Back in History: Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna – A man born to lead and serve his country

Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna retired on April, 1958 from public service. Picture: FILE

The late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna had an illustrious and colourful career. With his invaluable service to Fiji and with more than 51 years of continuous public service, Ratu Sir Lala decided to retire from full-time duties on Tuesday, April 22, 1958.

Even though he retired from public service during his 70th birthday, Ratu Sir Lala continued being a personal adviser to the Governor of Fiji on Fijian Affairs.

Apart from his distinguished service to Fiji, he also served in the French Foreign Legion and was a qualified barrister in England.

The Fiji Times on the day of his retirement and birthday published an article about his colourful achievement.

According to this newspaper, in 1946, King George VI made Ratu Sukuna a Knight of the Order of the British Empire for his outstanding and loyal service to the Crown. Earlier he had been made a Commander of the Order.

When Queen Elizabeth II visited Fiji in 1953, she also bestowed upon Ratu Sir Lala the honour of Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Ratu Sir Lala as reported by this newspaper in 1958 had begun his career in 1907 after he completed his secondary education at Wanganui College in New Zealand.

He was then 19 and was appointed as a clerk in the colonial secretary’s office where he stayed for about five years.

He, according to the article, had spent short periods of time at the Lau Provincial School in Lakeba as its acting headmaster.

In 1913 Ratu Sir Lala went to England to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree at Oxford University and was in residence at Wadham College when World War I broke out.

He then at once volunteered for active service and joined the French Foreign Legion in Paris where he served for 13 months and had distinguished himself in battle.

Upon being wounded in action, Ratu Sir Lala was discharged and for his courage and ability was awarded the French Medaille Militaire – a military decoration of the French Republic for other ranks for meritorious service and acts of bravery in action against an enemy force.

Other notable recipients of the Medaille Militaire were the 32nd President of the United States of America, Franklin Roosevelt and United Kingdom Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.

For his courage and ability he was awarded the French Medaille Militaire.

During his service with the French Legion, Ratu Sir Lala had many men from other countries who were his comrades in arms.

The article reported that French was the lingua franca (common language) for the soldiers of many nationalities then of which Ratu Sir Lala had acquired a fluent and accurate knowledge of.

On April 1916 after being invalid out, Ratu Sir Lala returned to Fiji and resumed his duty in civil service.

He was then commissioned as a lieutenant in the Fiji Defence Force and for a brief period was Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, the late Sir Ernest Bickham Sweet-Escott, KCMG.

He also became an administrative cadet and was attached to the Native Affairs Secretariat where he served until 1917.

Because of his distinguished war service, Ratu Sir Lala returned to France with the Fijian Labour Corps and offered his valuable service to allied cause on the Western front. Still having strong hopes of becoming a barrister, Ratu Sir Lala also went on to complete his studies at Oxford and qualified as a barrister.

He had obtained leave of absence from Government in 1919 for his studies.

By 1921 he had obtained his degree as a Bachelor of Arts of Oxford University and had been called to the English Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.

He might well have embarked on a career in London, but his high sense of duty to his own people brought him back to Fiji where he re-entered the public service.

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