In 2011, after more than 10 years of service, Taitusi Ratucaucau was given 28 days’ notice that he was no longer required by the British army. The Fiji-born veteran, who served in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2008-09, says he tried to tell his commanding officers that he wasn’t ready for life outside the armed forces.
He pleaded to the point of tears, he recalls. “If you sign a contract for 22 years, you expect to serve it. I had a very good record in my regiment, I was not prepared to come out. I said I wanted to stay but they told me ‘no, crack on’.”
Commonwealth veterans can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK for themselves and their family if they have completed four years of military service. But Ratucaucau could not immediately afford to apply for himself, his wife and his eldest two daughters, at a cost of around £5,000 at the time. He had spent his operational bonus from Afghanistan on flights from Fiji for his family.
Shortly after being discharged from the Royal Logistics Corps, Ratucaucau was asked to leave his married quarters, and he ended up living for a time in a car park in Abingdon. “I was treated liked crap,” he says.
He picked up jobs as maintenance worker on the railways, paying tax and national insurance. But more recently he has been prevented from working because his residency status is unclear.
Then it emerged he had a brain tumour. University College hospital in London carried out an operation in April. The cost amounted to roughly £50,000.
Offers of financial help poured in, although the hospital is awaiting the outcome of the Ratucaucau’s legal challenge before it decides whether to ask for the money.
Meanwhile, the family’s problems mount. Child tax credit was stopped in May because they failed an immigration test, leaving them living off their youngest child’s child benefit. His third daughter, who was born in the UK, is British.
Ratucaucau, 49, is due to find out on Friday whether his cancer treatment has succeeded, while his legal battle drags on.
He still insists he was proud to have served. “I was ready to give my life for Queen and country,” he says, and if he could rejoin, he insists, he “definitely” would.