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Goff praises New Zealand's VC winners

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Defence

12 April 2006
Media statement

Goff praises New Zealand's VC winners

Defence Minister Phil Goff praised the "ordinary New Zealanders who showed extraordinary courage" when he opened an exhibition marking the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Victoria Cross, at the Waiouru Army Museum today.

Mr Goff was also launching the book In The Face of the Enemy: the Complete History of the Victoria Cross and New Zealand, by Glyn Harper and Colin Richardson. It details the deeds of each of the New Zealanders who have been awarded the VC, as well as the actions of those who were recommended for it but missed out. It also examines the chain of decisions behind each award.

"In celebrating New Zealand's Victoria Cross winners in this, the Year of the Veteran, we need to remember that they were only a fraction of those whose deeds merited receiving the ultimate award for bravery," Mr Goff said.

"Cyril Bassett, who won the VC at Gallipoli, was disappointed to be the only New Zealander to get one during the campaign, 'because hundreds of Victoria Crosses should have been awarded there ... all my mates ever got were wooden crosses'.

"Other New Zealanders who were nominated for the Victoria Cross were quite wrongly not awarded it because unfortunately, as Glyn Harper and Colin Richardson note in their book, awards for bravery can be something of a lottery.

"This is because extreme courage can go unrecognised, or not be fully recognised. This is not a reflection on those who receive the awards; it is a necessary acknowledgement that granting awards for bravery is a complex and difficult process.

"One such example is Haane Manahi, a lance-sergeant in the 28th Maori battalion, was one such case. Manahi displayed outstanding courage and leadership in the North African desert in 1943, leading three men 500 feet up a near-sheer face of a mountain, silencing machine gun posts and capturing 60 prisoners.

"Over the next 30 hours, he won the VC time and again. His citation for the VC was signed by those who witnessed his exploits and supported by the entire chain of command including Generals Alexander, Montgomery, Freyberg and Kippenberger. Yet a nameless person at the War Office countermanded the award and he received a DCM instead.

"We are working with the Manahi family and the Manahi VC Committee to see if his case can be reconsidered; acknowledging, however, that the consistent position of the Palace since 1949 has been not to revisit such decisions."

Mr Goff said both the exhibition and the book showed that New Zealand's Victoria Cross winners did not revel in war, instead seeing it as an awful duty that required them to give their best.

"Charles Upham, the only combatant to have won a VC and bar, was a particular hero of mine from my school days when I read his biography, Mark of the Lion. What impressed me was not just his remarkable courage and skill, but his integrity.

"When he returned home, a grateful Canterbury province raised 10,000 pounds to enable him to buy a farm. He graciously declined the offer, agreeing instead that it should be used to provide scholarships.

"He said 'The military honours bestowed upon me are the property of the men of my unit as well as myself, and were obtained at considerable cost of the blood of this country…under no circumstances could I consent to any material gain for myself for any services…'

"Few words better sum up the humility of Charles Upham and New Zealand's other Victoria Cross winners – ordinary men who showed extraordinary courage," Mr Goff said.


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