Kiwi civilian war hero John Gregson dies

  • 02/01/2017
John Gregson
John Gregson at a reunion of award recipients (Getty)

A New Zealand recipient of the highest award for civilian bravery has died.

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy has paid tribute to John Gregson, 91,who received the George Cross in 2014 for his actions during World War II.

He died surrounded by family at Tauranga Hospital on December 25.

"Mr Gregson will be remembered for an act of extraordinary courage when he saved the life of a wounded shipmate after their ship SS Deucalian was torpedoed in 1942," Dame Patsy said in a statement on Monday.

"He was one of the few people to receive the George Cross, the highest award for gallantry awarded to civilians."

It's believed there are less than 20 living George Cross recipients worldwide after Mr Gregson's death.

He was presented with the award on August 14, 2014 - exactly 72 years after the rescue took place.

"It was a case of survival. When I came around, most of the people had gone. There was one of the gun crew pinned under a raft with a broken leg. There was one other chap with me who lifted the raft off him to get him over the side," Mr Gregson told Fairfax after the presentation.

"I swam with him. They said I saved his life, but I was saving my own at the time so I don't really take much credit for it."

Mr Gregson was presented with the Albert Medal in 1943. That honour was later replaced by the George Cross.

He is survived by two children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be held on Wednesday.