Operations in Iraq

Rifleman Edward Vakabua from 4th Battalion The Rifles dies at Basra Palace on 6 July 2007

It is with deep sorrow that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death on Friday 6 July 2007 of Rifleman Edward Vakabua, aged 23, from 4th Battalion The Rifles at the Basra Palace base in Basra City, southern Iraq.

An investigation into Rifleman Vakabua’s death is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.

Rifleman Edward ‘Vaka’ Vakabua

Rifleman Edward Vakabua (All rights reserved.)
Rifleman Edward Vakabua (All rights reserved.)

Rifleman Edward Vakabua, aged 23, from Nailuva Road in Suva, Fiji, was serving in Mortar Platoon attached to 7 Platoon, B Company, 4th Battalion The Rifles.

His fellow Fijians in B Company wrote:

In Memory of Rifleman Edward ‘Vaka’ Vakabua

Ia ko ira era sa waraka Jiova era na vakaukawwataki tale, Era na cabe cake me vakara vakatabana aukauwataki na ikeli, Era na cici, ka sega ni oca, era na lako tu ka sega Ni malumaluma. AISEA 40:31

But those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall soar on wings like eagles; They shall run and not grow weary; They shall walk and not be faint. ISAIAH 40:31

Vaka was one of the youngest Fijian soldiers in the Battalion. Even though he was emotional, he was very proud to serve under the Rifles cap badge. His life will be sorely missed by everyone especially the families in Bulford. A fighter and someone who would never give up trying. We will miss you bro. His family back in Fiji will be proud of him. Born a Fijian, died a Rifleman.

MOCE MADA VAKA

Commanding Officer 4 RIFLES, Lieutenant Colonel PNYM Sanders OBE said:

The simple tribute above this one to Rifleman Vakabua by his fellow Fijian Riflemen says more about him than I can hope to. Nor can I match the very personal words below from his Platoon Commander, Captain Will Peltor. These are the men here in 4 RIFLES who knew him best, loved him best and will miss him the most and their feelings shine through strongly.

But 4 RIFLES is a family. And here in Basra Palace the daily hardship and danger we face, and the sacrifices we have endured, have made us a very close one. So Vaka’s death yesterday has hurt us all deeply: a friend, a cherished bother Rifleman, a proud son of Fiji – and one of whom Fiji can be deeply proud – has been lost serving our country on active service.

We have just held a service of farewell for Vaka in the dusty, stifling chapel we have made for ourselves here, just above the room where he slept with his friends. It was almost unbearably moving and the tears that flowed down the cheeks of all of us packed into the room were only disguised by the sweat on our faces. His fellow Fijians sang for him – how they sang. They come from a great tradition of harmony singing, but tonight their powerful, clear, sweet voices rang out across the Shatt Al Arab, singing a hymn with more passion, faith and feeling than I have ever heard. It raised the hairs on the backs of our necks and was a fitting and wonderful tribute to a fallen friend whose faith, courage, selflessness and simple decency defined him and inspired all who knew him. Just two weeks ago, Vaka sang with equal feeling at the farewell service for Major Paul Harding, his Company Commander.

The simple tribute above this one to Rifleman Vakabua by his fellow Fijian Riflemen says more about him than I can hope to.

But our sense of loss and grief is as nothing to that of his family who will be inconsolable and for whom no words of ours can ease their pain and suffering. His mother, brother and sisters in Fiji who meant so much to him - of whom he spoke frequently and with such evident love and happiness to his friends, recalling the last time they were together at Christmas - and his brother also serving here in Iraq with 1 RHA, will be quite devastated and we pray that The Lord may somehow comfort them in this dark hour and fill the emptiness in their lives.

