Bill Henry "Willie" Apiata VC (born 28 June 1972) was a 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 Afghanistan conflict 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 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".
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.
He became one of the very few living holders of the Victoria Cross. In part the citation reads:
"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.
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.
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Peter de la Billière
General Sir Peter Edgar de la Cour de la Billière, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC & Bar MSC (born 29 April 1934) is a former British Army officer who was Director SAS during the Iranian Embassy Siege and Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the 1990 Gulf War. He is often known by the acronym DLB.
He was born as Peter Edgar Delacour to Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Denis de la Billiere and his wife Kitty Lawley. On 22 May 1941, his father was killed when his ship, HMS Fiji, was sunk by German bombers in an attack southwest of Crete.
He was educated at Wellesley House School, Broadstairs and Harrow.
He originally enlisted as a private in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in 1952. He was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Durham Light Infantry. During his early career as an officer he served in Japan, Korea and Egypt.
Special Air Service
In 1956, he attended and passed Selection for the Special Air Service. During his first SAS tour, he served in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency and Oman, where he was mentioned in despatches and won the Military Cross in 1959. After his initial tour with 22 SAS, he returned to the Durham Light Infantry to run recruit training, before taking up the post of Adjutant of 21 SAS – the London based Territorial Army (reserve) SAS regiment. In 1962, he was attached to the Federal Army in Aden. In 1964, he failed Staff College but was appointed Officer Commanding A Squadron 22 SAS. From 1964 to 1966, A Squadron was deployed to Borneo for the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation. For his actions during this period he was awarded a bar to the Military Cross.
After this tour, he re-attended Staff College, and, this time, passed. After Staff College he was posted as G2 (intelligence) Special Forces at Strategic Command. He then served a tour as second-in-command of 22 SAS, of which he was Commanding Officer from 1972 to 1974 For service in Oman, he was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1976.
He then served in a number of administrative posts before returning to the regiment as Director SAS in 1979. It was during this period that the SAS shot to public fame as a consequence of their storming of the Iranian Embassy in 1980. He was also responsible during the Falklands War for planning Operation Mikado. In 1982, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
After the SAS he was appointed Military Commissioner and Commander of British Forces in the Falkland Islands from 1984 and General Officer Commanding Wales District from 1985. He was succeeded by Brigadier Morgan Llewellyn on 1 December 1987. He was General Officer Commanding South East District from 1988.
In 1987 he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. In 1991, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).
Despite being due for retirement he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the 1990 Gulf War – in effect the second in command of the multinational military coalition headed by US General Norman Schwarzkopf. His past experience of fighting in the area, knowledge of the people and some fluency in the language overrode concerns about his age. In this role, he was largely responsible for persuading Schwarzkopf (who was initially sceptical) to allow the use of SAS and other special forces in significant roles in that conflict.
By the end of his career he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant General. In order to allow him to receive the pension benefits of full general he was given the newly created sinecurist (honorarium) post of Middle East Advisor to the Secretary of State for Defence. He retired in 1992.
In August 1991, he received Canada's Meritorious Service Cross. In 1993, he received Saudi Arabia's Order of King Abdul Aziz, 2nd Class and was made a Commander of the United States' Legion of Merit.
He has written or co-authored 18 books, including an autobiography, a personal account of the Gulf War and a number of works about the SAS.
He is currently a patron of the UK based international development charity, FARM-Africa having served on the board since 1992 and as chairman from 1998 to 2001.
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