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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 16:15 GMT
Fiji's 'unsung heroes' of UK army
Black Watch soldier with tank on patrol in Basra
Fijians are serving the British Army in countries around the world
Fijian soldiers have a reputation of physical strength and spirit and have been quietly serving in the British Army for several generations.

Long colonial links have seen the South Pacific islanders serve alongside British troops for more than a century.

Some observers say their physical robustness and boundless bravery echoes the famous Gurkhas.

But Fijian troops do not enjoy the high profile of their Nepalese counterparts.

While other observers describe them simply as good, reliable infantry soldiers.

Fijian soldiers helped combat the Japanese in World War Two, where they gained a reputation as fierce jungle fighters.

They later served in Malaya, Borneo and Oman as well as Iraq.

In 2002, the British High Commissioner in Fiji, Charles Mochan, said the islanders made "exemplary soldiers".

Military tradition

A spokesman for the Fijian Embassy in London said more than 2,000 are now serving with British regiments around the world as a result of recruiting since 1998.

The British Army holds regular recruitment drives on the islands and the South China Morning Post said more than 10,000 hopefuls have applied since 2000.

Major Charles Heyman, senior defence analyst for Jane's Consultancy Group, said: "There is a long military tradition in Fiji and many serve today because their fathers and grandfathers did.

The truth is they are just normal guys, just like our guys. They make very, very good infantry soldiers
Major Charles Heyman

"The Fijians have been an essential part of the British empire and what they are doing, basically, is filling the vacant slots in the British Army because we cannot recruit enough from the UK itself.

"This happened very successfully in the 1960s and 70s and is working very well again today.

"The truth is they are just normal guys, just like our guys. They make very, very good infantry soldiers."

Fiji is one of the smallest Commonwealth countries and gained independence in 1970 after almost a century under British rule.

It has a population of over 880,000 and is one of the most developed of the Pacific island economies.

A tourist on a beach near Suva
The island paradise and Britain share a long military history

But high unemployment as well as historical ties are often given as reasons for the high interest among young islanders in joining the British military.

They are also paid far more than they would in their own armed forces and money sent home is important to their families, especially in the remote villages and outlying islands.

'An honour'

The Fijian embassy spokesman said there was a long tradition in serving with the British Army which was seen as "an honour".

"You have to understand that Fijians have a strong admiration for the British Royal Family and there is a huge sense of pride in serving the Crown."

The embassy spokesman added the first recruitment drive was in 1961, and many at the time went into Scottish regiments.


SEE ALSO:
Fijians rush to join army
05 Jun 02 |  England
Who are the Gurkhas?
21 Feb 03 |  UK
Timeline: Fiji
05 Aug 04 |  Country profiles


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