Vaka embodied the proud, honourable and long tradition of Fijians serving in the British Army. These remarkable men from literally the other side of the world are the best possible ambassadors for their beautiful country that Fiji could hope for. Tough, proud, independent, strong-willed, indomitable and courageous they come from a warrior tradition and make exceptional soldiers. But their unique cultural contribution also enriches any battalion they serve with. They are men of great faith, decency, loyalty and simple pleasures. They are no plaster saints – few Riflemen are – but they have a zest for life and a natural happiness of spirit that is infectious and makes them simply great company; one has only to watch them playing rugby with all the exuberant natural talent and grace that men from those islands seem born with to see it. We are very proud of them and I for one cherish them deeply.

Vaka was all of these things and more. A big and powerful man from Nailuva in Suva, the capital city of Fiji, he joined, like so many of his fellow Fijians, for travel, opportunity and adventure. He joined us in December 2003 and settled well in his new home. He was a quiet, modest man, but his strength of character shone through. His taste in shirts was less discreet and he was rarely to be found wearing anything other than a colourful Fijian ‘Bule’ shirt. My memory is of a gentle giant; a courteous, smiling, humble man with a natural warmth of spirit, a gentle sense of humour, truly unselfish; in short a gentleman. He was also exceptionally bright. He scored top of his basic skills examination and read avidly, with a love of military history which he found inspiring. When I last saw him he was reading ‘Redcoat’ and we had a long discussion about the books we particularly loved. He loved being a Rifleman and wanted nothing more than to stay with his mates in the Platoon and talked of serving to his twelve year point. He had no desire or inclination for promotion; it was not that he lacked ambition – his ambition was simply to be the best Rifleman he could be.

But he was also a great soldier, and nowhere more so than out here on operations in Iraq over the last eight weeks where he rose to the dangers and challenges magnificently. 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 to his fellow Riflemen and they knew they could trust him with their lives and that he would face down any danger for them. He repeatedly performed small acts of great courage and selflessness. One such incident occurred early in the tour when his Platoon was guarding the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre (PJCC), a small isolated and much attacked base co-located with the Iraqi Security Forces in the centre of Basra.

Vaka was constantly volunteering for duty in the rooftop sangars - the most dangerous spot. And when a sangar was struck with a direct hit by a mortar round severely injuring a fellow Rifleman, it was Vaka that volunteered to drive the vehicle taking him to the emergency helicopter landing site for evacuation, braving the incoming mortar rounds as he did so with several exploding very close to him. That Rifleman is now recovering in hospital and he owes his survival in part to Vaka’s courage.

Vaka’s death is a tragedy for us all and above all for his close friends and family and our hearts and prayers go out to them. They can be so very proud of him. He was simply a wonderful man who became the friend and brother Rifleman we loved and admired because of the loving and stable upbringing that they provided for him and we are so grateful to them for him. He was a quiet man, but his understated strength, faith, humility and selfless courage spoke louder than any words could.

In death, as in life, he inspired his fellow Riflemen, his Platoon, his Company and his Battalion. 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 and their magnificent performance that night was inspired by Vaka; their resilience, courage, fighting spirit and coolness under fire were his legacy.

Captain Will Peltor said:

Rifleman Vakabua, ‘V’ or ‘Vaka’ as he was known by those who knew him was a quiet, shy and pleasant character within the platoon. There was always a smile brimming under his quiet exterior and he was happiest whilst sitting at the edge of a circle of friends, laughing and joking with the others; his comrades from within the platoon and company.

He was an extremely intelligent Rifleman who incessantly read books; especially large volumes of books on military history as well as his favourite Special Forces books. It was for this reason and his exceptionally neat writing that he always guaranteed himself for being pinged when a ‘scribe’ was required.

Vaka was a man who never complained and whenever given a task, he would disappear and quietly report back later that day that the job he had been given was done. You didn’t need to check up on it as you knew it had been done! There was never any fuss, never any problems, never any complaining from Vaka. And that is why he was so popular. He was a team player, he would always do more than his fair share and never think that a more junior Rifleman should do a job instead of him.

Vaka was often depended upon by his Chain of Command to coax junior Riflemen because he was the one who could be depended upon, the one who would give the least hassle when a ‘fastball’ appeared for the platoon. After all, there are not many Riflemen who have to be reminded and literally ordered to take their Annual Leave!

