Ratu Sukuna’s 1944 mission to Yacata
27 June, 2020, 6:40 pm
Part 3: This is the final article is on Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna’s visit to Yacata Island, Cakaudrove, in 1944 to tell villagers about the awarding of the Victoria Cross to Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu. It is based on a radio program delivered by Sir Len Usher through the Fiji Broadcasting Commission in the 1950s.
He spoke of the Victoria Cross, of its history and its significance. He told them of the great number of men from all over the British Commonwealth and empire who had fought in wars for nearly a hundred years and of how only a few were given the award.
And then he went on to talk of the young man whom they had all known so well as Suka, Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu.e spoke of the Victoria Cross, of its history and its significance. He told them of the great number of men from all over the British Commonwealth and empire who had fought in wars for nearly a hundred years and of how only a few were given the award.
He told them to think again of the battle scenes in the film “Easter Action” and of the battered trees in the jungle and of the type of fighting that was shown in the film. Then he told the story of how at Mawaraka (Solomons) in the face of strong Japanese fire Suka had crawled ahead in the similar jungle and had rescued one of his platoon who had been wounded. Then he had gone back to get another. This man was dead when Suka reached him, and Suka went on. Then he was hit in the groin and thigh by a burst of Japanese fire. He lay for several hours on the ground, alone, with occasional tracer bullets whistling just over him as a reminder that he was at the Japanese’ mercy if he ever moved.
His friends among the trees nearby were able to talk to him. They told him not to worry, that they would not let him fall into the hands of the Japanese and that when there was an opportunity they would come and get him.
Suka realised the position very clearly. He knew that if his companions stayed until darkness came there was a danger that they would be annihilated in the night. He knew they would not go while he was alive. He knew that if they tried to get him before dark, some, at least of those who made the attempt, would be killed. Suka saw movement among the trees and thought that the effort to rescue him had begun. Those who were watching saw him quite deliberately raise himself on his hands before the Japanese machine guns and fall again, riddled with bullets.
His platoon withdrew to the beach and got safely away.
Ratu Sukuna finished what he had to say by bidding them to be of good cheer. They had lost a young man who they had known and loved. They had gained a proud memory and inspiration. A son of Yacata had given his life so that his companions could save theirs.
As a result, he had been included in the goodly and select company of those after whose names were written the letters VC. He would be spoken of with pride by generations of his people. There is one memory I would like to recall. It is one which a good many of young will share. It is of the scene at Albert Park, Suva when the Victoria Cross won by Corporal Sukanaivalu was presented to his parents by the Governor of Fiji. It was quite an ordeal for Lote and Fani, Suka’s father and mother, to come to Suva, from the quiet obscurity of Yacata to become the central figure in a ceremony watched by thousands of people. Fani is a retiring person, gentle-faced and pleasant, but, very quiet. Lote is more poised and with the unshakable dignity characteristic of many elderly Fijian men.
It was a pleasant morning when the presentation took place. The Fiji Military Forces paraded in strength, the lines stretching almost the whole length of Albert Park. Company by company, the men were inspected by the Governor. Then Lote and Fani came up the steps and sat quietly on the platform in front of him. The citation was read in English and then by Ratu Sukuna in Fijian. Then the Governor stepped forward and bent down, with the Victoria Cross in his hand. Lote clapped his hands softly, as is the custom of a Fijian when receiving a gift, and then he cupped his hands and into them the Governor placed the token of his son’s valour.
Then the Governor and the representative of the King stepped back, looked for a long moment at Lote and Fani and then with his eyes still upon them, saluted them. And that was all. But there were few people that morning who were not moved by what they saw. The Governor’s salute seemed to have in it a tribute from everybody there, and from all over Fiji, and from the whole Commonwealth to that humble couple sitting in front of him.
Through them, it went to their son, who died for his companions, and in the manner of his dying had won the Victoria Cross and had gained for his name a permanent place in the memory of his people.
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