Story: Military medals

Page 3. Gallantry and bravery awards

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In 1999 eight New Zealand gallantry and bravery awards replaced more than 20 British awards for which New Zealanders had hitherto been eligible.

In New Zealand, gallantry is defined as enduring great danger during warlike or non-warlike operational service, including peacekeeping, in an admirable and commendable manner. Bravery is defined as saving or attempting to save the life of another person, while putting one’s own life at risk.

There are four gallantry awards for actions by military personnel in a warlike or non-warlike (such as peace-keeping) operational setting. The four bravery awards are chiefly civilian awards, but can be awarded to military personnel when a gallantry award is not suitable. Both categories can be awarded posthumously.

Between 1999 and 2011, 14 gallantry and 26 bravery medals were awarded – 29 to military personnel, nine to civilians and two to members of the New Zealand Police. All the gallantry award recipients have been men (though some names were not made public for security reasons). Three women have received bravery awards.

Victoria Cross for New Zealand

The Victoria Cross for New Zealand, the highest gallantry award available to military or civilian personnel, is awarded for ‘most conspicuous gallantry, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour, self sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy or of belligerents'.1 It replaced the British Victoria Cross in 1999.

Unusual award

During the South African War of 1899–1902, New Zealander Henry Coutts rescued a wounded British sergeant and was exposed to heavy enemy fire. He was presented with one of eight woollen scarves crocheted by Queen Victoria, embroidered with her initials. Some commentators have argued that these scarves are the equivalent of the British Victoria Cross and at least one recipient tried unsuccessfully to have it recognised as such. Coutts’s scarf is held by the National Army Museum.

21 members of the New Zealand armed forces were awarded the British Victoria Cross, between 1864 and 1946. The most famous of these is Charles Upham, who received the award for his actions in Crete in 1941 and Egypt in 1942. He is one of only three people in the world to have received this award twice. In 2007 Corporal Willie Apiata was the first person awarded the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, for courageous action in Afghanistan. In 2012 he remained the only recipient.

The New Zealand Cross (instituted in 1869) was a colonial equivalent of the British Victoria Cross, and could only be awarded to British military personnel or New Zealanders under the command of a British officer at the time. It was awarded to 23 people between 1869 and 1910. This historic gallantry medal is not to be confused with the current New Zealand Cross (the highest bravery award), which was instituted in 1999, replacing the George Cross.

Collectable cross

In September 2011 a rare 19th-century New Zealand Cross was sold at auction in England, fetching $228,000. It was awarded to Thomas Adamson in 1876 ‘for good and gallant services as a scout and guide’2 in Taranaki and the Urewera between 1868 and 1869. In 2011, of the 23 New Zealand Crosses awarded, 14 were held in museums and other institutions throughout the world, two remained with the recipients’ descendants, three (including Adamson’s) were in private collections and a further three were known to have been lost, destroyed and buried. The whereabouts of the cross awarded to Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp) in 1874 is unknown.

Other gallantry medals

The New Zealand Gallantry Star is the second-level gallantry award. It is awarded for ‘acts of outstanding gallantry in situations of danger.’3 This medal replaced the British Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Conduct Medal and the two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. By 2012 two people had received the Gallantry Star.

The New Zealand Gallantry Decoration is the third-level gallantry award. It is awarded for ‘acts of exceptional gallantry in situations of danger’.4 This medal replaced the British Distinguished Service Cross, Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Military Medal, Distinguished Flying Medal and Air Force Medal. By 2012 eight people had received the Gallantry Decoration.

The New Zealand Gallantry Medal is the fourth-level gallantry award. It is awarded for acts of gallantry. This medal replaced the British Mention in Dispatches, the Commendation for Brave Conduct and the Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. By 2012 three people had received the Gallantry Medal.

Bravery medals

Bravery medals are primarily intended for civilians who place themselves at risk while saving or attempting to save the lives of others, but military personnel can also receive these medals when a gallantry award is not appropriate – if, for instance, the action involved saving life in a non-combat situation.

The premier bravery award is the New Zealand Cross. This is followed by the New Zealand Bravery Star, the New Zealand Bravery Decoration and the New Zealand Bravery Medal.

Footnotes:
  1. ‘New Zealand gallantry and bravery awards – the Victoria Cross for New Zealand.’ New Zealand Defence Force, (last accessed 6 January 2012). Back
  2. New Zealand Gazette, 11 May 1876, p. 336. Back
  3. ‘New Zealand gallantry and bravery medals – the New Zealand Gallantry Star.’ New Zealand Defence Force, (last accessed 6 January 2012). Back
  4. ‘New Zealand gallantry and bravery medals – the New Zealand Gallantry Decoration.’ New Zealand Defence Force, (last accessed 6 January 2012). Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Military medals - Gallantry and bravery awards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/military-medals/page-3 (accessed 6 July 2020)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 20 Jun 2012