Myself with Fred in the mid 1970s Klepper canoe training.
Kauata Vamarasi Marafono M.B.E.
13th December 1940 – 27th March 2013
In the mid-1970s, I passed SAS selection as a young 20-year old from the RAF Regiment. Only six candidates passed that winter course; five men and one very good young Rupert (officer). I had superior fitness but not much else going for me at the time. The SAS must have seen me as a blank canvas they could turn into one of their own.
The day I was badged, I was sent to 6 Tp (Amphibious Troop), B Squadron. There was no Troop Rupert in charge, just a Troop Sergeant who introduced himself simply as “Fred”. Fred was a giant in every respect; a physically massive individual with a presence to match. When he shook my hand, mine was lost in his. I’d never seen a Fijian before, and in my ignorance, I thought he was a giant Gurkha.
Last weekend, Fred’s funeral was held at Hereford Cathedral. I figured it would be standing room only. Still, I was awed by the sheer number of Regiment lads who had travelled far and wide to pay homage to him. It was easily the biggest gathering of ex-22 SAS Regiment soldiers I’d ever seen. As I scanned the faces of the aging warriors crowding into the cathedral, I saw men I had fought alongside and others who came before me who I only knew through stories I’d heard in the Regiment. The remarkable turnout said everything about Fred. A cathedral full of living legends had come together to pay their respects to the greatest legend of them all.
I’ve attended many funerals of fellow Troopers since I left the Regiment nearly 19 years ago. All have been emotional, but Fred’s moved me beyond measure. Part of that was surely down to the Fijian community who turned out in such large numbers to remember their native son. From the 1960s onward, the British Army has been blessed with having young Fijian soldiers in its ranks and I’ve watched over the years how when the going gets tough, the Fijians get going. Even today in Afghanistan, it’s often the Fijian soldiers who jump in and sort out the mess. But it was the Regiment and the bond we share that struck the deepest chord with me. Words cannot describe the surge of pride I felt to be among this rare band of brothers whose lives had been touched by Fred’s.
As the service got underway, my thoughts drifted back to how this tough, bright, big hearted Fijian warrior moulded me as a soldier and as a man. Fred was full of integrity; a teacher who always led from the front. He was the best possible mentor for a young, green Trooper and his example motivated and inspired me through nearly twenty years of SAS service. He taught me what it means to be a professional soldier. Whenever I found myself in a tight spot, I’d ask myself “what would Fred do?” The answer always got me through. When I became a Troop Staff Sergeant, I knew it was about putting the lads first. Because that’s what Fred did.
Many people who knew Fred have written blogs and newspaper commentaries detailing his exploits and heroism. My intention here is entirely more personal. I want you to know what this amazing Fijian warrior did for me. The best time of my professional life was in the SAS, and that is mainly down to Fred. Because it was his example that helped me find the strength, determination and inner belief that would carry me through nearly twenty years of SAS service and beyond.
So it is with tremendous sadness and deepest gratitude that I say goodbye to Kauata Vamarasi Marafono, Fijian warrior and father not only of his children, but of every man he ever led.
22 thoughts on “My Friend Fred Marafono, Fijian Warrior”
Well put Bob, we shall not see his like again. Good to see you again.
Great to see you too. Take good care mate.
Hi Bob thanks for the email I actually met Fred last year at West Yorks Police lecture theatre A very very impressive and genuine bloke Thoughts are with his family and friends Best wishes Martin Langan (retired bobby WYPOL)
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks very much Martin in taking time to comment on this great man.
Ducket here, I contacted you about a year ago about my friendship with Fred back in Brunei in the early 80’s
I was lucky enough to have been an honery member of the Sergeants Mess and again was lucky to have been a friend of Fred’s. My memories of him are not of the military kind but of a wonderful man who had a great influence on my life in the very short time I knew him. There really was no one like him.
RIP my friend,
Despite never meeting him, after reading his book I thought he came across as one of the elite of the elite. He seemed to be very strong, fair and brave. Sorry you’ve lost another friend Bob.
Sorry to here about your friend Bob, I know how much you thought of him.
Thanks very much Paul,
All the write ups for Fred are amazing.
Beautifully and sincerely expressed, Bob. Such a respectful tribute to a Rotuman man who, when he joined the Fijian Army, surely had no idea how many lives he would touch and impact to such a degree.
I attended a Diving Course at Marchwood,Fred and another guy [Arthur Hornby] was on the course.Fred stood out he excelled at every challenge and helped the weaker students.Met him again several times in Hereford always a pleasure to be in his company.
I met Fred in Guyana in 2011. I wrote to my family about how impressed I was. We had plans to be involved in agriculture in Guyana. I was wondering why he never responded to my last email. I learned only today of his passing away.
B. Goyette, Ottawa, Ontario. Canada
Thank you. It’s always humbling to read the contributions Fijians have made around the world.
Rotuman pride, Personal pride, Rotuman heritage.
Had the pleasure and privilege of working with Fred in Sierra Leone – two Fijians brought together via different paths – myself via the ADF and Fred via the British SASR. A great human being who made a difference in this world.
