TRIBUTES have come from all corners of the world honouring one of the first Fijians to join the SAS.

Kauata Vamarasi ‘Fred’ Marafono was a "great warrior", whose standards in the jungle shaped special operations, and whose dedicated service over a fifty year military career earned the respect of all who stood with him, from Hereford to the Blood Diamond wars in Sierra Leone.

Marafono, who is survived by three children, began his path on the small pacific island of Rotuma, one of five children who trained as a veterinarian before he was recruited to join the British Army.

In 1964 he became one of the first in a great tradition of Fijians serving with the SAS, starting a 21-year career that would take him to battlefields in Borneo, Aden, Oman, Northern Ireland and the Falklands.

Serving mostly in B squadron, he struck up a life-long friendship with fellow Fijian, Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba.

Awarded an MBE in 1983, Marafono was personally recruited by SAS founder David Sterling to join his private security firm KAS – regarded by the soldier as a huge honour.

His career in private security led him to Africa and to the heart of the bloody conflict in Sierra Leone.

Wearing a lion’s tooth around his neck – presented to him by Kamajors warriors for his bravery – Marafono led and trained elements of the Sierra Leone army in a conflict he would later write about in his book From SAS to Blood Diamond Wars.

The conflict would become personal to Marafono – he formed a strong bond with Chief Samuel Hinga Norman and felt a responsibility to save the countless villagers being killed by rebel forces.

When his contract ran out, he signed up as a helicopter gunman – and for months his threeman team flew low above the African jungle, the only means of supplying materials and manpower to frontline forces.

Three months short of his 60th birthday it would be Marafono’s helicopter that provided support to SAS soldiers on the ground in a daring raid to free five British soldiers from the West Side Boys militia.

Hamish Ross, who cowrote From SAS to the Blood Diamond Wars, told the Fiji Times: “Fred Marafono was a man of integrity and of great inner resources. He gave of his best, and always for a good cause.

“And his best was superlative.

He was a legend in the SAS.”

Marafono was 72 when he died last month. He lived in Hereford with his son, who, like his father, has excelled within the armed forces.

The funeral is expected to be at Hereford Cathedral later this month but no date has yet been confirmed.