London Lives: The Fijian soldier

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Vatu Raratabu can‘t get used to English weather. But, as he tells Time Out, he thrives on the city‘s history and architecture

  • London Lives: The Fijian soldier

    Rugby fan Raratabu at the Walkabout in Temple

  • ‘Canary Wharf is amazing’ says Vatu Raratabu. ‘It is one of my favourite places in London.’ East London’s futuristic paean to capitalism is an unlikely icon for the 26-year-old Fijian who is stationed in London with the British Army’s 16th Royal Artillery. In fact, it’s about as far from his childhood home as you could imagine.

    His hometown on the tiny island of Matuku (‘eight hours by boat’ – from the Fijian capital of Suva) sounds like a fantasy. ‘When I was growing up there were no vehicles, food consisted of fresh fish and vegetables, root crops and pigs that we hunted in the jungle. Islanders need money only for basics such as sugar, oil and salt. Otherwise we grow our own veg and catch fresh fish. My house was five metres from a beach.’

    But even tropical idylls have their downsides and in Fiji unemployment is rife – a situation which makes it a fertile recruiting ground for the British Army.

    ‘It sounded an exciting way of seeing what the world is about,’ says Raratabu, who already had one brother in the UK with the Northern Ireland air corps.

    Colonised by Britain in 1874, Fiji has a long connection with the ‘mother country’. Fijians have served in the British Army for generations, helping combat the Japanese in World War II, and later serving in Malaya, Borneo and Oman as well as Iraq. Around 2,000 Fijians now serve with British regiments around the world.

    Raratabu was accepted on to the British Army’s training scheme in Surrey. ‘The letter telling me I’d got in took four weeks to arrive,’ he says. He flew out in February 2000. ‘It was the first time I’d been in a plane. I didn’t even know how to put the seatbelt on,’ he says. But flying was the least of his problems: ‘I knew the London weather would be cold. But I didn’t realise what I was in for. When I got on the plane I was wearing my surf pants. When I got off at Heathrow it was absolutely freezing.’

    His memories of the first few weeks here are of the ‘horrible cold’, and the 11-hour time difference. But there were upsides. ‘One night I was on duty at the camp but I fell asleep. While I was sleeping it started to snow. At 3am I woke up and the first thing I saw was white everywhere. I started taking pictures. My instructor said, “Are you crazy?” I said, “Sorry, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen snow.” ’

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17 comments
gabriel d temple
gabriel d temple

bula vinaka,to all to the soldiers and keep up the good work,and be safe.and may our heavenly guide you all.

vasiti volele
vasiti volele

Thanx boys 4 ca nice posh.....igaiga re wale......more!

dee
dee

bula si'a tovata

MAMA RATU
MAMA RATU

bula bro......kemudou sa igaiga re dina.moce,loloma to everyone bak cea.god bles u all.

lewa
lewa

I want to chat wid some fijian comrades....pliz!!hope all is well in england...wish i was there!!!

tasha
tasha

wats up bro,hws lyf bek dea?rairai vinaka sara ga o iko gang..........hpe u r njoin alot nd esp da praisin of our almighty Father,vaqara veikilai 2 geee,piz out,hpe 2 hia 4rm u sun,t kea nd God bles u braaaz............

MILIKA RADROTINI
MILIKA RADROTINI

OILLEI DOU BULA VINAKA,I AM ORIGINALLY FROM TOKATOKA IN TAILEVU N MOM FRM NAKELO,JUS TRYING TO LOOK FOR ALL MY COUSINS &SAY HI TO THEM IT`S BEEN LONG TIME WELL ALOT OF THEM THERE.JUS LOOK 4 1AT ATIME,NOA MATE,EMALI MATE,EMALI BIKOCA MARRY TO MARIKA PLIS ASK ANYBODYFRM TAILEVU.THANKS.SO DESPARATE TO TALK TO THEM. PLIS THAT`S MY EMAIL ADRESS .MOCE

glandys erics
glandys erics

bula.........do you know sunia vatunilagi......somewhere in london, uk...pls let me know......

celine
celine

hi am living in fiji is there a man by the name Solomoni Ratukalou there, by the nick name Gus,got 2 kids and wife Jennifer.would really appreciate a reply from someone.. vinaka

mc
mc

does anyone know an Interpreter/translator in Fijian language in London/south east uk area?thanks urgent email me pls. mici789@hotmail.com

linda sami
linda sami

nice one for red back and walkabout in sherbu...for the fijian resturant and shop...i think we should all play the lottery to open one...you gotto be in it to win it....kaila...have a blessed day from east acton...lololma to you all..oh and merry xmas...having a bilo at home now and thinking of alll my brothers and sister here in the uk

Seba
Seba

Sa yawa o Walai.............hahaha drau bula yanu

Joweli Naulago
Joweli Naulago

Bula vinaka,I am from Nadroga and I live in Exeter/Devon.I work for First Great Western train and I do pop down to the Fiji High Commission for a chin wag with the staff,every now and again.Do they still sell kava at Harrods?Best time drink kava since its summer.Please let me know,Regards and Moce mada.

tulia
tulia

how is the life back there went u away from home