Interesting perspective from those who join up from overseas

From the Sunday Post

Why Fijians fight Britain’s battles

By Iain Harrison

ON Tuesday Fijian Pita Tukutukuwaqa became the fifth Black Watch soldier to die since the regiment was deployed in central Iraq.
His distraught father, Lomaca, a former UN peacekeeper in Lebanon, accepted the tragic loss with dignity, saying his son died in the fight for world peace and freedom.
But while the killing of the 27-year-old was greeted with dismay in his home town of Suva, where his wife still lives, it also broke thousands of Fijian hearts across Britain.
Despite their comparatively low profile, there are more than 2000 soldiers from the South Pacific islands currently serving in our armed forces.
Like their counterparts from Nepal, the legendary Gurkhas, Fijian infantrymen have built up an enviable reputation for being fiercely brave and committed.
Around 60 are serving with The Royal Scots, currently based at its barracks in Edinburgh, and live locally with their families. They include Lance Corporal Ray Baselala, his wife Bernie and children Marissa (13), Letitia (9) and Lennox (5).
And although he was from a different regiment, it is clear that Private Tukutukuwaqa’s death devastated the capital’s Fijian community.
“We certainly feel it,” Ray lamented, from his home in the shadow of Edinburgh’s historic Redford Barracks. “When one Fijian dies everybody mourns because we are very tight-knit.
“But we will pull together, raise some money in his honour and send it to his family in Fiji as a mark of respect. It’s the least we can do.”
Like so many in Fiji, Ray’s family has a long military tradition. His father and grandfather served the British Army with distinction in days gone by.
“Fijians have been fighting for the Brits since World War 1,” he explained. “But the first large intake, which my father, Asesela, was part of, took place in the early 1960s.
“He was one of 200 or so Fijians taken on as part of a recruitment drive in the former colonies. It was carried out as a result of National Service ending in Britain.
“He spent much of his time in Edinburgh, where he met my mother, Mary, who is a Scot. They returned to Fiji in 1984 and have since retired there.”
Although very few of the recruits from Ray’s father’s generation are still serving, there are more Fijians in the British armed forces now than ever before.
Remarkably, that’s largely down to a performance by the Fijian military band at the 1998 Edinburgh Tattoo.
Bernie, a primary school learning assistant who, due to her perfect command of English, is heavily involved in community liaison work, explained.
“Ten men who performed at the Tattoo asked about signing up for the British Army and, after receiving a positive response, returned home and spread the word. Things just seemed to take off from there.
“Fijians have a high regard for Britain and a great respect for the Royal Family so by the time the armed forces got around to recruiting in the islands hundreds were keen to sign up.”
It so happened that a few months later, in November 1998, Ray and Bernie Baselala decided to take the plunge and move to the UK themselves.
“At the time Fiji was not politically stable and inflation was out of control,” explained Bernie. “It was not the same Fiji that Ray and I had grown up in. It was a bit of a mess and prospects were poor.
“He was a radio sound engineer while I was a secretary but our wages were very low — less than half what we could earn here. We moved to Britain because we wanted a better future for our children and ourselves.
“Ray hoped to carry on his career in radio but it wasn’t easy to get work so, in 2000, he joined The Royal Scots. Although many Fijians were in the Army by this point, it still took a long time for us to adapt.
“While Fijians love sport and are generally very hard-working, physically robust people, we also tend to be shy and humble. It was difficult settling in at first but we’re getting there now.
“In the long-term, if things stabilise back home, we’d like to retire there, but we will wait until our children are old enough to make their own decision on whether to follow us.”
With a population of 880,000 Fiji is one of the smallest countries in the Commonwealth. It gained independence in 1970 following more than a century of British rule.
During the past four years the British armed forces have held regular recruitment drives on the islands and some reports suggest as many as 10,000 young Fijians have applied to join up.
Former Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, Brigadier Mel Jamieson, who is now the producer of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, says the Fijians make wonderful soldiers.
“I’m very fond of them, particularly after what happened in 1998 at the Tattoo,” smiled Brigadier Jamieson.
“I remember them telling me that they wished they could stay in Britain, but I’d no idea it would actually happen. I’ve had them back at the Tattoo doing re-enactments ever since.”

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