Just found this blog and found it very moving on all accounts. Brought tears to my eyes. I am one of Freds neices his sons my close cousins. Proud of them all and truly humbled
Hi Bob, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mark Jickells and I am writing from Hereford as the son of a former SAS soldier by the name of Terry. I write here because I was looking for stories of Bradbury Lines as an exercise in remembrance. My father you see would take my brother and I Paul into camp as young lads and share with us a little of his world, which involved running the demolitions wing at the time. My point is when we were young he would speak of certain characters he was touched by during his service. Without a doubt his time and these people permeated our lives and the family environment in general. We grew up almost knowing these characters ourselves as he would reveal the stories behind pictures and times we would ask about. Pictures and a time like Mirbat that hung proudly in our home, which dramatically featured Labalaba. You could hear the admiration and even love in his voice as he spoke about him and others he knew well. I could go on mentioning names like Lofty, Bronco, Brummie, Pete Sherman, Gypsy Smith, Big Robo and so many others that resonated with me as a youngster. These names sure were powerful and they evoked a clear and distinct picture of connection and of life travel together. So when you speak of Fred I know what that name means and what your own story with him represents. I could hear that same tone in my dad’s voice. I suspect that if he were alive he may well have been one of those ageing warriors paying his respects at Fred’s funeral. Stories and the way they are told can indeed stay with people for a long time. I know the names and characters my dad spoke of will remain with me as Fred and others will remain with you and no doubt your family. A fantastic tribute. Respects and good wishes to you. Mark.
Mark, firstly huge apologies for the massive delay in replying. I moved to the US a few years ago, and the move must have adjusted the settings to my blog…or my head!? Great reading your comments. Your dad was old school, a legend himself, I remember him well. I also remember seeing you and your brother being taken around Bradbury Lines by your father. It was a special place back then. Quiet and extremely humble…lads would come and go but always had time for each other and their family members. You’re part of a great family…for life. I live in New York now Mark. My children are all grown up and have their own lives, but like you, they were a big part of the SAS. It’s way more than the Troopers, it’s their families too, we ARE all family. Big thanks Mark, all the very best son, and again, apologies for the big delay! Bob Shepherd. x
Good morning Bob,
Thank you so much for your reply. It means a lot to me as did all the characters we write in memory of. I was so heartened to hear that you remembered my father well and indeed my brother Paul and I as we accompanied him onto the camp. We were right lads. I remember once playing in the store rooms and all the mattresses tumbling down from their stack. Dad didn’t say a thing – he never lost his temper or swore. That’s one of the qualities I remember of him.
Your memories of Bradbury lines sound evocative for sure. It appeared a less glamorous affair although very good soldiers exist to this day I’m sure you will agree. It was a dream for us to come back to Hereford after a time in Aldershot. But for the twins it didn’t work out.
Your memory of Paul and I is special for one reason. I don’t me to shock but Paul died 2 years ago now. It was sudden and I have struggled to be here but I am and overcoming his loss. We were proper twins who never married or had children. He was my soul mate! We hiked together, camped and explored. Indeed, we started a project called Wye Explorer and hiked all Wye rivers from source to confluence with a view to doing the main channel last. The idea was to open the catchment up to people. If you would like to take a look the website is very beautiful and awe inspiring. It’s supported by Lofty (Wiseman) and Ranulph Fiennes. Here is the address http://www.wyeexplorer.co.uk/
Currently, I’m completing the rivers to walk all of them in one go next year (680 Mile Aprox) as a means of raising money for the British Heart Foundation and a project called the ‘Arteries of Life,’ which will see me take downcast and depressed people out to the Wye catchment (maybe soldiers to). There is nothing better than nature for healing the hurts of life. Indeed, the idea is to take small groups out Long-Distance Walking (multi-day) and wild camping (a bit like the regiment) and to find one or two former members to impart their knowledge and skills of the outdoors. I think people will love it and receive a big boost to moral if tutored by some of the elite in our midst.
Well, that’s what’s happening at present. With regards your own family I trust their well wherever they may be. You’re right it is family and we all stay in touch. We do here in Hereford still.
I wish you all the best in New York – an exciting city without doubt. If you would like to make a supporting comment Bob on our website and project it would be an honor and a pleasure to receive one.
Thank you very much again for getting back to me. Until next time take good care and be well. Mark (Jickells)
Hi again Mark, so sorry to hear about your brother Paul mate…it’s tough for me to even answer you, I just don’t know what to say except I’m really really sorry. I love the fact that you both began walking the Wye, and after such a tragedy, you’re now back at it with a view of completion. A massive well done Mark, that’s just awesome mate. I’ve no plans at present to come to Hereford, but when I do, I’d love to meet you for a brew, sit down somewhere in town and just chat. For now though, take good care and all the very best, Bob. x
Many thanks for your reply and for your offer to meet. I’m humbled and enthusiastic. It would be good for me to ask questions, explore life and understand more if you get my meaning.
Yes, it has been tough but we were honestly tutored by a tough breed of people. Paul never gave in. He actually died doing a super tough set in the pool. He went training!
There is no question you guys know the principal of keeping at it when you get hit. The same applies here. I had to find a way and believe me Bob I’ve taken some losses in life already. My father and your regiment have always been an inspiration. Were coded with it – that’s what Paul and I used to say. The fighting spirit has always been there and has been through this period in my life.
Well, I have a campaign to create so I’ll get back to it whilst finding time to read your book ‘The Circuit.’ To meet would be an honor.
Until then all the best Mark Jickells http://www.wyeexplorer.co.uk
Yes! Finally someone writes about this content.
I just discovered your blog and find it quite moving and well articulated, honoring Fred with due respect for what he was professionally and as a man of gre at personal value..
I met Fred overseas during a commercial mission. What I found dominating in him was the kindness that radiated from his smile.
We exchanged a few emails where he had shown a great interest in my dream of conveying frozen food between islands in the Pacific.
He disappeared for a few weeks and contacted me to say that he had nearly passed away when his heartbeat dropped to 25 bpm.
After a few other emails he disappeared again and, through a google search I learned about his passing away.
Fred gave me a copy of the book he co-authored where he wrote a personal note.
I sent my condolences to his family through the funeral parlor who handled his funerals.
A true gentleman.