Laucala Bay, Suva, Fiji, 23 March 2018 - Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel and Laucala Bay veterans stand in front of the monument unveiled on land originally home to the No.5 Squadron, now the campus for the University of the South Pacific. Photo credit: NZ Defence Force.
By Suausi Vienna Richards - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Fiji Government has paid special tribute to the veterans of the Royal New Zealand Air Force No.5 Squadron who were part of the flying boat operations based at Suva's Laucala Bay air base from 1941 to 1967.
At a commemorative ceremony last Friday to honour New Zealand's veterans, Fiji's Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama commended RNZAF's service to Fiji.
“Today we commemorate the proud record of RNZAF service to our region, which continues today with the aerial surveillance and rescue missions you still fly from the New Zealand mainland,” he said.
“The people of Fiji extend a special welcome to you all. You are among friends who deeply appreciate your personal service to Fiji and especially the strong bonds you helped forge between our nations that endure today."
“Those of us of a certain age still see in our minds eye the mighty Sunderlands that used to lumber over Suva as they came in to land at Laucala Bay."
Laucala Bay, Suva, Fiji, 23 March 2018 - New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark, left, and Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama at the unveiling ceremony on Friday. Photo credit: New Zealand Defence Force.
"We still remember the roar of the engines and the splash they made as they hit the water landing as gracefully as any bird. For any child like me at the time it was hugely exciting," said Fiji's Prime Minister.
During the Second World War in September 1942, No. 5 Squadron was sent to Suva, initially flying Singapore Flying Boats, then later Catalinas. The squadron performed anti-submarine patrols keeping watch for suspected enemy ship and aircraft movements.
Fiji's Prime Minister and the New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark attended the University of the South Pacific's 50th Anniversary celebrations to commemorate the service of the RNZAF No.5 Squadron with a monument designed and made in Fiji.
The New Zealand delegation included past and present RNZAF including the veterans of Laucala Bay.
Laucala Bay, Suva, Fiji, 23 March 2018 - The monument being unveiled at the University of the South Pacific campus. The campus is on the land that was previously the base for RNZAF No.5 Squadron. Photo credit: New Zealand Defence Force.
New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark highlighted the strong bond of friendship forged between Fiji and New Zealand by the Laucala Bay station veterans.
“We have a longstanding military relationship based on shared security interests that date from World War II,” he said.
“That friendship is underpinned by the enduring ties between our people, who have worked side by side in distant lands for the cause of international peace and security, and closer to home in our own communities, such as during Exercise Southern Katipo, or following the devastating Tropical Cyclone Winston."
“This memorial stands as a reminder of how deep those ties run in our communities and the need to continue to engage and work together, united by shared values and as neighbours."
“By doing so, we honour the contribution made by our veterans to freedoms we enjoy, and from which our descendants will continue to benefit.”
During its peak operating years, the Laucala Bay air force station was a large employer of Fijians and home to 600 deployed RNZAF personnel.
An RNZAF Sunderland aircraft on patrol over Fiji. Photo credit: New Zealand Defence Forces.
In 1949, when Fiji's Lau islands were devastated by a cyclone, the squadron flew multiple emergency flights with food and medical supplies to people on the 11 islands of the Lau group.
When the ANZUS military treaty was signed in 1951 between Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America, New Zealand was assigned primary responsibility for active surveillance of the South West Pacific Ocean territory. The Catalinas were replaced with Mk V Sunderland Flying Boats at the air base. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, these aircraft carried out vital intelligence gathering, search and rescue and mede-vac services across the South West Pacific.
The squadron was also involved in the 1955 search for the missing ship MV Joyita with 25 passengers and crew on board on a journey from Samoa to Tokelau. The vessel was found but the people who were on board Joyita, which included two children, have never been found.
An RNZAF ground crew work on a Singapore flying boat in the Laucala Bay hangar. No.5 Squadron was stationed there from 1942 to 1967. Photo credit: NZ Defence Force.
When the RNZAF left Laucala Bay 1967, the flying boats returned to Auckland's Hobsonville air force base where they were replaced by P3B Orion fixed-wing land-based aircraft.
A year later, the Laucala Bay station and its infrastructure was turned into the campus for the University of the South Pacific (USP).
“This commemorative monument to the No.5 Squadron of the RNZAF recognises the contribution provided by the New Zealand Government and Fiji over the past 50 years to USP,” said the University's Vice Chancellor and President Professor Rajesh Chandra.
“Not only have we benefited from the legacy of the infrastructure left behind by the RNZAF, but the New Zealand Government has continued to support USP throughout our history," he said.
As the Fiji Prime Minister re-affirmed at Friday's ceremony, the strong bonds of friendship forged by the New Zealand veterans of RNZAF No.5 Squadron between two nations endures today.