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He's back after 50 years

Ana Madigibuli
Sunday, April 15, 2018

After about 50 years, Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) retired warrant officer John Goodman finally set foot again on the former RNZAF No. 5 Squadron base in Laucala Bay, a place he once called home.

Goodman, who is from Cambridge, New Zealand with other RNZAF veterans, had the privilege to visit the squadron base last month as part of the unveiling of the RNZAF commemorative monument at the old base site which is now the University of the South Pacific.

Recalling his time at Laucala, 79-year-old Goodman could not contain his excitement of being in Fiji again, particularly meeting other veterans who served before and after him with No. 5 Squadron.

"I had joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1955 and served at all the bases including Singapore.

"Back in 1962, I returned to the base in NZ and was later posted here in 1964," he said.

"I went back in July 1966 to New Zealand to have an operation, but I thoroughly enjoyed working in Fiji as a rescue fireman with the RNZAF.

"There used to be nine of us here including four Fijians in the fire trade and when the air force did a cutback, they cut us all out, but before I went back they told me I had to stay and so I was left on my own.

"I had a fantastic time while I was here and I know that time has changed since then, especially after 50 odd years.

"Coming back and seeing the smiles on the Fijian faces, the hospitality and the personalities it has never changed and that is just fantastic.

"I've been overseas, served in Singapore, Solomon Islands and after I left the air force I still had my fond memories of being in Fiji."

"When I was there (with the air force) I had served in all the air force bases that were open at the time and I left the air force in 1981.

"After the air force, I worked for a company at Rotorua in New Zealand and ended up going to Korea and Solomon Islands several times, Funafuti in Tuvalu, Australia and other countries," he said.

"For me a fond memory would be the Fiji personnel we served with on the base and even people we met and got to know in town."

He said one of the most challenging things he had to adjust to while serving in Fiji was the hot climate.

"The heat in Fiji was quite different from the cold periods we experience in New Zealand, but you get over it eventually," he said.

"I loved meeting people from right out in the country and seeing the respect they have for their elders and their chiefs, it was an eye-opener for me comparing it to city life."

He said when he served in Fiji he had just recently got married and later his eldest son was born.

"I'm thrilled to be back not just because of being able to come back with other veterans who served here, but because of meeting the Fijian people again and seeing the changes," he said.

"I noticed the changes from the bottom camp, it's phenomenal. The hangars are gone and even the buildings that are there now and the sports field, it has changed a lot.

"I had passed through Nadi a couple of times, but never been able to get over here and so this is the first time for me to come to the base site since 1966 and I must admit I want to come back again."

He said he should've visited the old base site many years ago.

Goodman served in the RNAF for 27 years starting off as a corporal and retired as a warrant officer.

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