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Willie Apiata
Willie Apiata - Waitangi 2020 (cropped).jpg
Apiata in 2020
Nickname(s) Willie
Born (1972-06-28) 28 June 1972 (age 52)
Mangakino, New Zealand
Allegiance New Zealand
Service/branch New Zealand Army
Years of service 1989–2012
Rank Corporal
Service number M181550
Unit 6th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment
New Zealand Special Air Service
Battles/wars East Timor
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, which replaced the Imperial Victoria Cross in 1999. 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. Apiata is the second Māori recipient of the VC after Second Lieutenant Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu (also of Te Whanau a Apanui). Apiata has donated all of his medals, including his VC, to New Zealand. In 2008 he succeeded Sir Edmund Hillary as the "most trusted New Zealander".

Early life

Apiata was born in Mangakino, New Zealand. His father is Māori and his mother is Pākehā. 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 from his time in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Apiata's home marae is Ngati Kawa Marae at Oromahoe, just south of Kerikeri. The ceremony where he received the Victoria Cross was held at Tukaki Marae in Te Kaha; due to being raised there when younger. In September 2011 Apiata was married to Sade, a chef in the army, but they have since divorced. They have two sons together, and he has a son from an earlier relationship.

Military career

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 Army and remains with the NZSAS Reserve Forces.

Victoria Cross


The investiture took place on 26 July 2007 at Government House, Wellington. The ceremony was presided over by 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.

As per her request, Apiata (alongside other Victoria Cross recipients) attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept 19, 2022. He also represented recipients of the Cross at the Coronation of Charles III and Camilla.

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.

Medal ribbons

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

UK Victoria Cross ribbon bar.svg  New Zealand Operational Service Medal ribbon.png   East Timor Ribbon (NZ).png  UN Medal for East Timor (NZ).png  NZ GSM Afghan (Primary) Ribbon.png  NATO Medal ISAF ribbon bar.svg  QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.svg   UK Queen EII Platinum Jubilee Medal ribbon.svg   Coronation of Charles III Medal ribbon.png  New Zealand Defence Service Medal ribbon.svg  
  • 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
  • Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal
  • King Charles III Coronation Medal
  • New Zealand Defence Service Medal
United States Navy Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg

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.

See also

  • List of New Zealand Victoria Cross recipients
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