Medals expert and a custodian of the Army Museum at Waiouru, Ian Topham, with the group belonging to Captain Charles Upham VC and Bar.
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
The awarding of the Victoria Cross of New Zealand is affecting New Zealanders deeply, says Ian Topham, the man with the privilege of mounting the medal group for Corporal Willie Apiata VC.
Cpl Apiata’s medals will be mounted following the formal investiture at Government House tomorrow (Thursday 26 July 2007).
Ian Topham is one of the three custodians of the Army Museum at Waiouru. He has been mounting medals for 30 years and is experienced in the medal collection world.
The Victoria Cross is the elite of medals, explains Ian.
He says his job to work with the first Victoria Cross for New Zealand could never be eclipsed – it is also his highest professional honour.
“That’s the top of the tree – you don’t do anymore than that,” he smiles.
Ian explains that this is the first time the Victoria Cross of New Zealand has ever been presented. As such, it is one of the most exclusive medals in the world today.
New Zealanders are keen to see this new medal, but Ian says there is no visual or physical difference between this new award and former Victoria Cross medals.
The real difference is in the Warrant signed by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, which states this award is the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, purely a New Zealand award – against the former Victoria Cross being an award bestowed by the United Kingdom.
The Army Museum’s phones started ringing within a short time of the first public announcement of the Victoria Cross of New Zealand by Prime Minister Helen Clark on Monday, 2 July 2007.
“People just want to know more about it and what it means. Children are asking because their mums and dads are asking. Medals are awarded all the time but we don’t hear a lot about what they are.”
“In military circles, the Victoria Cross is the most prestigious award any person can receive. But winning one is something you don’t set out to do,” Ian says.
“It’s something bestowed upon you by others, people who witness what you have done.”
Other awards that recognise a sporting or musical career for example, are earned following peoples’ passions and flair for something, informed choices and years of effort achieving skill and recognition in professional arenas.
The heroic actions that lead to the awarding of a Victoria Cross is an honour that cannot be planned in advance.
The circumstances surrounding the actions that expose such gritty humanity are literally a drop in the ocean of time. It’s the recognition of unreserved unselfishness and bravery in that split second life threatening moment. Those actions are beyond conscious thought.
They are actions from the heart and soul and for the total disregard for one’s own safety and survival. Deeds defying reasonable thought and wrenched from gut instinct.
Men and women who get gallantry awards do not actively seek ways to earn them. They find themselves away from their loved ones and families, away from comfort zones and hell is being unleashed all around.
The Victoria Cross bestows hero status, Ian explains.
“The Victoria Cross itself is a piece of bronze metal, not even precious as metal values go. It’s only the perception and attachments of higher feelings which people assign to the Victoria Cross that make it incredibly special.
“It’s like touching the seat of power – you really are touching a hero. You just don’t do that these days.
“People will be spellbound by the magic surrounding this honour and such honours still have immense value and ring true with people of all ages, even today, Ian says.
“They will imagine this man to be larger than life, a true archetype with the sun shining behind him and all the rest of it.
“We know that life isn’t like that but that’s what people will perceive.”
Assistant Editor Army News