Brian Dunn was born on June 29, 1940, in Hertfordshire, England, and graduated in 1964 from the four-year nursing course at Sydney Adventist Hospital (SAH) in Australia.
After graduation, Brian married Valmae Ruth Benham, also a SAH nursing graduate (class of 1959). The young couple arrived at Atoifi Adventist Hospital, then a 90-bed facility, on the island of Malaita, Solomon Islands, on November 23, 1965, to begin their term of mission service.
Just a few days later, on Thursday evening, December 16, 1965, Brian was returning from treating a patient when out of the darkness he was speared, right through his back, at the front door of his home. He called out to his wife for help, “Honey, I’ve got a spear right through me!” The spear, made from a piece of sharpened steel reinforcing rod, was soon cut off from behind him with a hacksaw.
With the point of the spear protruding from his chest and the remaining shaft out his back, there was no way Brian could get comfortable, but morphine supplied by a nearby Roman Catholic priest who came to assist must have helped.
Assisted down the long hill to the boat, after midnight, Brian climbed aboard the mission vessel himself. Unable to lie down, the back was cut off a dispensary chair and all through the long night Brian was supported by two young men—sailing, at times through rough seas, until they reached Kwailabesi where he was transferred aboard the mission vessel Dani that sailed for the Anglican mission hospital at Fuambo on the northern point of the island, arriving there on Friday at around 3:30pm.
Because the road to the airstrip was some 15 miles distant and rough, the Dani took Brian further up the coast and as near as possible to the airstrip. Brian was able to climb down into the dinghy and was rowed ashore, driven along the rough road to the airfield and flown to Honiara.
Taken by ambulance, once more on a rough road, to the hospital, five doctors began to do what they could to save the young missionary’s life but in surgery at around 8:30pm his heart failed. [pullquote]
With massage, function was restored and on Sabbath morning his prospects looked better. He told his wife that he would be fine “by the end of the week”. On Saturday night he became delirious, and when he briefly regained consciousness several times, he took the opportunity to tell those with him that he was “ready to die”. He died on Sunday afternoon, December 19, 1965.
It was later determined the spear had grazed his pericardium wall and there had been internal bleeding around his heart and lungs.
Brian was buried in Honiara the next day at 3:00pm, with the leading dignitaries of the town among the 300 people in attendance.
“When I got him into the house on Thursday night, he prayed and kept praying for forgiveness for the unknown man who speared him,” Valmae later noted.
This young missionary couple had been married less than a year when Brian was murdered, the “first expatriate Seventh-day Adventist to die violently in the South Pacific” and just days after commencing their term of medical missionary service.
Brian was just 25 years of age when he died; making “the supreme sacrifice”. Valmae returned to Australia to spend some time with her parents, noting then that “I may have to go back soon.” And she did; just a few months later, serving as a missionary nurse in a Hansenide (leper) colony in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Lester Devine is director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education.