Flying boat troops

The staff of the University of the South Pacific unveiling the RNZAF Commemorative Monument at the University on Friday evening. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA

The staff of the University of the South Pacific unveiling the RNZAF Commemorative Monument at the University on Friday evening. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA

LAST Friday marked a new beginning for Fijian and New Zealand defence ties.

A monument was unveiled to recognise the service of veterans from the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s (RNZAF) flying boat operations who were based at Laucala Bay in Suva from 1941 to 1967.

The unveiling of the monument also coincided with the visit by NZ Defence Minister Ron Mark and the celebration of the University of the South Pacific’s 50th Anniversary.

The event was a day of wonderful memories for many and especially those Fijians who once lived and worked at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base, who returned five decades later to their old home.

Speaking at the unveiling of the monument, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said during that time, weekends for the children was a favoured one, to pass time for countless families who travelled down and watched the RNZAF planes take off and land.

“We can still see in our mind’s eye the mighty Sunderlands that used to lumber over Suva as they came into land at Laucala Bay,” Mr Bainimarama said.

“We still remember the roar of their engines and the splash they made as they hit the water, landing gracefully as any bird.

“The Kiwi presence at Laucala Bay spanned 25 years from 1942 — at the height of World War II – to 1967, when the facilities were turned over to create the University of the South Pacific, Fiji’s first regional university.

“In September 1942, the 5 Squadron of the RNZAF transferred to Laucala Bay from the New Zealand mainland to take advantage of Fiji’s strategic position for its wartime operations against Japan,” he said.

According to the Mr Bainimarama, among other things, the RZNAF were also engaged in the search for the missing vessel Joyita in 1955, the rescue of shipwrecked survivors from Minerva Reef in 1962.

“And more happily in 1963, supported the royal visit to Fiji by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.”

Mr Bainimarama said half a century ago, the RNZAF left the country with a sound foundation on which to build USP.

He said the money that would have otherwise had to be spent on building facilities was able to be focused on delivering quality education.

“New Zealand continues to partner with Fiji and other Pacific countries to ensure that our young people are properly equipped to play their part in our development.

“As well as its close engagement with USP, New Zealand is working with Fiji’s Higher Education Commission to strengthen the standard of tertiary education in Fiji.

“Today we commemorate that proud record of service by the RNZAF to our region, which continues to this day with the aerial reconnaissance and rescue missions you still fly from the New Zealand mainland.”

About 150 people from New Zealand, including veterans who were formerly based at their initial Laucala Bay base, were part of the celebration.

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