Apiata on school visit, 3 August 2007
28 June 1972|
Mangakino, New Zealand
|Service/||New Zealand Army|
|Years of service||1989–2012|
6th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment|
New Zealand Special Air Service
War in Afghanistan
|Awards||Victoria Cross for New Zealand|
Bill Henry "Willie" Apiata, VC (born 28 June 1972) is a former corporal in the New Zealand Special Air Service, who became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. He received the award on 2 July 2007 for bravery under fire during the War in Afghanistan in 2004, in which he carried a gravely wounded comrade across a battlefield, under fire, to safety.
Apiata is the only recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, as opposed to the Victoria Cross previously awarded. There are no living New Zealand recipients of the Victoria Cross, which was last awarded to a New Zealander for actions in the Second World War. Between 1864 and 1943, 21 members of the New Zealand forces were awarded the Victoria Cross including Captain Charles Upham, awarded a Bar to the Victoria Cross in 1945 for gallantry in Egypt in 1942.
Apiata was born in Mangakino, New Zealand. His father is Maori and his mother is Pakeha. His parents separated, and he has not had contact with his father for several years. His early childhood was spent at Waima in Northland before the family moved to Te Kaha when he was seven. He attended Te Whanau-a-Apanui Area School in Te Kaha, which he left at the age of 15.
Apiata affiliates to the Ngāpuhi iwi (tribe) through his father, but also has a very strong affiliation to Te Whānau-ā-Apanui (the iwi of his partner) from his time in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Apiata's home marae are Tukaki Marae at Te Kaha and Ngati Kawa Marae at Oromahoe, just south of Kerikeri. He is separated from his partner, the mother of their son born in 2003.
He enlisted in the New Zealand Army on 6 October 1989 in the Territorial Force Hauraki Regiment of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. He unsuccessfully attempted to join the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1996. From July 2000 to April 2001 he served in East Timor as a member of New Zealand's third Battalion Group as part of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. On his return he became a full-time soldier. His second attempt to join the SAS in November 2001 was successful.
Apiata was re-deployed to Afghanistan with the NZSAS in 2009 when the New Zealand government opted to return troops to that country. Responding in the aftermath of the January 2010 attacks in Kabul, Apiata was photographed by French photojournalist Philip Poupin. Poupin, who did not know Apiata, photographed Apiata and two companions as they were leaving the "thick of the fight" because "They looked like foreign troops and they were tall and had a specific face, they looked tough and strong". One photo was widely reproduced in New Zealand newspapers, prompting Prime Minister John Key to publicly acknowledge that Apiata was one of the soldiers depicted. The publication has also reopened the debate on the publication of images identifying New Zealand Special Forces personnel with some concerns that in doing so Apiata could become a target for insurgents.
Around 18 July 2012, Apiata left full-time military service to teach adventure skills to young people at the High Wire Charitable Trust. He did not resign from the military and remains with the NZSAS Reserve Forces.
Apiata (then a lance corporal) was part of a New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Troop in Afghanistan in 2004 that was attacked by about 20 enemy fighters while holed-up for the night in a rocky rural area. Enemy rocket propelled grenades destroyed one of the troop's vehicles and immobilised another. This was followed by sustained machine gun and automatic rifle fire from close range.
A grenade explosion blew Apiata off the bonnet of his vehicle, where he had been sleeping. Two other soldiers in or near the vehicle were wounded by shrapnel, one of them seriously (Corporal D). After finding cover, it was seen that Corporal D had life-threatening arterial bleeding and was deteriorating rapidly.
Apiata assumed command of the situation, deciding all three would need to rejoin the troop which was about 70 metres to the rear. Apiata decided his only option was to carry Corporal D to safety, and none of the three were hit during the retreat. After getting Corporal D to shelter, Apiata rejoined the firefight.
"In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack."
The investiture took place on 26 July 2007 at Government House, Wellington. The ceremony was presided over by His Excellency Sir Anand Satyanand, the Governor-General of New Zealand, with the Prime Minister Helen Clark, and Apiata's army colleagues, in attendance. A separate homecoming ceremony was held in his home town of Te Kaha.
VC gifted to nation
In April 2008, Apiata donated his Victoria Cross of New Zealand medal to the NZSAS Trust, so that "the medal is protected for future generations". The medal remains available to Apiata and his family to wear.
Apiata's medal ribbons, as they would appear on the left breast of his uniform, are:
- Victoria Cross for New Zealand
- New Zealand Operational Service Medal
- East Timor Medal
- United Nations Mission in East Timor Medal (UNAMET)
- New Zealand General Service Medal for Afghanistan
- NATO Medal for the Non-Article 5 ISAF Operation in Afghanistan
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
- New Zealand Defence Service Medal
Apiata is also entitled to wear the emblem of the US Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation on the right breast of the uniform.
RSA Badge in Gold
On Armistice Day, 11 November 2007, Apiata was presented with the Badge in Gold, the highest honour awarded by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association (RSA). The award was made in the Gallipoli Room at ANZAC House by the Governor-General Anand Satyanand who also presented him with life membership of the RSA.
- "Special Honours List 2 July 2007 (Gallantry Awards)". DPMC. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
- "Press kit related to July 2007 gallantry awards (NZ)" (PDF). NZ Government through news agency. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-01.
- Glyn Harper and Colin Richardson. In the face of the enemy: the complete history of the Victoria Cross and New Zealand, 2006, HarperCollins Publishers (NZ), ISBN 978-1-86950-522-6.
- Apiata has gifted his VC to NZ SAS Trust, victoriacross.org.uk, 24 April 2008.
- "VC winner most trusted Kiwi – magazine". New Zealand Press Association. Stuff.co.nz. 21 June 2008. Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-12.
- "Willie Apiata – humble Kiwi hero" at NewZealand.com; retrieved 2012-12-16.
- "Who is Willie Apiata?" at TangataWhenua.com; retrieved 2012-12-17.
- "Soldier in SAS photo is Willie Apiata". The New Zealand Herald. 21 January 2010.
- Jolliff, Emma (22 January 2010). "Apiata likely to remain in Afghanistan – Minister". 3 News. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
- Gower, Patrick (18 July 2012). "Apiata quits SAS, finds new job". 3news.co.nz. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
- Levy, Danya (18 July 2012). "War hero Willie Apiata leaves military". Stuff. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "27th Reunion of Victoria Cross and George Cross holders" at VictoriaCross.org; Hardman, Robert. "The heroes given a front-row seat at the royal party," Daily Mail (UK). May 30, 2012: excerpt, "... all 28 living holders of the Victoria Cross or the George Cross ...."; retrieved 2012-12-16.
- "Read the official citation for Corporal Apiata's VC". NZ Government through news agency. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-01.
- "I was only doing my job, says VC hero". New Zealand Herald. 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
- "Willie Apiata receives his VC". NZ Herald. 2007-07-26. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
- Shanks, Katee (2007-07-21). "Apiata to have homecoming ceremony". NZ Herald. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
- Eriksen, Alanah May (25 April 2008). "'Reluctant hero' gives his VC of New Zealand to the nation". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2008-05-03.
- Medal yearbook 2007, Token Publishing Company, 2006, ISBN 978-1-870192-76-7
- "Official medal to mark Diamond Jubilee". The National Archives. Directgov. 28 June 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- Approval for the acceptance and wear of the US Navy Presidential Unit Citation for service by the NZ SAS in Afghanistan NZDF Medal news website
- Badge in Gold a Rare Honour NZRSA Review