Last night in Wellington, Lord Ashcroft, the British peer whose NZ$200,000 reward led earlier this year to the successful return of many of New Zealand’s priceless medals for bravery offered a further reward of up to NZ$200,000 for the apprehension and conviction of those who stole them.
Earlier in the day, Lord Ashcroft had visited the Waiouru Army Museum, scene of the theft of the medals: whilst in a police laboratory in Auckland on Monday he was shown the recovered medals themselves, which are undergoing continuing forensic tests.
A total of 96 medals were stolen from the Museum in December. These included no fewer than nine Victoria Crosses, the Commonwealth’s most prestigious military medal. Amongst the VC’s stolen was the incomparable VC and Bar awarded to the late Charles Upham, one of only three VC and Bars ever issued, and the only VC and Bar ever awarded to a fighting soldier.
Lord Ashcroft is the world’s leading collector of Victoria Crosses, having been responsible for building a collection containing more than 10% of all VC’s ever conferred. He regards Charles Upham’s VC and Bar as of supreme importance.
He said, “When I heard that these medals had been stolen, I was shocked. When I then learned that amongst them were no fewer than nine Victoria Crosses, I was simply horrified. Worse still, amongst these medals was the VC and Bar awarded to Captain Charles Upham.”
“Charles Upham’s VC is incomparable. It is the ‘Holy Grail’ of Victoria Crosses. I could not bear to think of this tangible record of incredible bravery being melted down or simply thrown away. I knew that, if I could, I had to do something, and that is why I decided to offer the reward for the return of the medals.”
Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force wrote to thank Lord Ashcroft, “Any theft is distressing, but this was a crime of national significance. It represented a theft of our heritage. It was a callous and belligerent attack against the courage, commitment and honour of the men and women past, present and future who have served our country.”
On Monday, Lord Ashcroft also met Corporal Willie Apiata VC, of New Zealand’s Special Air Service, the only living New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross. Corporal Apiata received the VC for bravery under fire whilst fighting in Afghanistan in 2004.
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