Kadavu students’ journey during the war years
3 November, 2018, 11:06 am
BY LORIMA VORAVORA
HITLER’S surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945 did more than bring an end to one of the bloodiest theatres of war in history, it also halted a Deans rugby game, 15 minutes from full-time.
This is the story of how 15 boys braved the uncertain journey from Vunisea, Kadavu, to Suva to participate in the holy grail of secondary schools rugby in 1945.
How it started Seventy four years ago, at the end of 1944 during the Second World War, Kadavu Provincial School (now Vunisea Secondary School) started preparations to participate in the Deans rugby tournament.
The Deans tournament for school boys’ rugby was scheduled to be held at Davuilevu, Nausori, in May, 1945.
The boys were willing to travel by boat to Viti Levu despite the risks of being torpedoed by hostile submarines or attacked by marauding warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The Japanese threat was very real as news of their horrific escapades in other parts of the Pacific began to filter into Fiji at the time.
The Kadavu Provincial School boys training started in the beginning of 1945 and the boys looked forward to their first trip to Viti Levu and the emerging metropolis of Suva. Their preparations were led by the assistant principal Jovilisi Qoroya, who was a strict disciplinarian.
The principal, J E Eason convinced the boys that the Pacific theatre of war had shifted towards the Asian Peninsular and that the threats of being attacked were thus minimal. He emphasised that Fiji waters were well protected by the New Zealand Air Force based in Laucala Bay and Nadi.
He added that all maritime routes in the Southern Pacific were controlled by the British, Australian and New Zealand Royal Navy and the American Pacific Fleet. This persuasion was needed at the time because in the minds of Fijians, the threat of invasion was very real.
This feeling had started ever since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in 1941 and the bloody campaigns right up to the Solomon Islands in 1942-1943.
Every member of that Kadavu Provincial School team had at least one relative who had either joined the Royal Fiji Infantry Regiment Forces or the Royal Navy.
Those who joined the army had fought in the Guadalcanal campaign in the Solomon Islands as Fiji Guerrillas.
Those in the navy had sailed in the Royal Navy Merchantmen. They ran the gauntlet between Canada and Britain across the German U-Boat wolf pack-infested Atlantic Ocean.
The boys had heard some war stories in the Pacific and one of the most recent involved the warship HMNZS Leander.
The Leander had fought Japanese warships in the Pacific in 1941 and on one of the journeys the lives of two Fijian lads who were gunners, a Lauan and a Yasawan, were lost.
The second world war which continued to rage in 1945 had affected all of them one way or another.
By 1945, the Deans rugby tournament was only six years old since its inception in 1939. Only a small number of schools participated.
Queen Victoria School had won the Deans Trophy five years in a row from 1939 to 1943.
However, they were dethroned by Lelean Memorial School in 1944. This school was a newly established school during the war, one year earlier in 1943.
This encouraged many schools to participate in 1945 especially the provincial schools, including Kadavu Provincial School.
The Kadavu boys admired and were encouraged by the undefeated Fiji XV that toured New Zealand in 1939. Furthermore by 1945, they were also encouraged by the exploits of their relatives who had also donned the white rugby jersey from 1924 to 1942.
They treated their trip as an adventure during the war years.
*Lorima Voravora was a career civil servant who served in the Public Service Commission and was Divisional Education Officer West before he retired in 2015. The opinions expressed in this article are his and does not reflect the views of this newspaper.
*NEXT WEEK: Read about how the boys from Kadavu travelled to Suva and how the end of the war stopped their Deans game.