Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are on their way to their 16-day tour of the Pacific. After a three-day stop on the island of Fiji, the prospective parents moved to the neighboring island of Tonga on Thursday. But before they did, the Duke and the Duchess of Sussex discovered a statue of a Fijian soldier named Talaiasi Labalaba, who was a war hero for his companions, but whose name is probably unknown to most observers of the royalty.
The former British colony of Fiji became independent in 1970, but remains part of the Commonwealth. Innumerable soldiers in Commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Tonga, which are the other stops on the Royal tour, gave their lives in battle on behalf of the Crown. But these troops came from lands far from the corridors of power, and were often people of color; Veterans of these forces have often received little recognition for their combat efforts.
The statue of Labalaba was presented in Nadi, a city on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu, as testimony to those efforts. This is what you should know about Labalaba's act of bravery.
Who was Talaiasi Labalaba?
Labalaba, known as "Laba" by his companions, was a Fijian sergeant in the Special Air Services (SAS), a special forces unit of the British Army in charge of largely covert operations.
Born in Fiji in 1942, he was killed in action during the Battle of Mirbat in 1972, when he was only 30 years old. Laba was known to his companions as a "gentle giant," according to the BBC. He was one of eight Fijians who joined the elite SAS, and was known among them as exceptional for their character and loyalty.
What was the battle of Mirbat?
The Battle of Mirbat was a conflict of powers of the Cold War that was waged between the clandestine British forces and the pro-communist guerrillas in Oman. At 6 o'clock in the morning of July 19, 1972, hundreds of guerrillas ambushed an enclosure where SAS forces were stationed on the outskirts of the Port of Mirbat. Although the British regiment had been scheduled to leave later that day, they suddenly found themselves fighting for their lives, assisted only by a few local fighters.
The nine-member regiment, of which Laba was a part, was stationed for a year in Mirbat on a mission codenamed Operation Jaguar, charged with protecting the Sultan of Oman from falling to communist rebels known as the Popular Front for Liberation. of The Occupied Arab Gulf. The British were not openly involved in the conflict in Oman, but there was a lot at stake in the important Gulf state. Together with the Saudis, the Shah of Iran, India and Pakistan, the Crown undertook to prevent the Sultanate from falling under the influence of the Soviet Union.
Laba's colleagues might not have survived without his heroism during this key battle, when he continued to fight despite the serious wounds that finally ended his life.
Why is Labalaba important?
Sergeant Labalaba is best known for driving with a 25 pound hand. gun for several hours, although the weapon usually required four to six men to operate. His jaw had been fired, and he was killed when a bullet shot him in the neck, according to the BBC. The SAS was poorly equipped and had little chance of winning against so many unexpected enemies. Despite the incredible odds, Labalala's actions detained the rebels long enough for reinforcements to arrive and return them, saving the lives of many of their comrades.
His bravery earned him a posthumous Mention in Despatches, a high honor in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth, although his comrades have campaigned for him to be awarded the highest British military award: the Victoria Cross. Labalaba is buried in the church of St. Martin in Hereford, England.