Bill Henry “Willie” Apiata VC

b. 28/06/1972 Mangakino, New Zealand.

Bill Henry “Willie” Apiata (1972-) was born in Mangakino, New Zealand on 28th June 1972. His father is Maori and his mother is Pakeha. His parents separated when he was very young, 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.

Bill Apiata VC

Apiata affiliates to the Ngpuhi iwi (tribe) through his father, but also has a very strong affiliation to Te Whnau–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 has a son born in 2003.

Apiata enlisted into the New Zealand Army on 6th October 1989 as a Territorial Force (TF), or part time, soldier in the Tauranga based Hauraki Regiment of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. Apiata first became aware of the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) when, as a TF soldier, he acted as a member of the enemy party for a NZSAS training exercise. In 1996 while still in the TF he attempted NZSAS selection but was not successful.

From July 2000 – April 2001 Apiata served in East Timor as a member of New Zealand’s 3rd Battalion Group as part of the United Nations operations there. When he returned to New Zealand in April 2001 he became a full-time soldier, transferring to the regular force of the New Zealand Army. In November 2001 he attempted and passed NZSAS selection and attended the NZSAS training cycle in early 2002. On completion of the training cycle he was made a member of the NZSAS.

Lance Corporal ( now Corporal ) Apiata was, on 2nd July 2007, part of a New Zealand Special Air Service ( NZSAS ) Troop on patrol in Afghanistan, which laid up in a defensive formation for the night. At approximately 03:15 hours, the Troop was attacked by a group of about twenty enemy fighters, who had approached by stealth using the cover of the undulating ground in pitch darkness. Rocket-propelled grenades struck two of the Troop’s vehicles, destroying one and immobilising the other. The opening strike was followed by dense and persistent machine gun and automatic rifle fire from close range. The attack then continued using further rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun and rifle fire.

The initial attack was directed at the vehicle where Lance Corporal Apiata was stationed. He was blown off the bonnet by the impact of the rocket-propelled grenades striking the vehicle. He was dazed, but was not physically injured. The two other vehicle crew members had been wounded by shrapnel; one of them; Corporal A, was in a serious condition. Illuminated by the burning vehicle, and under sustained and accurate enemy fire directed at and around their position, the three soldiers immediately took what little cover was available. Corporal A was discovered to have sustained life-threatening wounds. The other two soldiers immediately began applying basic first aid. Lance Corporal Apiata assumed command of the situation, as he could see that his superior’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. By this time, however, Lance Corporal Apiata’s exposed position, some seventy metres in front of the rest of the Troop, was coming under increasingly intense enemy fire. Corporal A was now suffering serious arterial bleeding and was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

Lance Corporal Apiata concluded that his comrade urgently required medical attention, or he would likely die. Pinned down by the enemy, in the direct line of fire between friend and foe, he also judged that there was almost no chance of such help reaching their position. As the enemy pressed its attack towards Lance Corporal Apiata’s position, and without thought of abandoning his colleague to save himself, he took a decision in the highest order of personal courage under fire. Knowing the risks involved in moving to open ground, Lance Corporal Apiata decided to carry Corporal A single-handedly to the relative safety of the main Troop position, which afforded better cover and where medical treatment could be given. He ordered his other colleague, Trooper T to make his own way back to the rear.

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. By his actions he removed the tactical complications of Corporal A’s predicament from considerations of rescue.

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. Bill Apiata was awarded the Victoria Cross for New Zealand (the only one awarded to date). The investiture took place on 26th 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.

In April 2008, Corporal Apiata decided to gift his VC and campaign medals to the New Zealand Special Air Service Trust based in Papakura, Auckland. Bill Apiata said “It was important the VC be protected for future generations and by gifting it to the NZSAS Trust, I know my wishes will always be respected.” The NZSAS Chairman said the decision to gift the Cross was extraordinary and the trust was pleased to accept responsibility for ensuring Corporal Apiata’s wishes would always be adhered to. The VC will remain available for Corporal Apiata to wear and will always be available for his family to wear in the future. It is hoped the Victoria Cross will go on public display at special events or ceremonies, but such decisions would be made by the trust.

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 18th 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. He is a regular attendee of VC and GC Association Reunions, and is often seen at Remembrance events all over the world.




Johan de Jongte – Medal Group of Bill Apiata VC