A New Zealand man awarded the highest award for civilian bravery has died.

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy has paid tribute to John Gregson, 92, who received the Albert Medal, later replaced by the George Cross in 1943 for his actions during World War II.

He died surrounded by family at Tauranga Hospital on December 25.

"Mr Gregson will be remembered for an act of extraordinary courage when he saved the life of a wounded shipmate after their ship SS Deucalian was torpedoed in 1942," Dame Patsy said in a statement yesterday.

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"He was one of the few people to receive the George Cross, the highest award for gallantry awarded to civilians."

It's believed there are fewer than 20 living recipients worldwide after Gregson's death.

Gregson was re-presented with his award on August 14, 2014, exactly 72 years after the rescue took place.

"It was a case of survival. When I came around, most of the people had gone," he said after the presentation.

"There was one of the gun crew pinned under a raft with a broken leg. There was one other chap with me who lifted the raft off him to get him over the side.

"I swam with him. They said I saved his life, but I was saving my own at the time so I don't really take much credit for it."

He is survived by two children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be held tomorrow.

- AAP