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Politics

Private David Stewart’s bravery warrants medal ‘upgrade’ - Act Defence spokesperson

Act has added its voice to a longstanding campaign to “upgrade” Private David Whawhai Stewart’s New Zealand Bravery Medal for his heroics during an alpine training exercise on Mt Ruapehu in August 1990, which cost his life and that of five other military personnel.

Private Stewart was awarded the medal posthumously in 1999 for his courage and selflessness caring for his colleagues during appalling blizzard conditions, with the New Zealand Army later naming a building after him at Linton Military Camp in August 2022.

“David’s actions on Mount Ruapehu resulted in the loss of his life and the reason he died was because of selfless, courageous actions in keeping others alive. He gave up some of his equipment, he was in and out of his sleeping bag during a ferocious storm where people were dying around him. He kept people alive by getting the ice, snow off their chests and at the end of the day it cost him his life,” Retired Sergeant Major Bob Davies told Te Ao Māori News in April 2021.

Retired Colonel Bernard Isherwood, together with Davies, had been pushing for more than 30 years to have Private Stewart recognised with the New Zealand Cross. However, last year then Prime Minister Chris Hipkins declined the request on the basis that the decision was best made with the information available at the time, which Defence Minister Andrew Little also backed.

Now Act Defence spokesperson Mark Cameron has renewed the call, issuing a statement on Friday that he has written to new Defence Minister Judith Collins requesting that she consider a review.

“In 1999 Private Stewart was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal, the lowest rank of bravery awards in New Zealand, “for acts of bravery”. In our view, and that of many others, Private Stewart’s actions on that night warrant an upgrade to his award, such as the New Zealand Cross ‘for acts of great bravery in situations of extreme danger.’”

Cameron said, despite suggestions otherwise, there is ample precedent and evidence on which to base a decision to upgrade Private Stewart‘s medal.

“The previous Minister of Defence Hon Andrew Little declined to review the award as he was of the view that decisions about these awards should be made at the time when all relevant information was available.

“However the New Zealand Bravery Medal was awarded to Private Stewart in 1999, nine years after the tragedy, which shows a precedent for awarding medals in the years following events. There was also a military Court of Inquiry into the incident which documents exactly what occurred, providing clear evidence from which to make the decision,” Cameron said.