Duty to the nation

Veteran soldier Vudidra Liganimisikere (middle) with his family during his 90th birthday few weeks ago. Photo: PAULINI CURUQARA

Despite his old age Private 18607 liganimisikere Vudidra has a remarkable memory of his service in the Malayan campaign during the World War II.

Vudidra, who hails from Nagigi Village in Savusavu, Cakaudrove, was only 21 years old when he joined the Fiji Army.

He along with other Fijian men heard the call of service made by the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna for young men to fight in the Malaya war.

He was single then, and at the time lived with his widowed mother Asenaca Tabuadrau, who hails from Saivou in Ra.

His father, Sikeli Mainavure, passed away while he was in Vatuvonu Primary School.

Vudidra reached class five and grew up in the village spending his youth days farming and cutting copra.

Thousands of miles away, a war broke out between the Communists (MNLA) and the Crown and her colonies (the Commonwealth Armed Forces) between 1948 and 1960 in Malaya.

Fiji’s offered its men in service to the Crown. By 1953 there were 850 Fijians fighting in Malaya, six per cent of the total Fijian population.

One of these men was Vudidra. As many as 1600 Fijian soldiers served in the Malaya campaign.

According to his records, Laginimisekere was based at Nasese RFMF barracks for his prep-training for war, he completed a few weeks of a jungle course in the Nausori Highlands.

He boarded a plane from Nadi bound for Batu Pahat, Malaya, dropped right in the middle of the dense jungle battle field and thus began his two years, one month and 29 day ordeal.

He said he fought for his country and as the days grew into weeks, he could not stop thinking of setting his foot back in his village by the sea.

Historical records of his time in Malaya described a Fijian Battalion equipped and specialised to “hunt and kill”.

The Fijian Battalion mounted small patrols deep in the Malayan jungles where they flushed out communists and exterminate them like termites.

The Fijian soldiers mastered the art of jungle warfare and were so revered and successful that it was soon adopted as the main military organisation in the war in Malaya.

The Fijian soldiers earned the respect of other Commonwealth soldiers.

A Malayan Commander’s account of the Fijian Battalion state: “Of all troops of many races who for a long time have been fighting the communist menace in Malay, none have earned greater respect, affection and admiration than the 1st Battalion Fijian Infantry Regiment.”

His granddaughter Timaima Tora shared this of her grandfather; “He tells us he is 90 years of age, his memory has faded and he often talks for long hours leading from one topic to the next, but in every conversation, as if permanently etched in his mind, he trails back to his time in Malaya, what he did, how he hunted the communists in the jungle, the other Fijian young men who fought alongside him and the battles they were constantly embroiled in,” she said.

“In his stories he would often mimic the sound of gun fire as if it was a sound he had just heard recently as he would put it..”na mota….brttt brtttt brttt brttt!!” and back again it would come to the sound of “mota”.

“Of all things he never forgets the number “18607” his enlistment number, the company he was in Malay, “C Company” and the gory details of those battles in the jungle.

A grandson of Vudidra Major Neumi Vakadewabuka also stated “a lot has been written about the C company, according to Lt Col Tinker and Ratu Penaia Ganilau, their job was to hunt and kill.

“Researching on further historical documents of the Malaya Campaign I came upon declassified US official documents that said the following “Fijians were superb trackers, keen shots and fine physique were well equipped to outrun their prey,” Maj Vakadewabuka said.

“The Fijian technique was to divide the area in to zones through which ranged patrols of varying size.

“Most were small, but some were really formidable so that the communists never know what to expect.

“The Fijian sense was extremely acute they could move through the jungle with  great speed and silence and their unvarying practice was to attack.

To commemorate his part in history and to celebrate his 90th birthday, Maj Vakadewabuka  along with his wife and sister Timaima took him for a little tour around the  RFMF camp where soldiers from the 3FIR sung him a familiar tune from Malaya.

He saluted them and stood there silently nodding his head, both seemingly saddened at  his memories and grateful to be received by other soldiers.

“My grandfather talks of his Malay experience in present tense, as if we still live there, morphed in time. Today looking forward to see other soldiers from Malaya, on his way to the camp he asked if there were
other men who served in Malaya there also.

“To which we fell silent and shook our heads. There are very few of these veterans left.

“We stand proudly on the now cowered shoulders that walked before us in serving  our country. To all who have served we thank you for your service.”

His Excellency the President Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote spoke highly of Vudidra.

He said “we are who we are today because of soldiers like you and told us that we should be proud of him”.

“Vudidra had the heart to serve and the courage to go and serve. His family continue  to thank God as they are blessed to have him in their midst.”

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