There was standing room only as hundreds of people attended the funeral of Savenaca Koroibulileka.
Savenaca, known to friends as Savy, Koro or Tu, tragically died on Saturday, September 24, after collapsing while playing rugby for Oakham.
A highly-respected solider and talented rugby player, Savenaca, 38, leaves behind a wife, Sili, and four sons – Ratu, Vili, Orisi and Kelepi.
His funeral was held last Friday afternoon at Oakham Rugby Club and attended by hundreds of friends and family members.
The coffin, draped in a Union Jack flag and topped off with Savenaca’s army cap, was carried into the building by Oakham Rugby Club players.
Floral tributes had been created with the word ‘Tu’ and ‘159’ – representing 159 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, in which Savenaca served as a reservist after leaving 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in which he served for 11 years.
A choir sang traditional Fijian hymns and two pastors preached.
Eulogies were given by military and rugby club representatives and also from Ratu – Savenaca’s eldest son, who had many in tears with a heartfelt tribute to his father.
Ratu, 13, said: “We never planned this – you can plan your future, but only God’s plan will prevail.”
He went on to read the poem Our Father Kept A Garden: “Our Father kept a garden. A garden of the heart; he planted all the good things, that gave our lives their start.
“He turned us to the sunshine, and encouraged us to dream: fostering and nurturing the seeds of self-esteem.
“And when the winds and rain came, he protected us enough; but not too much because he knew we would stand up strong and tough.
“His constant good example, always taught us right from wrong; markers for our pathway that will last a lifetime long.
“We are our father’s garden, we are his legacy. Thank you Dad, we love you.”
Tears temporarily turned to laughter as Oakham Rugby Club coach Tim Andrews spoke about his memories of Savenaca.
Addressing him directly, Tim said: “I didn’t know you long, but you lit up the club. When you first came, I said ‘where do you play?’ and you said ‘in the forwards’. I said ‘where in the forwards?’ and you leaned in and said ‘I’m really a back, but I’ve lost all my pace, so anywhere in the forwards!’
“The first game without you was tough, but the boys did you proud.
“Your memory will live on and we’ll organise a game every year in your memory.
“The club has lost a brother, but gained a sister and four wonderful sons. We’ll help those boys become the man you were.”
The service was held partly in English and partly in Fijian – in honour of Savenaca’s homeland. Hymns were also sung in both languages.
The funeral heard Savenaca was a committed member of the Apostle Fellowship International Church.
A message from Rev Poate Mata, on behalf of the organisation, was read out.
Rev Mata paid tribute to Savenaca, saying he will be dearly missed. He offered his sympathies to the family, adding: “The church and I can only imagine your depth of pain and loss”.
Former soldier Dean Knowles paid tribute on behalf of 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.
He said: “He was a very interesting, special person. He always led from the front and was always smiling.
“He was a valued and respected individual and nobody has a bad word to say about him. I’ll miss him deeply.”
A sermon was delivered by Pastor Senitiki Rokomaterua, who preached from the Bible’s Book of Deuteronomy. Pointing to the coffin, he said: “This is just a door. Death is a path to take us from this life to the next.”
After the service, Savenaca was driven to the Rogues Lane Cemetery in Cottesmore for burial.
Guests later returned to the rugby club for food and drinks to toast their fallen friend.
Savenaca joined the British Army from Fiji in October 2003, initially enlisting with 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.
He left the regular army in 2014, but a strong desire to continue his military service saw Koro join 159 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps as a reservist in July 2015.
Later wishing to return to full-time military service, Koro joined the Military Provost Guard Service in August 2016.
He was assigned to St George’s Barracks in North Luffenham and only just beginning in his new role when he tragically died.
David Smiter, who served with Savenaca in the Poachers, set up a fundraising appeal after Savenaca’s death to raise some money for his wife and sons.
The total currently stands at around £11,600 and the money will be presented to the family when the appeal comes to an end later this month.
To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/david-smiter
Prior to the service England head coach Eddie Jones sent a message of condolence to the club.
It read: “My deepest condolences to the club and Koro.
“We are deeply saddened by the news and pass on our best to the club and his family. Rugby gives us great pleasure and sometimes sadness.
“I am sure Koro will be resting peacefully.”