This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: CCE 214).


Incomplete version (the beginning is missing) of a film about the return home of Fijian soldiers who took part in the Pacific War.

Scenes of peacetime Fijian life cut with record of the Fijian soldiers advancing on Bougainville through shell-blasted jungle. First aid is received by one soldier. The Fijians creep forward. Mortar fire. soldiers pinned down waiting for relief; wounded shipped out under covering fire. At Suva in Fiji, the governor Philip Mitchell and Rahu Siguna welcome home the returnees; they drive off in lorries to camp. A meal is prepared. Reunion with wives and children; boys listen to tales of battle. Rugby match, market scenes. Some of the men depart for Lao in the east. Ceremonial kava (drink); feast, presentation of gifts, ethnic dancing. "In hundreds of villages Fijian women are dancing to welcome home the greatest jungle fighters in the Pacific."


Length: the film can suggests that this is reel two only, and that the film has a combined footage of 2572 ft. There are no titles. However, since FIJI RETURN is marked in Thorpe and Pronay as lasting 13 minutes, it would seem that virtually the whole film is here, minus credits and titles. The can is marked "Science Museum SM 6".



When Fiji became a British colony in 1874 the British operated a system of indirect rule in which the British Governor worked in consultation with village chiefs. There was a policy of preserving native traditions (McIntyre, 2001, 668). Yet, by the end of the decade, the British had created their first sugar plantations, whose produce was aimed predominantly at the Australian market. Here they disallowed the use of Fijian labour, due to the islanders’ tradition of subsistence agriculture, and instead brought in contracted Indian workers (McIntyre, 2001, 668-69). Indians soon made up a substantial proportion of the population, leading to continuing political tensions.

At the outbreak of World War II British forces were primarily engaged with the campaign in Europe. There was concern, however, regarding the vulnerability of the Pacific colonies in the face of the Japanese threat. As a result military responsibility for Fiji and Tonga was transferred to New Zealand command. Following the rapid advances of the Japanese in the South Pacific, including the invasion of the nearby Solomon Islands, the American military established a base on Fiji and, in turn, assumed military control of the islands. According to historian Ashley Jackson there were some ‘abrasive clashes’ between the British and Americans regarding policy in the area and, as a result, the British selected the skilled diplomat Sir Philip Mitchell as Governor of Fiji (Jackson, 2006, 520).

The military action in this film is concentrated on Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands, which at the time formed part of the Australian territory of New Guinea. The fighting here took place in several stages, from November 1943 to August 1945, and employed American, Australian, and Fijian troops. Native Fijians, who were known for their traditions of warfare, were recruited by appealing to their belief that battle was ‘honourable, noble and brave’ (Jackson, 2006, 521). They were informed by Philip Mitchell that the war was being fought ‘to preserve for you the freedom to live your lives according to the traditions and ceremonies you so rightly value very highly’ (Jackson, 2006, 521). By 1945 the Fiji Military Force (FMF) numbered 6000 men. This figure included 590 seconded from the New Zealand Army, but only a small minority of Indian descent (Jackson, 2006, 520). Loyalty was rewarded with the granting of further power to the village chiefs.

Fiji Returns was produced by the company New Realm for the British Ministry of Information in 1945. The film was directed by Sylvia Cummins, who made other wartime documentaries for the same company, including Report From Burma and Indians in Action. The copy held in the Imperial War Museum is incomplete and there is little apparent documentation regarding the distribution of the film. The National Archives do not appear to hold any information relating to it, and its intended audience is unknown.



Fiji Return is a film of stark contrasts. It depicts the Pacific islands of Fiji as a demi-paradise, and the Pacific Islands of Bougainville as a stark battleground. There is a clear and admitted difference in the way that these two locations are shot. The footage filmed on Fiji is carefully orchestrated – both visually and musically. Meanwhile, the footage on Bougainville is rough and ready; it is shot in the thick of the action. What makes the film effective, however, is the way in which it manages to link these two places. We learn that the women of Fiji are thinking of the war experiences of their men, and we see the men communicate their experiences when they return to their home island. Moreover, the sexual bond between the men and women is implicit throughout. There is a longing in the way that the Fijian women look out to sea. We also get to witness the coy first contact as the soldiers and their women are reunited. In this segment we also witness the babies that have been born while the soldiers were in the field. A further factor that helps to dovetail the two types of footage is the way in which the film is edited. The dramatic images of the Bougainville battle are not situated as the climax to the film, instead they arrive half-way through (or, more correctly, half-way through the footage that remains).

The film thus has a tripartite structure: it shows the partners of the soldiers, then the soldiers in battle, and then the reunion upon the soldiers’ return. It does not correspond with dialectical notions of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, however. The battles have not been resolved; we are informed that ‘other Fijian forces are still in action’. In fact, the most powerful result of placing the military action in the middle of this documentary is to illustrate how much a part of daily life the fighting now is. It has also affected daily life, creating a degree of separation between the men and women. After having seen the graphic military action, we are shown one of the returning soldiers visiting a knitting circle. Here it is underscored just how different the lives of the men and women have become. The film closes with a group of soldiers returning to their village and being accorded a celebratory feast. The men do not sit with their women, but are instead placed apart as guests of honour.

The commentary informs us that the military footage is an ‘uncut record’ of a band of Fijian soldiers as they advance against the Japanese. Therefore we get a full account of a small segment of the World War II campaign in the Pacific. The cameraman is with these soldiers as they come under fire and he also helps them to fetch supplies of grenades. We see the soldiers’ injuries and both their bravery and their fear. There is an immediacy to this impressively captured footage, and its authenticity is underlined by the inclusion of intertitles featuring the cameraman’s reports. What we do not get is any explanation of the overall military strategy. We are told that the Fijian soldiers are ‘decent fighters, perfectly fit and beautifully trained’, but we do not learn why they should wish to support the campaign. We also get to see the New Zealand Commanding Officer and some New Zealand troops, but learn nothing more of the structure of command.

Similarly, life in Fiji is shown in fragments and it is not contextualised. There is a brief depiction of the mixed European/Indian/Fijian life in a town and we glimpse a game of rugby football. We are quickly informed, however, that ‘the real life of Fiji is in the villages’. From hereon there is a focus on the traditions of the native islanders. We witness tribal dancing and music, and the preparation and consumption of a ‘patriotic’ feast, including the narcotic soup of kava. In this British film there is no condescension towards the traditions of Fiji. The islanders are not shown in need of aid, technology or political interference. There are a few shots of the British governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, awaiting the return of the first battalion of troops, but greater screen time is awarded to the local chief, Rahu Siguna. The British are barely mentioned; instead the term ‘Allied’ is more frequently used. Ultimately, what comes across most strongly in this film of contrasts and linkages are the common feelings experienced by soldiers and their partners no matter where they are in the world.

Richard Osborne (June 2009) 


Works Cited

Jackson, Ashley. The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon: Continuum, 2006).

McIntyre, W. David. ‘Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 667-92.




Technical Data

Running Time:
13 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1159 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production company
New Realm