The people who so relentlessly ran the campaign for a Victoria Cross for Haane Manahi, a Maori Battalion sergeant, never had a ghost's chance of succeeding. And it's as well that they didn't.

Had the Queen, through her advisers, acceded to the tedious pleadings on Manahi's behalf, it's not hard to imagine a flood of similar claims.

Throughout the Commonwealth, families and supporters of other brave men who were denied a Victoria Cross in World War II, for whatever reason, would have been sharpening their pencils and writing submissions for late awards. If it's good enough for Manahi, it's good enough for our man, they would have said - with complete justification.

Buckingham Palace had the perfect answer to the Manahi problem. A cutoff point of 1949 for the Victoria Cross and other World War II decorations was declared by the Queen's father, King George VI. A line had to be drawn at that stage and it was.

Manahi was a splendid soldier and clearly fought ferociously and valiantly on the heights of Takrouna, Tunisia, in April 1943.

As a result of his actions he was recommended for a Victoria Cross. The recommendation was eventually turned down and instead he was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, a decoration certainly not a VC but superior to the Military Medal - a recognition of distinguished conduct on the ground and bearing its own honourable cachet.

Manahi's family and supporters say no reason was given for turning down the VC and claimed an injustice had been done. An injustice? The DCM was something to be hugely proud of.

One knowledgeable source who has seen the relevant papers says the recommendation for the VC was endorsed all the way up the chain of command but believes it was General Freyberg, the New Zealand division commander and himself a VC winner, who finally wrote "No".

Another source strongly disputes that and says it was an unnamed War Office official who had a snitch on colonials who rejected the supreme award for Manahi.

Manahi, killed in a car crash in 1986, never complained about not winning the Victoria Cross. The campaigning began after his death.

It reached a crescendo in recent years and lawyer Donna Hall took the case to the Waitangi Tribunal, which suggested earlier this year that the Crown and Manahi VC Committee make a formal submission to the Queen.

The tribunal had no business getting involved at all - the award of a Victoria Cross has got absolutely nothing to do with it - but the support of Prime Minister Helen Clark and Defence Minister Phil Goff set the wheels in motion.

One suspects the Government bowed to immense Maori pressure. It had to be seen to be doing something.

As well as the DCM, Manahi is honoured with a lengthy entry in Volume 5 of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Readers will search in vain for entries for Pilot Officer Frank Watkins, Lt Commander Archibald Richardson and Warrant Officer John Horan, New Zealand airmen also recommended for the VC in World War II.

(As a matter of interest, they will also not find in this politically correct and deficient dictionary an entry for Lloyd Trigg, who did win a VC for attacking and sinking a submarine off the west coast of Africa in 1943 and losing his life in the process, with his entire crew, four of them fellow New Zealanders).

Watkins, a young RNZAF pilot from Ruawai in Northland, had ample time to parachute from his doomed Wellington over Duisburg in the Ruhr in December 1942. But he stayed and made a forlorn attempt to crash-land the aircraft because his severely-wounded bomb aimer could not jump. Both men died.

Richardson, an Aucklander, was a Fleet Air Arm pilot commanding a carrier-based squadron of Grumman Hellcats when he lost his life diving into an appalling flak barrage over the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian Fiord in August 1944. His aircraft blew up, the remnants smashing into the ship's bridge.

Horan, born in Onehunga, was the gunner on an air-sea rescue Sea Otter attacked by Japanese fighters just off the Burmese coast in January 1945. His left hand was blown off in the initial onslaught but despite this and further serious wounds he hugged the gun to his chest and continued firing until losing consciousness. He was dead when the pilot beached the crippled aircraft a short time later.

The three men were recommended for posthumous awards, and in the cases of Watkins and Richardson at least, went right up the command chain, but the VC was refused by higher authority. All three received Mentions in Despatches - the only other possible posthumous recognition.

In Britain the Air Gunners Association appealed to the Queen in 1954 for a Victoria Cross for Horan - without success.

The names of these three airmen are virtually unknown in New Zealand today, though they deserve to be honoured as much as Manahi and many other brave men.

Richardson's body was never found and he is commemorated on the Royal New Zealand Navy Memorial at Devonport. Watkins is buried in a Commonwealth war graves cemetery in Germany and Horan in a similar cemetery in Burma.

There has never been any bleating by their families over the fact the airmen did not win a Victoria Cross. Watkins, one of a large family, was unmarried, but Horan left a widow, and young son that he never saw, in England. Richardson also had an English wife.

The Government said this month the Queen could not grant Manahi a VC but there would be a letter from Her Majesty acknowledging the soldier's bravery.

There will also be an altar cloth for a church near where he is buried in Rotorua, and a sword.

The Sunday Star-Times said on October 7 that the Queen's decision meant that Manahi's bravery had finally been recognised. What foolishness. Manahi's undoubted bravery was recognised 60-odd years ago by the award of a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Perhaps he was unlucky that the medal wasn't a Victoria Cross. But so were lots of other men from all three services, not just those whose cases are mentioned here.

Why all the fuss about Manahi? Was his claim worthier than the other 20 New Zealanders the Returned Services Association says were recommended for a VC?

Te Arawa spokesman John Marsh was quoted as saying his people were pleased with the outcome of the submission to Buckingham Palace.

It's time the matter was closed.

* Wellington journalist Max Lambert is the author of Night After Night - New Zealanders in Bomber Command.