Soldier born in Fiji joins list of British servicemen killed while serving in Iraq

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The Independent Online

He was born on the other side of the world in Fiji, where his seven-year old daughter still lives. But yesterday Private Joseva Lewaicei of the Royal Anglian Regiment was confirmed to be among the latest round of British casualties of the war in Iraq.

Private Lewaicei's death, in a roadside bombing north of Basra, comes during a particularly grim period for British forces. Five service personnel died when their Lynx helicopter was shot down, including the first woman to die in conflict.

The violence was continuing yesterday. Four more soldiers were injured when their base at Al-Amara, Maysan, came under sustained mortar attack.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said the latest losses, bringing the toll to 111, was "very tragic and very sad", but British forces will continue to serve in Iraq.

Private Lewaicei, 25, and Private Adam Morris, 19, both riflemen, were on a routine patrol when their armoured Land Rover was blasted apart by a new, sophisticated type of explosive device increasingly being used against British and American forces.

Private Lewaicei, was brought up in the Fiji's second city, Lautoka. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Anglians in 2002 and had served in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland before being deployed to Iraq.

Among his comrades, he gained a reputation as a sportsman, as a member of the boxing and rugby teams. His proficiency in rugby even led to the offer of a professional contract as a full back.

Lieutenant Colonel Des O'Driscoll, the commanding officer yesterday praised the "fun-loving and exuberant character" of the soldier nicknamed "Lewi". Lt Col O'Driscoll said: "He was immensely strong, his colleagues will remember with some glee the day he was finally beaten in an arm wrestle by their platoon sergeant, although he always maintained he let him win.

"Our sympathy goes out to his family at this terrible time. We are deeply saddened at his tragic loss - he will be sorely missed by his friends and the wider regimental family."

Private Lewaicei is one of a large number of Fijians serving in the British military, with a significant number in the special forces. A compatriot, Private Pita Tukutukuwaqa, of the Blakc Watch was killed when his battle group deployed to Camp Dogwood south of Baghdad during the Fallujah offensive 18 months ago.

Private Morris lived in Coalville, Leicestershire, with his mother Linder and her partner Gavin Howerd. A neighbour, Maureen Wright, 59, described the feeling of sadness in the area over the death. "He was a very nice lad, so polite and so handsome as well. He was a credit to his mum, I would have been proud to have had him as a son."

Private Morris, educated King Edward VII Grammar school in Coalville, had carried out ceremonial duties at the funeral for Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. He had substituted for a non-commissioned officer while on exercise in Jordan and hoped to be promoted.

A proud history in the Army

By Geneviève Roberts

There is a long military tradition in Fiji, and the Commonwealth soldiers follow their fathers and grandfathers into service. Fiji, one of the smallest Commonwealth countries with a population of 880,000, spent almost a century under British rule before becoming independent in 1970.

In 2002, the British High Commissioner in Fiji, Charles Mochan, said the islanders made "exemplary soldiers". Major Charles Heyman, a senior defence analyst for Jane's Consultancy Group, has said: "The truth is they are just normal guys, just like our guys. They make very, very good infantry soldiers." Fijians have also gained a reputation for excelling at rugby - improving the Army's team.