The pleasing thing about Vaka during his time out in Iraq was that he had settled down so well and adopted the role as one of the strong Riflemen of the platoon and was, hence, viewed, by the NCOs as one of the senior Riflemen. Having found the Pre-Deployment Training difficult, he had come into his own in Iraq and shown everyone, through actions and not words, exactly what he was made of. He showed how a Rifleman, through hard graft, perseverance and a sense of humour can develop himself and pull out the results when they matter the most- on operations.

Vaka had, during the last eight weeks, moved from being the quiet Rifleman at the back to being the quiet Rifleman at the front, setting the example to the younger Rifleman; be it whilst maintaining the vehicles with grease all over his arms and hands to preparing the vehicles prior to going out on patrol to actually being out on patrol and ‘cutting’ about on the ground; not needing to be told what to do.

There is more, however. Vaka set not only an example to Riflemen, but to us all. He was a Rifleman who was, whilst out here, further away from home than the majority of us and who hadn’t seen his family since Christmas. He was a Rifleman who never questioned why he had to do a particular task, why the platoon had to conduct a certain patrol or why the platoon had to complete a job in a particular way. Instead, he would just get on with it. His commitment and humility in his service here in Iraq is an example to us all. As one of his Team Commanders said to me, ‘He has left very big boots for the Riflemen to fill; they had better be up to the job’.

What will I remember about Vaka? I will remember a good, kind hearted Rifleman who, no matter how much you had shouted at him an hour before, would still give you a winning smile and have no hard feelings towards you when you then asked him to do you a favour. The last thing I remember is the smile on his face at hearing of the praise the NCOs had for him, as a result of his performance over the last eight weeks.

And that is how I will remember him.

Sergeant Broughton said:

Rifleman Vakabua was loved and respected by everyone in the platoon and company, he was a gentle giant that did as he was told and just cracked on with the task he was given. Although he hated running he was a keen rugby player, always walking around with a smile on his face this epitomized Rifleman Vakabua as a true Rifleman. He will be sorely missed by his platoon and dear friends, rest in peace.

Lance Corporal Zwijnen and Corporal Grievson said:

Vaka was a gentle giant. He was a true Rifleman and Mortarman. He loved his rest he loved his food, he loved his rugby and he hated running; he was a true mortarman! He was also a very capable, loyal and committed soldier who was proud of his profession. Even though he was quiet he was a legend to everyone who knew him. He will be greatly missed in mortar platoon. Rest in peace. Three rounds fire for effect followed by rate eight, Vaka. Job done…

Corporal Cox said:

Rifleman Vakabua was a reliable and hardworking member of the platoon. Vaka would never question why, he would always just crack on with the task in hand and ensure that it was done to the best of his ability. This is a quality we could all learn from. His tragic death is a huge loss for the platoon and he will be missed greatly.

Rifleman Vakabua was loved and liked by everyone in the company. A harmless soul who enjoyed his work and life in the army. Vaka will be missed and cherished by all. He was always smiling and laughing at anything that amused him. A warrior and Rifleman.

Fellow Riflemen paid the following tributes:

Rifleman Saunders said:

I’ve been thinking a lot of all the good and funny times we had. I will miss you with all my heart Vaka; you pest!

Rifleman Gilbert said:

Keep smiling mate, I’ll miss our Fiji language lessons. You’ll never be forgotten, Take care.

Rifleman Milner said:

Take care my brother and don’t bother those good looking angels like I know you’re probably doing now. You will not be forgotten.

Rifleman Sharpe said:

Take care mate I will never forget you. You’re a cracking lad, rest in peace bro.

Rifleman Croker said:

There will always be a gap in this platoon in which you belong. At least you won’t be doing phys up Kiwi hill any more. Rest in Peace mate.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said:

I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Rifleman Vakabua. His family are very much in my thoughts and prayers as they come to terms with their loss.