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A Special Tribute To HRM’s Fijian Designated Driver

As a token of appreciation to his service, Queen Elizabeth, before flying out Fiji for the last time presented the late WO1 Sokovata with a gift, something the family has kept and treasured for nearly over four decades.
15 Sep 2022 14:30
A Special Tribute To HRM’s Fijian Designated Driver
A picture of the late WO1 Jone Sokovata holding the parker pen, a picture of WO1 Jone Sokovata driving the Queen in Lautoka and the gift at the Sokovata family home in Suva on September 14, 2022. Photo: Inoke Rabonu

There are many ways Fijians have chosen to remember the life and service of Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II.

For Ilaitia Sokovata and his family, the Queen’s last visit to Fiji in 1982 is one they hold dear in their hearts and have cherished for more than four decades.

Ilaitia’s father the late WO1 Jone Sokovata, an officer of the then Royal Fiji Military Forces was tasked to be the designated driver of the Queen during her last visit in 1982.

 

As a token of appreciation to his service, Queen Elizabeth, before flying out Fiji for the last time presented the late WO1 Sokovata with a gift, something the family has kept and treasured for nearly over four decades.

Sadly, WO1 Sokovata passed away peacefully at his home on June 28 this year aged 85.

Following the announcement of Her Majesty’s death last Thursday, Mr Ilaitia relived the stories of his father’s service in the RFMF and particularly during the Queen’s visit here.

Queen Elizabeth II handing over the gift to WO1 Jone Sokovata at the Nadi Airport before returning to the United Kingdom in 1982.

Queen Elizabeth II handing over the gift to WO1 Jone Sokovata at the Nadi Airport before returning to the United Kingdom in 1982.

The Late WO1 Sokovata’s Story

“I was in class four in 1982 when my father was the designated driver of Her Majesty, we lived at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks back then and I remember my sister and I had to run down to the gates facing the mainroad under the breadfruit trees to have a glimpse of my father driving the queen and behind them was the royal motorcade,” Mr Ilaitia said.

“My father had so many stories about the visit, the Queen had also gone down to Lautoka and we have pictures of my Dad driving the queen along the streets of Lautoka waving at the crowd that greeted her,” he said.

 

“That was a moment to remember for us, and it was a moment cherished by my late father during his service in the military up until his passing.”

At their family home in Cunningham stage 1, a big framed picture of the Queen handing over a gift to the late WO1 Sokovata has been hanging on the wall for many years now.

This is how the family chooses to remember the Queen appreciating the service provided to her by their father and grandfather 40 years ago.

 

The Special Gift

“The day the Queen had to fly back to London, my father drove them off to the airport and stood behind the farewell party which included the then Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Governor Ratu Sir George Cakobau and others,” Mr Ilaitia said.

“My father had told us that after the Queen shook hands with the farewell party she noticed him at the back and called him forward, that’s where the Queen gave him the gift, it was a special parker pen with Her Majesty’s initials.”

She told him ‘thank you for driving me around, here’s a token of appreciation for you’. He was the final person to have shook the hands of Her Majesty before she left Fiji for the last time.

The gift from Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II.

The gift from Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr Ilaitia said his late father was a dedicated military officer for more than 30 years and was also one of the military men that established the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua, shifting from its Nasese base.

He added that his father was also part of the Independence Day parade October 10, 1970.

The late WO1 Sokovata was also part of the first group of Fiji Soldiers who were known to be the Advance party to Lebanon on Fiji’s first peacekeeping tour there.

 

Feedback: inoke.rabonu@fijisun.com.fj



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