Hazlitt Upham, Captain 20th. Bn. New Zealand Expeditionary Force
(Canterbury Regiment), (Double VC Award).
He was born
21 September 1908 at Gloucester Street, Christchurch, South Island,
He died 22 November
1994 aged 86 at a retirement home in Christchurch.
His ashes are
in the family plot at St. Paul's Churchyard, Papanui.
22-30 May 1941
(Second Lieutenant), he displayed outstanding gallantry in close-quarter
fighting, when blown up by two mortar shells and badly wounded.
In spite of this and an attack of dysentry which reduced him to
skeletal appearance, he refused hospital treatment and carried a
wounded man to safety when forced to retire. Eight days later he
beat off an attack at Sphakia, 22 Germans falling to his accurate
15 July 1942.
When leading his company attacking an enemy held ridge overlooking
El Alamein battlefield, he was wounded twice but took the objective
after fierce fighting. He personally destroyed a German tank, several
guns and vehicles with grenades, despite a broken arm. After his
wounds were dressed, he returned to his men but was again severely
wounded and unable to move.
Acknowledged widely as the outstanding solider of the Second World War, Captain Charles Upham is the only combatant solider to receive the Victoria Cross and Bar (awarded to members of the armed forces of the Commonwealth for exceptional bravery). In Crete in May 1941 and the Western Desert in July 1942 Upham distinguished himself with displays of Onerveless competence¹.
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1908 Upham was educated at Christ¹s College and Canterbury Agricultural College at Lincoln. Prior to the war he was a farm manager and then farm valuer before enlisting in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (aged 30) in 1939, quietly citing his reason as a desire to fight for justice.
Courage and Resource He was renowned for combining controlled courage with quick-thinking resourcefulness. While most medals for bravery are awarded for a single act, Upham¹s first citation was for nine days of skill, leadership and evident heroism. In March 1941, he was a Second Lieutenant in the 20th NZ Battalion in Crete. His display of courage included destroying numerous enemy posts, rescuing a wounded man under fire and penetrating deep behind German lines, killing twenty-two German soldiers on the way to leading out an isolated platoon all after being blown over by a mortar shell, painfully wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel and with a bullet in his foot.
The incident that typified Upham¹s deeds was when two German soldiers trapped him alone on the fringes of an olive grove. Upham (on his way to warning other troops that they were being cut off) was watched by his platoon, a helpless distance away on the other side of the clearing, as he was fired on by the German soldiers. With any movement potentially fatal, he feigned dead and with calculated coolness waited for the enemy soldiers to approach. With one arm lame in a sling, he used the crook of a tree to support his rifle and shoot the first assailant, reload with one hand, and shoot the second who was so close as to fall against the barrel of Upham¹s rifle.
Gallantry and Determination Captain Upham's second citation was for his part in the July 1942 attack on Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt, where the New Zealand Division was stranded when promised armoured support never came through. As the Allied forces struggled to hold the line, Upham led his company on what was described as a savage attack on German and Italian strongpoints. Upham himself was responsible for destroying a German tank and several guns and vehicles with hand grenades and, though he was shot through the elbow with a machine gun bullet and had his arm shattered, he went on again to a forward position and brought back some of his men who had become isolated.
He was removed to the regimental aid post, but immediately after his wounds had been dressed he returned to his men. He consolidated and held his position and despite exhaustion, loss of blood and further injuries (as a result of artillery and mortar fire that decimated most of his company) he stayed with the only six remaining members until, now unable to move, he was eventually overrun by the superior weight of the enemy forces and captured.
Typifying his character and nickname OPug¹, he attempted to escape numerous times before being branded "dangerous" by the Germans and incarcerated in the infamous prison fortress Colditz.
On May 11 1945 King George VI pinned an official Victoria Cross onto Charles Upham's uniform. He returned to New Zealand in September 1945 and ceased expeditionary service in November 1945. In April 1946 he was an official member of the New Zealand Victory Contingent.
Modest Hero Epitomising a certain strain of Kiwi modesty, Charles Upham was embarrassed by the accolades he received and attempted to avoid international media attention. When the people of Canterbury collected and offered him 10,000 pounds to purchase a farm in recognition of his gallantry, Upham refused and instead insisted the money be put towards an educational scholarship for children of returned soldiers.
At the conclusion of the war he returned to New Zealand to resume life as a sheep farmer in Hundalee, an isolated area north of Christchurch. It was rumoured that Charlie Upham never allowed a German-made car or machine onto the farm. He died in 1994.
When King George VI enquired to Major-General Kippenberger whether Upham deserved a Bar to the Cross, Kippenberger replied, "In my respectful opinion, sir, Upham has won the VC several times over." The Complete Australian and New Zealand Victoria Cross Reference affirms that "without doubt Upham remains one of the most courageous leaders of any modern conflict". Charles Upham was unassumingly a true edge warrior.