Willie Apiata

Willie Apiata
Bill Henry "Willie" Apiata
Bill Apiata.jpg
Apiata on school visit, 3 August 2007
Born 28 June 1972 (1972-06-28) (age 39)
Mangakino, New Zealand
Allegiance New Zealand New Zealand
Service/branch Nzarmy.gif New Zealand Army
Years of service 1989–Present
Rank Corporal
Unit 6th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment
Special Air Service of New Zealand
Battles/wars East Timor
War in Afghanistan
Awards Victoria Cross for New Zealand
Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation (United States)

Bill Henry "Willie" Apiata VC (born 28 June 1972 in Mangakino, New Zealand) is a Corporal in the New Zealand Special Air Service and the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. He received the award on 2 July 2007 for bravery under fire during the Afghanistan conflict in 2004, after carrying 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.[1] There are no living New Zealand recipients of the (Imperial) 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.[2]

Apiata has donated all of his medals, including his VC, to New Zealand.[3]

In 2008 he succeeded Sir Edmund Hillary as the "most trusted New Zealander".[4]



Third youngest of four children, Apiata has three sisters. 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.[1]

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.[1]

He is separated from his partner, the mother of their son that was born in 2003.

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.[1]

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.[5] 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".[6] 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 may now become a target for insurgents.

Victoria Cross


Apiata (then a Lance Corporal) was part of a New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Troop in Afghanistan in 2004 which 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.

The announcement that Apiata was to receive the award was made on 2 July 2007. In part the citation reads[7]:

"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."

Three other SAS soldiers also received bravery awards for actions during the same mission. Two received the New Zealand Gallantry Decoration and one the New Zealand Gallantry Medal.[8]


Official presentation of the medal took place on 26 July 2007 at Government House, Wellington. The ceremony was presided over by Anand Satyanand, the Governor-General of New Zealand, with the Prime Minister Helen Clark, and Apiata's army colleagues, in attendance.[9] A separate homecoming ceremony was held in his home town of Te Kaha.[10]

Medal ribbons

Apiata's medal ribbons, as they would appear on the left breast of a uniform, are:

Victoria Cross (Canada) ribbon bar.pngNew Zealand Operational Service Medal ribbon.png
East Timor Ribbon (NZ).pngUN Medal for East Timor (NZ).pngNZ GSM Afghan (Primary) Ribbon.png

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.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Press kit related to July 2007 gallantry awards (NZ)" (PDF). NZ Government through news agency.. 2 July 2007. http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/0707/VCmediakit2jul07.pdf. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Apiata has gifted his VC to NZ SAS Trust, victoriacross.org.uk, 24 April 2008.
  4. ^ "VC winner most trusted Kiwi - magazine". New Zealand Press Association. Stuff.co.nz. 21 June 2008. Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5qQjRbnTr. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  5. ^ "Soldier in SAS photo is Willie Apiata". The New Zealand Herald. 21 January 2010. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10621473&pnum=0. 
  6. ^ Emma Jolliff , Apiata likely to remain in Afghanistan – Minister, 3 News 22 January 2010
  7. ^ "Read the official citation for Corporal Apiata's VC". NZ Government through news agency. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10449090. Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  8. ^ "I was only doing my job, says VC hero". New Zealand Herald. 2007-07-02. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10449084&pnum=0. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  9. ^ "Willie Apiata receives his VC". NZ Herald. 2007-07-26. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10453961. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  10. ^ "Apiata to have homecoming ceremony". NZ Herald. 2007-07-21. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10452966. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  11. ^ Medal yearbook 2007, Token Publishing Company, 2006, ISBN 978 1 870192 76 7
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Badge in Gold a Rare Honour NZRSA Review

Further reading

  • Little, Paul (2008). Willie Apiata - VC - The Reluctant Hero. Auckland, [N.Z.]: The Penguin Group. ISBN 978-067007-320-7 

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