Speech at the re-opening of the Ratu Apenisa Memorial Church

The church was recently refurbished with funding support from the UK's Ministry of Defence.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

High Commissioner His Excellency Roderick Drummond with village elders.

Bula Vinaka Nakelo, thank you for your very kind and generous welcome today. I am delighted to see so many familiar and friendly faces.

As British High Commissioner I am delighted to visit, for the third time, Nauluvatu/Namuka Village Church in the District of Nakelo. And I bring you greetings and apologies from my wife Yasmin, who enjoyed her visit here a few months ago. Only a need to visit her aging father in Germany prevented her from joining us to celebrate this special day.

My thanks also to the choir, for all their beautiful singing - and for the special song they recorded for my mother. It is her birthday today, and when I call her at 10pm tonight, it will be 11am in Scotland. She will be delighted with the musical message.

There is a long historical connection between the district of Nakelo and the United Kingdom. A 99 year connection.

In 1915 HMS Encounter docked on its shores and was assisted by the village. HMS Repulse also visited the village some years later, in 1924, and handed over a Union flag as a thank you to the village for helping its sister ship Encounter. I believe that someone in the village was named ‘Jone Union Jack’ after this visit.

Your late High Chief, Major Manasa Talakuli was a loyal and exceptional member of the British Army for 31 years. As I said at his funeral, he lived a long life and a good life, an example to us all.

I understand that from the 13 villages in Nakelo District there are around 20 young men and women currently serving in the British Armed Forces. And of course many more that went before them, over many decades. Because of these strong links the village on one side of the church is known as ‘Little London’, and the one on the other side as “Scotland”.

In the UK, Scotland and London are very far apart in many ways, in culture, politics and sport. I like the thought of this church bringing Scotland and London together.

In recent years we have gathered in this church to mourn the passing of 3 young Sons of Nakelo who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the Crown: * Corporal Rogoiruwai * Kingsman Tagitaginimoce * Guardsman Tuisovurua We give thanks for their service and sacrifice. We shall remember them.

I was very glad that the UK Ministry of Defence was able to pay to have your wonderful church refurbished. The building now looks beautiful, wearing its Sunday Best.

I would like to thank Tevita Korosaya, British Army Support Assistant based at the British High Commission, for overseeing the project, and the project foreman. And the local tradesmen who did the work with such skill and energy.

Someone in Suva asked me why we did it? It’s a good question, which made me reflect carefully.

On one level it is very simple - you asked and we responded. That’s what you do among friends and family whenever you can. The military family will always look after its own. And when Major Jim Hall, and Colonel Ghika of the British Army Welfare, knew you had a need, they did everything they could to respond - because we are friends, almost family.

But on another level, it is because we recognize, admire and appreciate the central role that community plays in Fijian life, and the life of Nakelo. That is something that is often weaker in modern Britain, and something that we admire in your society.

And in sustaining a strong community, with strong values, the church is of course absolutely central. Other things are important too, the schools, your language, culture and traditions, your love of sport. And Vanua and Tanoa. But the church is central, and we respect that.

Thank you again Nakelo. Vinaka vaka levu.

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Published 6 April 2014