Monument unveiled in Fiji for RNZAF flying boat veterans

Laucala Bay veterans and current RNZAF personnel in front of the monument

Regular readers know I was born in Fiji, and where we lived at Suva Point (Statham Street) was just around the corner from the old RNZAF flying boat base.

The NZDF reports on a new monument commemorating the Kiwi servicemen and women who served at Laucala Bay:

A commemorative monument has been unveiled in Fiji to recognise the service of veterans from the Royal New Zealand Air Force?s (RNZAF) flying boat operations, based at Laucala Bay in Suva, from 1941 to 1967.

RNZAF?s No. 5 Squadron conducted anti-submarine patrols, maritime reconnaissance and transport and air-sea rescue missions, flying Short Singapore, Consolidated Catalina and Short Sunderland aircraft.

The monument, designed and made in Fiji, was unveiled yesterday by Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama and New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark at the University of the South Pacific, on the land that was formerly home to the RNZAF No. 5 Squadron.

Laucala Bay veterans, a contingent of RNZAF personnel, including current members of No. 5 Squadron, the RNZAF band and Maori culture group, travelled to Fiji to attend the commemorations, which are part of the University of the South Pacific?s 50th?anniversary celebrations.

During the ceremony Mr Bainimarama paid tribute to the veterans and talked about his own fond memories of the RNZAF at Laucala Bay.

?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. 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.?

Mr Mark emphasised the strong bond the Laucala Bay station forged between Fiji and New Zealand.

?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.?

At its height Laucala Bay station was home to 600 deployed RNZAF personnel and it was also a large employer of Fijians in a variety of roles.

The RNZAF left Laucala Bay in 1967, with the flying boats returning to Hobsonville, Auckland, where they were replaced by P3B Orion fixed-wing land-based aircraft.

The air base land and infrastructure became home to the University of the South Pacific (USP), which opened in 1968. Vice Chancellor and President Professor Rajesh Chandra delivered a speech at the unveiling.

?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,? Professor Chandra said.

?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.?

The monument being unveiled in Laucala Bay, Suva