Back in history | A glimpse of Sotutu’s exploit

The Rev Usaia Sotutu, middle, with wife Makereta Sotutu and their eldest son Inia Sotutu and grandchildren. Picture: FT File

A missionary, soldier and a member of the world-famous Australian Coast Watchers who operated behind Japanese lines in World War 11, Rev Usaia Sotutu, died at his home village in Tavea, Bua, in 1984.

An article in The Fiji Times on January 3 that year said he was in his late eighties.

Mr Sotutu is best remembered for leading the Fiji battalion in the Solomon Islands to safety through jungle tracks unknown to the Japanese.

His intimate knowledge of the Solomon and his bravery in the war had become a legend.

Mr Sotutu served as a missionary in the Northern Solomons for about 20 years when the islands were invaded by the Japanese in 1942.

Ex-staff sergeant and former editor of Nai Lalakai, the late Luke Vuidreketi, in a tribute said Mr Sotutu decided to stay behind on the islands after his family had been taken to safety in a submarine.

Other army officers praised Mr Sotutu’s reassuring and inspiring manner in the face of danger.

Mr Vuidreketi recalled the fighting in and around the Numa Numa trail at Sisivie, in the Solomon Islands.

The Japanese, outnumbering the Fijians almost 10 to one, almost encircled the battalion aiming to annihilate it.

Mr Sotutu came on the scene with a Lt Keenan and actually led the battalion to safety through an unknown track towards the north and down the west coast north on Torokina.

“After this tough battle and a breakthrough in the encirclement, the Fijians never had any hope of survival, having been informed from air reconnaissance, that the enemy was closing again with greater numbers from all sides.

“Our battalion commander asked the Coast watchers if they knew a way out.

“Mr Sotutu’s reply that day had been re-echoed through all these years by the men of the 1st Battalion, and it was ‘if there are 99 tracks on Bougainville known to the Japanese, I know of the 100th, follow me’,” Mr Vuidreketi said.

Mr Sotutu was also recommended for decoration in a report by Lt Read of the Royal Australian Navy to the Director of Naval Intelligence.

He was survived by his widow and five children.

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