The Battle of Mirbat in 1972 has passed into SAS legend. The term "hero" is widely used, usually to describe some overpaid preening sportsman. Well here it applies to a man who is widely regarded by SAS men as the bravest of the brave. This Fijian soldier performed an unbelievable feat of courage and almost certainly had it not been for his actions that day the battle would have been lost. It took place during the Dhofar Rebellion in Oman which was supported by communist guerrillas from South Yemen. Britain had assisted the Omani government by sending elements of the SAS to train the Omanis and to compete against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLOAG). At 6am on the 19th July 1972 the BATT (British Army Training Team) was attacked in huge numbers. Just nine SAS men stood between them reaching the vital Port of Mirbat. OIC was Captain Mike Kealy and battle commenced. The situation became desperate and Sgt Talaiasi Labalaba made a run for the 25-pound artillery piece. He managed to operate the weapon, usually a six-man job, and he fired a round a minute at the rebels. He was shot in the jaw sustaining a serious injury but continued firing. His friend and fellow Fijian Sekoniaia Takavesi ran across open ground to go his friend's aid. At one point they were firing at the enemy from point blank range with the gun at its lowest elevation. Had that weapon been captured all would have ben lost. Takavesi was hit in the shoulder and Laba hit in the neck and killed. Trooper Tobin tried to join them but was also shot dead. By this time Strikemaster jets of the Sultan of Oman Air Force arrived and the rebels knew the game was up and retreated leaving many dead. There is no doubt Laba's actions saved the day and had this not been the so-called "secret war" he would have undoubtedly been awarded a posthumous VC. Just five yards from Laba's grave is the grave of Tommy Tobin. Each grave has a piece of engraved stone taken from the Mirbat gun pit next to it. So I say again, what is a hero? Sgt Labalaba certainly was. Every book I've read about the SAS talks of his actions that day in total awe. RIP Laba.
Should anyone want to visit Laba and Tommy Tobin's graves it should be noted that their graves are not in the "SAS plot" presumably because that plot was started after Mirbat. Best way I can describe the location is to stand at the entrance to the SAS plot with the wall of remembrance on your left. These graves are then over to the right, 30 yards in about fifty yards from the SAS plot. As you enter the graveyard at the rear there is a noticeboard with a list of all the military graves in St. Martin's and their location and there are a great many "non-SAS personnel" buried there too.
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Photo taken in Hereford, UK
Misplaced? Suggest new location