Greater love: Fiji's Victoria Cross hero
He laid down his life for his friends.
In 1969, Fiji issued a stamp to mark the 25 years since Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu V.C. sacrificed his life to save his troops in the Bougainville campaign of World War II. Today, 23 June 2019, is the 75th anniversary of his death.
Suka, as he was known, was born in 1918 and named for his Yacata chief who returned from the battlefields of France at the time of Suka's birth Ironically, Sukanaivalu means returned from war. After completing vocational college training in carpentry in 1938, Suka worked as a carpenter in two Fijian gold mines. But as soon as the call came in 1942, he and his brother enlisted in the 3rd Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment. Interestingly, he was reputedly not a great joiner, happy in his own company. He excelled at fishing, boxing and rugby.
Here is Suka's Victoria Cross citation in full below.
Greater love has no man ...
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—
No. 4469 Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, Fiji Military Forces.
On 23rd June 1944, at Mawaraka, Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands, Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu crawled forward to rescue some men who had been wounded when their platoon was ambushed and some of the leading elements had become casualties.
After two wounded men had been successfully recovered this N.C.O., who was in command of the rear section, volunteered to go on farther alone to try and rescue another one, in spite of machine gun and mortar fire, but on the way back he himself was seriously wounded in the groin and thighs and fell to the ground, unable to move any farther.
Several attempts were then made to rescue Corporal Sukanaivalu but without success owing to heavy fire being encountered on each occasion and further casualties caused.
This gallant N.C.O. then called to his men not to try to get to him as he was in a very exposed position, but they replied that they would never leave him to fall alive into the hands of the enemy.
Realising that his men would not withdraw as long as they could see that he was still alive and knowing that they were themselves all in danger of being killed or captured as long as they remained where they were, Corporal Sukanaivalu, well aware of the consequences, raised himself up in front of the Japanese machine gun and was riddled with bullets.
This brave Fiji soldier, after rescuing two wounded men with the greatest heroism and being gravely wounded himself, deliberately sacrificed his own life because he knew that it was the only way in which the remainder of his platoon could be induced to retire from a situation in which they must have been annihilated had they not withdrawn.
— The London Gazette, 2 November 1944
Lest we forget...
Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu is now buried in Bitapaka War Cemetery, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. He is a hero in Fiji, where his schoolboy great grandson proudly wears his medal on Remembrance Day in Suva, where he is an official guest. Perhaps this post can spread his inspiring story a little further.
- Interview recorded by Bruce Hill for Pacific Beat, ABC Radio Australia, Posted Mon 17 Aug 2015, 4:00pm
Portrait by unknown artist, accessed 17.6.2019 at http://vconline.org.uk/sefanaia-sukanaivalu-vc/4588306895
I look forward to hearing from you!