The 1st Fiji Contingent
In August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, and sent out a call to every part of the British Empire to aid her in defeating the Hun. The small colony of Fiji, far away in the South Pacific, rallied to the call. Many of the young men living and working in the colony were from Australia, New Zealand or Britain, and over 400 of them returned to their homelands and enlisted there, some leaving on the first boat after the announcement of the outbreak of war
The total European population of Fiji in 1914 was less than 4000, including women and children, and the part-European population was approximately 2,500. The Fijian and Indian populations were about 90,000 and 45,000 respectively.
The remainder of the population strongly wished not only to contribute money and goods to the war effort, as the Secretary of State for the colonies advised, but also to “raise and equip a force of picked men for active service at the Front”; consequently a resolution to that effect was passed in the Legislative Council. The Rifle Clubs of various towns united to form the Fiji Rifle Association. This combined with the Fiji Volunteers, which had existed since the late 1880s, forming the Fiji Defence Force. Most of the European men in Fiji were eventually part of this force. Cadet platoons were formed in Suva and Levuka, and some schools raised Cadet Corps. In 1916 a platoon of Fijians was raised in Suva as part of the Fiji Defence Force.
Eventually the Secretary of State for the Colonies gave his consent for the raising of a contingent, and applications were called for from men between the ages of 18 and 38 and of pure European descent.
A force of 57 was formed, spent some time in training, and left for Britain on January 1, 1915. Most of these enlisted in Britain with the King’s Royal Rifles, an infantry regiment famous for its past exploits, particularly in the American Wars. After preliminary training in Britain, the Fiji platoon of the KRRC was sent into action in the battlefields of Flanders. During May 1915, of the 43 strong Fiji platoon of the KRRC, 9 lost their lives and 31 were wounded in the battles of the Somme region."Of the forty-three men who have served at the Front as members of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, there are now ten left. Originally the Fiji men composed a whole platoon, now owing to their limited numbers, they form the main part of a section……"
In November 1914, the Governor of Fiji was authorized by the Army Council to choose candidates for commissions in the New Service Battalions that were being raised in Britain. Gentlemen with previous military experience were preferred. Selected candidates were given free passages to Britain and were commissioned soon after arrival.
A 2nd Contingent was raised and sent to replace the casualties of the 1st Contingent, in July 1915