Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Armed forces: Fijians flock to the British army colours

PERHAPS IT IS the weather that attracts them; maybe it is the food. Hundreds of young Fijians have been seized with the desire to join the British Army, a minister disclosed yesterday.

The Fijians plan to forsake the joys of life on their South Pacific island for the delights of a squaddie's routine in Britain.

So far, 400 people have applied to join up this year; 200 will come to Britain for a final selection process. The men are not British nationals but, as Commonwealth citizens, they are entitled to join up. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied last night that it had done any recruitment exercises in Fiji. The Army's spokesman said the rush of applications had come after some Fijian bandsmen were posted to Scotland last year to take part in the Edinburgh Tattoo.

After the show, 17 of the musicians applied to join the Army; 15 were successful. They joined a Scottish infantry regiment and apparently enjoyed it so much that they wrote home to tell their friends and family the good news.

So many people applied that MoD officials decided to go to the Pacific to save applicants the trouble of coming here. The exercise has cost pounds 104,000 so far, according to a written response from the Armed Forces minister, John Spellar.

A spokesman said there were already 750 Commonwealth citizens in the Army, 54 from Fiji. He was at pains to point out that the men had applied of their own volition, not in response to advertisements or invitations. "This is absolutely not a recruiting exercise - it is purely selection. People recognise the British Army as the best in the world, so it is no surprise that they want to join up," he said.

Over the past decade there has been a shortage of young men willing to become soldiers. But in the past financial year the Army achieved 98 per cent of its recruiting target.