New Zealand: Black market exists for stolen Victoria Cross medals

December 05, 2007

ONE of New Zealand’s leading experts on the lives of its Victoria Cross-winning soldiers has warned there is a black market ready to receive a haul of nine VCs stolen from a museum south of Auckland.

Glyn Harper, the director of the Centre for Defence Studies at Massey University, said markets did exist for stolen medals.

“There are people whose life revolves around collecting these things and they do come up for auction,” he said.

“These medals, however, will never be sold publicly. There is still a black market.”

The world’s biggest collector of VCs, English lord Michael Ashcroft, has offered a $NZ200,000 ($174,500) reward for the return of the medals as police begin to interview every resident of the army town of Waiouru, where the stolen medals were housed.

Lord Ashcroft – who has 140 VCs in his collection – estimated the prize medal among those stolen, the Captain Charles Upham cross and bar, was worth about $2.5million, with the other VCs worth more than $5million.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has speculated the four-minute theft on Sunday morning was a professional operation to fill an order.

She said the theft had been “surgically executed”.

Australian War Memorial heraldry curator Nick Fletcher, who is responsible for Australia’s national collection of 61 VCs, said the Upham VC was one of only three in existence with a bar, which means the medal has been awarded twice.

He said it was particularly noteworthy because the other two were awarded to medics and Captain Upham was the only fighting soldier to receive the bravery award twice.

Captain Upham was awarded his first VC in 1941 and his second in 1942. Lord Ashcroft described it during a radio interview yesterday as the “Holy Grail” of Victoria Crosses.

The thieves stole as many as 100 medals during the raid.

Police, who were yesterday still inspecting security camera footage, said they planned to interview all 500 residents of Waiouru. Interpol and the country’s border security agencies have been alerted.

Mr Fletcher said the thefts had put medal collectors on guard about the security of their collections.

Victoria Crosses rarely surface at auction in Australia. Two VCs auctioned last year, including the final VC from Gallipoli which was purchased by Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes for about $1.2million and donated to the Australian War Memorial.

Additional reporting: NZPA

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