This post deals with a subject that is very close to my heart: the treatment of Commonwealth Soldiers.
For a bit of background, Britain has always called on the Commonwealth in all her wars. In the First World War, the Indian Expeditionary of 24,000 held the breach at Neuve Chappelle through the winter of 1914/15 until it became non-operational after suffering 50% casualties. For clarity, ‘Indian’ refers to India under British rule and included Muslims. The Indian subcontinent would contribute over 1 million volunteers to the First World War, which rose to the largest volunteer army the world has ever seen: over 2 million, in the Second World War.
The ANZACS rightly receive much recognition for their contribution, but India’s was the largest contribution and Britain would have lost both World Wars without it. This included Ghurkas, and in 2009 the Government had to perform an embarrassing U turn over the claims of 36,000 Ghurkas to their right to UK residency. The advantage the Ghurkas had was Joanna Lumley, whose father, James Lumley, had been born in Lahore and who had served with 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles. He died before she got justice. But it was a just campaign.
The Fijian story starts in 1962 when, during the bushfire wars that sparked with the end of Empire, Britain once again found herself short of soldiers. A recruiting team was sent to Fiji and 211 Fijians joined the British Army, 201 men and 10 women. They fought in Malaya, Borneo and Oman. A disproportionate number passed selection for the Special Air Service (SAS). The most recognised is Talaiasi Labalaba (pictured), who died in the then secret war in Oman. If that action had been public he would undoubtedly have earned a Victoria Cross. And his statue now stands at both at Nadi International airport, Fiji, and at the SAS base, Hereford. He is only one of 5 members of the SAS to be so recognised (the others are the founders of the regiment) and his statue was built when the then Commanding Officer asked who they should build a new statue of and the troops voted overwhelming for Labalaba.
And so it continues to the present day. In the same anomaly that sees 20% of international rugby players come from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, the resilience of the Pacific Islanders has meant large numbers of Fijians have served in Northern Ireland, Falklands and, most recently, Afghanistan and Iraq. 1,300 Fijians are serving with the British Army today.
This leads to last week’s ruling by a High Court Judge, on appeal, that 8 Fijian veterans cannot have leave to remain in this country. The complex issue centres on the cost of over £2000 per application for a Fijian Veteran to apply for a UK Visa for themselves and their family, along with lack of awareness that they had to apply at all.
And so to the title of my post. Born in South London I was living in Brixton when the same thing happened with the Windrush generation. And, as with the Windrush scandal, rather than the powers that be taking an objective view on what would be the best course of action, they took the subjective view, and focused on some narrow and largely, for those involved, meaningless, guidelines. As the Fijian representative, Anthony Metzer QC, said he hoped ministers would try to find ‘a reasonable and fair-minded solution for these veterans’. The judge’s ruling was focused on the legality of the case, not the misadministration of the veterans. Which doesn’t sound like justice. U-turn anyone?