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Prime Minister's Speech announcing Gallantry Awards To NZSAS SOLDIERS 2 July 2007

2 July 2007

Victoria Cross, gallantry medals for NZ SAS soldiers

Speech by the Rt. Hon Helen Clark, Prime Minister, at Parliament

This morning the Governor-General has formally announced that The Queen has approved four New Zealand Gallantry Awards.

These awards are being made to members of the New Zealand SAS for gallantry in Afghanistan in 2004.

The awards are of
The Victoria Cross for New Zealand which goes to Corporal Bill Henry Apiata,
The New Zealand Gallantry Decoration for two members of the 1st New Zealand Special Air Services Group, and
The New Zealand Gallantry Medal for one member of the 1st New Zealand Special Air Services Group.

All the awards go to members of the same SAS deployment; and three, including the Victoria Cross, have been awarded to soldiers involved in the same incident.

For security reasons, the names of the recipients of the New Zealand Gallantry Decorations and the New Zealand Gallantry Medal will not be released.

This is a proud moment for all four recipients of the awards, for the SAS, for the New Zealand Defence Forces, and for New Zealand.

Corporal Apiata becomes the first winner of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, under the Royal Warrant for the New Zealand Gallantry Awards of 1999.

He displayed stunning courage and selflessness, risking his life to save a colleague in a situation of extreme danger.

The citation for his award describes how he carried a fellow soldier suffering serious arterial damage to safety.

As opposing forces pressed their attack towards the two men, Lance Corporal Apiata (as he was then) carried his comrade over seventy metres of broken, rocky, and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy opposing fire, and into the face of returning fire from the main New Zealand troop position.

The citation says that a subsequent medical assessment confirmed that his fellow soldier would probably have died of blood loss and shock, had not Corporal Apiata acted as he did.

The former Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson brought this extraordinary act of courage to the attention of me and the Minister of Defence, with the recommendation that Corporal Apiata be considered for the award of the Victoria Cross of New Zealand.

A huge amount of work has been done to document what happened and to research the precedents for the award of the Victoria Cross before taking the decision to proceed.

The Royal Warrant which governs the New Zealand Gallantry Awards makes it clear that The Queen will approve a Gallantry Award only on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

In the case of the award of the Victoria Cross, there is a requirement to consult with the Palace, which reflects the historical and international standing of the Victoria Cross.

Having considered all the information placed before me, having received the strong recommendation from the New Zealand Defence Forces, and having consulted with the Palace, I have decided to recommend to The Queen that the Victoria Cross of New Zealand be awarded to Corporal Apiata.

Corporal Apiata has been involved with the New Zealand Defence Force since he first enrolled as a territorial in 1989. He joined the regular force in April 2001, and the SAS in November that year.

Corporal Apiata is 35 years old. He was born in Mangakino, and grew up in Northland and the Eastern Bay of Plenty. He attended the Whanau a Apanui Area School in Te Kaha.

He affiliates to Nga Puhi through his father, but also has a strong affinity to Whanau-A-Apanui and the Tukaki Marae in Te Kaha.

Corporal Apiata is the 22nd New Zealander to be awarded the Victoria Cross, and the first since the Second World War.

He joins the ranks of Charles Upham, Charles Heaphy, Leonard Henry Trent, Cyril Bassett, and Samuel Frickleton, and other New Zealand Victoria Cross holders.

Arrangements are in place for Corporal Apiata to be introduced to news media later today, and Lt General Gerry Mateparae will say a few words about those arrangements shortly.

For now, I offer Corporal Apiata my congratulations and those of the government on this award of New Zealand's most prestigious military honour which recognises his extraordinary courage and selflessness, and I offer my congratulations and appreciation to the other three members of the SAS whose awards for gallantry are also being announced today.

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