the Regiment and the bond we share that struck the deepest chord with me. Words cannot describe the surge of pride I felt to be among this rare band of brothers whose lives had been touched by Fred’s.
As the service got underway, my thoughts drifted back to how this tough, bright, big hearted Fijian warrior moulded me as a soldier and as a man. Fred was full of integrity; a teacher who always led from the front. He was the best possible mentor for a young, green Trooper and his example motivated and inspired me through nearly twenty years of SAS service. He taught me what it means to be a professional soldier. Whenever I found myself in a tight spot, I’d ask myself “what would Fred do?” The answer always got me through. When I became a Troop Staff Sergeant, I knew it was about putting the lads first. Because that’s what Fred did.
Many people who knew Fred have written blogs and newspaper commentaries detailing his exploits and heroism. My intention here is entirely more personal. I want you to know what this amazing Fijian warrior did for me. The best time of my professional life was in the SAS, and that is mainly down to Fred. Because it was his example that helped me find the strength, determination and inner belief that would carry me through nearly twenty years of SAS service and beyond.
So it is with tremendous sadness and deepest gratitude that I say goodbye to Kauata Vamarasi Marafono, Fijian warrior and father not only of his children, but of every man he ever led.