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EDITORIAL: Remembering men like Labalaba who made the ultimate sacrifice

The unveiling of the statue of the late Sergeant Talaiyasi Labalaba by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, is a wonderful reminder of self-sacrifice. It was also fitting that Sergeant
27 Oct 2018 11:49
EDITORIAL: Remembering men like Labalaba who made the ultimate sacrifice

The unveiling of the statue of the late Sergeant Talaiyasi Labalaba by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, is a wonderful reminder of self-sacrifice.

It was also fitting that Sergeant Labalaba was awarded the President’s War Cross medal.

This is the first time such a bravery medal is awarded since Fiji established its College of Honour in 1995.

The same award was bestowed to another hero, Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi, who fought alongside Sergeant Labal­aba on that fateful day, 46 years ago.

Trooper Takavesi was commended by President Major General (Retired) Jioji Konrote for spearheading the cam­paign to establish a memorial for his friend.

Sergeant Labalaba gave up his life for his fellow com­rades who were members of the British special forces – the Special Air Service or SAS.

He displayed extraordinary courage in the face of the enemy.

Just like Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu of the Fiji In­fantry Regiment in 1944 at Mawaraka, Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. As recorded in the London Gazette of November, 2, 1944: “realising that his men would not withdraw while he was still alive Cpl. Sukanaivalu raised himself up in front of the Japanese machine gun and was riddled with bullets. This brave Fiji soldier, after rescu­ing two wounded men with the greatest heroism and be­ing gravely wounded himself, deliberately sacrificed his own life knowing that in no other way could his men be induced to retire from a situation in which they must have been annihilated.”

Corporal Sukanaivalu is the only Fijian to be awarded the highest military decoration, the Victoria Cross

At the Battle of Mirbat, Oman in 1972, while it may have been an ‘unsanctioned war’, for those who survived that fateful day, Labalaba made the same sacrifice. Trooper Takavesi retold of what transpired like it was yesterday.

He expressed sadness about the loss of his dear friend describing it as the saddest time of his life.

“Surrounded by at least 250 enemies, there was no turn­ing back.

“Labalaba was on stand 2, he ran about 900 metres up to the fort, where the 25-pounder was based. He fired the 25-pounder on his own – normally a 25 pounder would need about 6 men to man it.

“We were at our BATT house which was 900 metres away. Labalaba fought on his own for about 1 and half hours.

“Later we heard that Labalaba had been grazed on the chin, so that’s when I ran up from where we were under a hail of bullets and managed to get through to where La­balaba was and jumped in onto the sandbank and we car­ried on firing and were very lucky, very fortunate that the two of us fought together. But it was very sad for me too that Labalaba was killed on that day.

“I got shot on my shoulder and we were running out of ammunition. We were always joking in Fijian, “Labalaba qarauni iko,” take care, and he was saying the same thing to me but this time we were surrounded by the enemy and Labalaba decided to move forward get a 60 mm mortar.

“It was difficult and we were fighting for ourselves, more or else we had no choice we had to fight or die and we were not going to give in.”

We honour the memories of those brave Fijians like Ser­geant Labalaba who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj



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