Apiata to speak at Gate Pa commemoration

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Corporal Willie Apiata, after receiving the VC at an investiture ceremony at Govenment House, Wellington.
Corporal Willie Apiata, after receiving the VC at an investiture ceremony at Govenment House, Wellington.

Highly decorated New Zealand soldier Bill (Willie) Apiata has been confirmed as guest speaker at Tauranga's Battle of Gate Pa 150th commemoration dinner this month.

The dinner will be held the night before the official commemoration events begin on April 29 at Gate Pa.

Lance-Corporal Apiata is the first and only recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC) for New Zealand since it was last awarded to Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron-Leader Leonard Henry Trent.

The Battle of Gate Pa was one of the most significant battles in the Maori Land Wars. Two soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery after the battle.

Project director Buddy Mikaere said: "We are honoured that Willie Apiata is part of our commemoration, as he represents the essence of the soldiers that fought on both sides of the battle."

"The Battle of Gate Pa and the Tauranga fighting of 1864 is significant because it led to the confiscation of Maori land on the Te Papa peninsula, thereby allowing the creation of the city of Tauranga.

"Recent Treaty settlements with Tauranga iwi have gone some way towards redressing this long standing grievance and these commemorations can truly be a time of reconciliation."
Mr Mikaere said by understanding history, Tauranga's community could see how far it had come and could look forward to a future together.

Limited tickets will be available to the commemoration dinner at Trinity Wharf, which also includes a performance by the New Zealand Army Band.

Guests have been invited to wear black tie or period costume in keeping with the 1864 menu.

Attendees will include Maori and Pakeha descendants of those who took part in the battle, government ministers, defence staff, representatives of the United Kingdom Defence Force, senior iwi representatives, mayors and councillors.

Many guests will also take part in the commemoration on April 29, which includes a dawn blessing of new pou and flagpole, full military service at the Mission Cemetery, military march to the Gate Pa Reserve on Cameron Road, massed wero and haka by iwi in response and a service and ceremony at Gate Pa Reserve. The general public are invited to these free events and further information can be found at www.battleofgatepa.com.

Corporal Apiata was part of a New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Troop in Afghanistan in 2004 that was attacked by about 20 enemy fighters while camped for the night in a rural area.

Rocket-propelled grenades destroyed one of the troop's vehicles and immobilised another. Apiata was blown off the bonnet of the vehicle he had been sleeping on, while two other soldiers in or near the vehicle were wounded by shrapnel, one of them seriously.

After finding cover and assessing the soldier's injuries, Apiata carried him across 70 m of exposed ground to reach the troop's main position. He then helped fight off the attackers.

Corporal Apiata received his VC on July 26, 2007 at Government House in Wellington.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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