A statue immortalising a black SAS war hero who single-handedly held off 250 rebels in Oman in a forgotten 1972 battle is to be unveiled at the SAS headquarters in Hereford in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday.

In 1972, British forces took on Communist rebels in the Middle Eastern state of Oman.

The SAS unit were part of a clandestine mission to protect the Sultan of Oman from the People's Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf.

Despite being wounded, Fijian-born Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba managed to turn a 25-pound field-gun, which normally needed 3 men to operate, on the enemy and opened fire at point blank range. He continued firing for six hours until the rebels were decimated - but Labalaba paid for his courage with his life.

It will also go some way to dispelling fears amongst soldiers from the Commonwealth who served in the British Army that their courageous deeds have not been recognised in the same way as their other comrades.

The first black British Army officer to take charge of white troops was Walter Tull, originally from Barbados, who died on the Western Front in 1918.

Before the Great War, Tull was a footballer in the English Football League. He became only the second black player to play in England's top flight when he made his debut for Tottenham Hotspur against Sunderland in 1909.

But only made ten first-team appearances and scored twice before he was dropped to the reserves.

This was probably due to the racial abuse he received from opposing fans, particularly at Bristol City, whose supporters used language "lower than Billingsgate" according to a report at the time in the Football Star newspaper.

Black SAS war hero who held off 250 rebels single-handed to be immortalised in statue

By Daily Mail Reporter
22nd October 2009

He was fighting a secret and brutal war in a dusty land far from home.

But while the 1972 clash between British forces and Communist rebels in Oman has long passed into history, the actions of Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba have not.

Instead, the Fijian soldier's exemplary courage under fire places him high on the pantheon of SAS heroes.

A soldier's soldier: Sergeant Talaiasi died holding off an overwhelming enemy force after his SAS unit were besieged in a fort in Oman

Labalaba is remembered to this day. Next month, a statue of the soldier will be unveiled at SAS headquarters in Hereford in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday.

And in a week when the British National Party was accused of appropriating the British military for their own ends - and airbrushing ethnic minority personnel from history - his story seems particularly poignant.

The sergeant and his nine-strong SAS unit were part of a clandestine mission to protect the Sultan of Oman from the People's Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf.

By July 1972, they had been in the country for a year and the assignment - codenamed Operation Jaguar - appeared to be going well.

But then the rebels stuck back. On the morning of July 19, around 250 elite fighters stormed MIrbat, a small town on the Arabian sea, leaving the SAS pinned down inside a fort.

As his comrades fought an increasingly desperate battle to hold off 250 insurgents, it dawned on Labalaba, 30, that they were about to be overrun.

The fort at Mirbat: Nine SAS soldiers were pinned down inside the building when 250 rebels launched their assault

With no cover and facing certain death, he sprinted across 800 metres of exposed ground to reach a 25-pound field-gun.

It was a brave - but apparently futile manouevre - as the huge weapon took three men to operate.

That, however, did not deter Labalaba. Nor did facial injuries which would have rendered a lesser man helpless.

As British forces watched in astonishment, Labalaba turned the cumbersome gun on the enemy and opened fire at near point blank range.

Prejudice: Walter Tull was made a second lieutenant despite a ban on the commissioning of soldiers with 'Asiatic or negroid features'

He went on for six hours, decimating the rebels and ultimately paying for his courage with his life.

His comrades found him slumped face down by the massive gun. His selfless actions undoubtedly saved many of the British soldiers holed up inside the fort and won him a posthumous Mention in Despatches.

For many, his statue will be a long-overdue memorial to one of the SAS's greatest heroes.

It is also some small recompense to thousands of ethnic minority servicemen, many from Commonwealth countries, who feel their courage and devotion has not been recognised in the same way as their white counterparts.

Labalaba and his comrade Trooper Sekonaia Takavesi, a fellow Fijian who rushed to his aid after he was wounded, are two of the most celebrated examples.

But there are countless others.

Among those are Second Lieutenant Walter Tull, born in Kent but the son of a former Barbados slave, who volunteered for the army just a week after the declaration of World War One.

He survived many battles, was the first British Army black officer to take charge of white troops and eventually died on the Western Front in 1918.

Tull's career, however, was blighted by prejudice.

Despite being recommended for the Military Cross for 'gallantry and coolness under fire', he never received it.

Senior officers had defied a rule which prevented soldiers with 'Asiatic or negroid features' being commissioned to make Tull a second lieutenant.

First VC winner in 20 years: Private Johnson Beharry after being presented with his medal

But they clearly felt that giving him such an honour was simply too much.

There was no such bar to Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry receiving the Victoria Cross, the military's highest award for bravery, in 2005.

Grenada-born Beharry was given his medal - the first VC awarded in 20 years - for saving 30 colleagues by guiding them through an ambush in Iraq.

He suffered serious head wounds in a rocket-propelled grenade assault that left him in a coma. Beharry will bear his scars for life but has made a good recovery.

'A Muslim and a British citizen': Jabron Hashmi died in Afganistan

In 2006, the death of a young soldier in Afghanistan brought the role of ethnic minority personnel in the military into sharp relief.

Jabron Hashmi, just 24 at the time, was the first British Muslim to be killed during the so-called War On Terror.

Serving with the 3rd Para Battle-group, he was in a guard position hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

His own brother Zeeshan, himself a former soldier, summed up both his life - and his death in the service of his country.

'He felt he was fulfilling two roles and duties; as a Muslim and as a British citizen,' he said.

'He felt very privileged to be linked with two different cultures.'

It is a sentiment many ethnic minority soldiers, from vastly different religions and backgrounds, will share.