Solomon Islands


rian Mansfield Dunn was born in England on June 29, 1940. He graduated in 1964 from the nursing course at Sydney Adventist Hospital in Australia and then married Valmae Ruth Benham, also a nursing graduate, on December 29, 1964. The young couple left Sydney for Atoifi Adventist Hospital, then a 90-bed facility, on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands on November 23, 1965, to begin their term of mission service.

Less than a month later, on Thursday evening, December 16, 1965, Brian was returning from providing medicine for a patient when, standing at his own front door, he was speared out of the darkness.

Valmae, recalling the tragic night, said, “Brian turned to open the screen door to come back inside the house when he suddenly called out to me, ‘Quick, honey, I’ve got a spear right through me.’” The spear, several feet long, was made from a piece of sharpened steel reinforcing rod and had to be cut with a hacksaw by one of the men who came to help. The vibration from this lengthy process was excruciating, and Valmae firmly held the spear to reduce the movement as much as possible. With the spear protruding from his chest and his back, there was no way Brian could get comfortable or lie down, but morphine supplied by a priest who came to assist must have helped somewhat.

Aided down the long hill to the boat after midnight, Brian climbed aboard the 18-foot Catholic mission boat himself because doing so was less uncomfortable than being helped by others. Because he was unable to lie down, the back was cut off a dispensary chair, and Brian sat on this all through the night during the long boat trip. He was supported by two young men who constantly sponged his brow.

Brian Dunn (Photo courtesy of Adventist HealthCare Limited)
Brian Dunn and his wife, Valmae (From Adventist Heritage 11, no. 2 [Fall 1986]: 15)

The group sailed through rough seas at times until they reached Kwailabesi on the other side of the island. There, Brian was transferred aboard the larger and faster mission vessel, Dani, which sailed for the Anglican mission hospital at Fuambu on a northern point of the island. Contacted by radio, the Anglican mission boat Bradley set out to meet the Dani, and the crew supplied penicillin and morphine before arriving at Fuambu on Friday afternoon around 3:30. Because the road to the airstrip some 15 miles distant was rough, the Dani took Brian farther along the coast as near as possible to the airstrip, where the waiting pilot, to save time, taxied the aircraft off the strip and down to the beach. Once on board, Brian was flown to Honiara and taken by ambulance on the rough, potholed road to the hospital, where at around 6:30, five doctors began to do what they could to save the young missionary’s life.

While in surgery at around 8:30, Brian’s heart failed. However, with massage, its function was restored. On Sabbath morning, his prospects looked better, and he told his wife that he would be fine “by the end of the week.” But Saturday night, he became delirious. Briefly regaining consciousness, Brian took the opportunity to tell those with him that he was “ready to die.” As he healed, his blood pressure began returning to normal levels more quickly than his spear-damaged heart could bear. The outer heart muscle ruptured, and Brian bled out in his sleep on Sunday afternoon, December 19, 1965.

Brian Dunn was buried at Honiara in the Solomon Islands the next afternoon, with the leading dignitaries of the town among the 300 people in attendance. Later, Valmae noted that just after her husband was attacked, “when I got him into the house on Thursday night, he prayed and kept praying for forgiveness for the unknown man who had speared him.”

This young missionary couple had been married less than a year when Brian was murdered just a few weeks after commencing their term of medical missionary service. He was 25 years old when he died. Valmae returned to Australia to spend some time with her parents, noting then, “I may have to go back soon.” Indeed, she did return to mission service just a few months later, serving as a nurse in a leper colony in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.


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Lester Devine is a director emeritus of the Ellen G. White/Adventist Research Center in Avondale, Australia.