A fruitful recruiting land for the Army

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The Independent Online

The current wave of Fijians entering the British Army began at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo eight years ago.

A military band from the South Pacific island was so struck by the event that they applied to transfer to British regiments. The first 15 arrived months later and today they make up almost 2 per cent of the Army.

The then Royal Scots Regiment, which took on many of the early recruits, reaped the benefits, going on to repeatedly win the Army's seven-a-side rugby tournament. Each year several thousand Fijian young people apply to join the British Army. Not only is the force viewed with some reverence, but historical ties, high unemployment and the promise of better wages prove a draw.

After the Nepalese Gurkhas, they make up the largest component of the foreign troops. During the initial invasion of Iraq, more than 500 Fijians took part and four have lost their lives in the country, as well as in Afghanistan, since.

With news of the deaths of Ranger Anare Draiva and Gunner Samuela Vanua within days of each other, the Fijian Home Affairs minister, Josefa Vosanibola, who will be visiting Iraq later this month, said the government was concerned with the deployment of its troops to countries like Afghanistan.

But Romanu Naceva, president of the British Servicemen Family Association in the capital, Suva, insisted: "We believe wherever you are, whatever you are doing when your time has come, you will be called forth. I don't think we will ever regret joining the British Army. Fiji is a very small island but we have connections with the Crown and we are proud to serve."

A former sergeant major, Mr Naceva was among the first 212 Fijian recruits to travel to the UK in 1961.