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  • Christina Drummond

Rifleman Edward Vakabua, 4th Battalion, The Rifles

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2007, Rifleman Edward Vakabua, 4th Battalion, The Rifles, was killed while on active service at the Basra Palace base in Basra City, southern Iraq. A fellow soldier, believing someone else’s rifle to be unloaded, cocked, aimed and fired at Rifleman Vakabua, who was sleeping in his bunk at the time, shooting him through the head with a single round - he was convicted of manslaughter after a three-day court martial and sentenced to two years at the military corrective training centre at Colchester. The Judge Advocate stated: “In your favour you honestly did not know the weapon was loaded. You did not expect it to be loaded and it should not have been left in that state. The soldier responsible has been punished. You have no previous convictions and show true remorse. We are particularly impressed by the letter read to the court from your commanding officer in which he described the way you sought forgiveness from Mrs. Vakabua.” (The soldier met with Mrs. Vakabua, who hugged him and forgave him.)

Rifleman Vakabua is remembered as a kind-hearted, quiet and shy man, highly intelligent and well-read, with a passion for military history. He would volunteer for dangerous duty in the rooftop sangars, and his fellow Riflemen knew that they could trust him with their lives as he proved his courage and selflessness time and time again.

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sanders OBE said: “We have just held a service of farewell for Vaka. It was almost unbearably moving. His fellow Fijians sang for him – with more passion, faith and feeling than I have ever heard. It was a fitting and wonderful tribute to a fallen friend. Vaka embodied the proud, honourable and long tradition of Fijians serving in the British Army. Tough, proud, independent, strong-willed, indomitable and courageous they come from a warrior tradition and make exceptional soldiers. They are men of great faith, decency, loyalty and simple pleasures. Vaka was all of these things and more. Basra is dangerous and we face firefights, roadside bombs and mortar attacks on an almost daily basis. Vaka was a constant source of strength and inspiration. He repeatedly performed small acts of great courage and selflessness. The afternoon he died, his company was deeply shocked, saddened and shaken. That night we were due to conduct a vital and large Battle Group operation against some of the militias responsible for recent attacks. I spoke to Vaka’s Company - would they prefer to be replaced on the operation in order to recover and grieve? Their response was their tribute to Vaka - they would not let his memory and example down; their resilience, courage, fighting spirit and coolness under fire were his legacy.”

Edward, from Suva in Fiji, was 23 years old.

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