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The return of Ratu Sukuna

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, October 29, 2017

ON March 30, 1916, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna returned to a noisy welcome from many well-wishers in Suva after creating history as the first i Taukei Fijian to serve in the Foreign Legion in France during the WWI. The late statesman arrived into Suva by the RMS Niagara and was accorded an enthusiastic reception from the huge crowd that gathered.

The Fiji Times and Herald reported bands played The Conquering Hero and cheer after cheer rang out as Ratu Sukuna stepped down from the ship on to the wharf.

"Shoulder-high they reared their gallant brother and with an enthusiasm that broke all records, they carried the hero to the cars. Thus Sukuna's foot, for the time being did not touch the soil of his native land. That honour for the land came later," described the newspaper.

Later in September, 1918, Ratu Sukuna left Fiji again to see to the Fiji Transport Detachment who served in the war. The newly formed contingent was formed to assist the British Army.

"We left here as you know in May, 1917," Ratu Sukuna was quoted as saying, while describing the movements of the Fiji Transport Contingent "and arrived in France on July 1.

"We left Calaise on January 20, 1918 and went south to Marseilles, where the men are working the ships."

The newspaper added the Fijian chief once let it slip that "it had been given unofficially that wherever the Fijians went; they were able to reduce the staff by 30 per cent during their war efforts".

For his wartime service, Ratu Sukuna was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was instrumental towards the development of Fiji in the post-independence years.

He passed away on the ship Arcadia, on 30 May 1958 while en route to England and is buried at the Vatanitawake, the Sau Tabu in Tubou, Lakeba alongside great leaders of Lau.

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