Balls of Very Old Bronze

vc1.jpgCrimean Bronze!

Cpl Bill Apiata, of 1 NZSAS group, has won the Victoria Cross For New Zealand for an action in Afghanistan in 2004. People may not be aware that New Zealand separated our honour system from the UK’s in 1999, thereby doing away with things such as knighthoods and the Victoria Cross. New equivalent honours were instituted in place, including the Victoria Cross For New Zealand, making Cpl Apiata the first recipient of the VC in its present form. It has not been won by a New Zealander since WWII.

Whatever people think of the Afghan conflict, I’ve always felt that the actions of those involved should be recognised – particularly in cases like this. Rather than paraphrase, I present the full citation:


Corporal Bill Henry APIATA (M181550) – Citation

“Lance Corporal (now Corporal) Apiata was, in 2004, part of a New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Troop on patrol in Afghanistan, which laid up in defensive formation for the night.

At approximately 0315 hours, the Troop was attacked by a group of about twenty enemy fighters, who had approached by stealth using the cover of 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 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 D, 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 D was discovered to have sustained lifethreatening 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 D 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 D singlehandedly 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 E, 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 D’s predicament from considerations of rescue.

The Troop could now concentrate entirely on prevailing in the battle itself. After an engagement lasting approximately twenty minutes, the assault was broken up and the numerically superior attackers were routed with significant casualties, with the Troop in pursuit.

Lance Corporal Apiata had thereby contributed materially to the operational success of the engagement. A subsequent medical assessment confirmed that Corporal D would probably have died of blood loss and shock, had it not been for Lance Corporal Apiata’s selflessly courageous act in carrying him back to the main Troop lines, to receive the immediate treatment that he needed.”

Actions of the highest order. 70 metres may not sound a great deal, but in battle it’s miles. Soldiers are trained in fire and manoevre in pairs along the lines of ‘dash-down-crawl.’ From a prone position, and with his mate providing covering fire, the soldier will dash, drop to the ground and crawl. He will then provide covering fire for his mate as they move The length of dash varies, but is usually three to five paces. Often it’s simply crawled as fast as possible, a couple of metres at a time. Some assaults can crawl for hundreds of metres. After dropping, the soldier crawls so that he does not reappear in the same spot he dropped. Three to five paces is about as far as you are expected to make it without being hit in those kinds of firefights.

Cpl Apiata stood, threw his mate on his back, and ran seventy metres uphill over loose rock, in conditions where he was probably the only visible target to about twenty heavily armed enemy. He also ran into the fire lines of his fellow troop members above him on the hill, where he would have been barely visible, or silhouetted. That he was not shot by his mates shows the strong fire discipline of these soldiers. It’s instinctive to shoot at anyone coming towards you in those situations.

Also, I believe that Apiata knew what he risked. He’s an experienced soldier, in an elite fighting unit. I believe he knew his odds were zero. But he had also made the correct assessment that his mate’s chances were less than zero by any other course of action. So he went.

That is why VCs are inscribed ‘for valour

Kia Kaha Bill.

UPDATE: I’m getting a few hits on this from some fairy curious looking search terms. For those interested, the following sites might be worth a look:

New Zealand VC Winners – Wikipedia
The Victoria Cross – Main Wikipedia Article including history and many useful links


2 Responses to “Balls of Very Old Bronze”

  1. 1 nursemyra 4 July, 2007 at 12:18 am

    great story. makes me proud to be a kiwi 🙂

  2. 2 Echo Sierra 4 July, 2007 at 1:13 am

    Very good, nice writing, neat style dude. Carry on

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