Awarded both the Victoria Cross and Bar, Charles Upham was well acknowledged for his “exceptional bravery and courage.”
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1908 Upham was educated at Christ’s College and Canterbury Agricultural College at Lincoln. Before 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 giving his desire to fight for justice as his reason. He was well known for using his controlled courage and quick-thinking resourcefulness together in combat. Upham was awarded his medals for nine days of skill, leadership and evident heroism, rather than most winners of the Victoria Cross who are awarded for a single act. In March 1941, he was a Second Lieutenant in the 20th NZ Battalion in Crete. His magnificent display of courage included such high skill tasks as, destroying enemy posts, rescuing a wounded man whilst under enemy fire and helping to penetrate deep behind German lines. Not only did he manage this under fire, but managed to complete his tasks while suffering a shrapnel wound in the shoulder and a bullet in his right foot. The most impressive act in which typified Upham’s deeds, was when two German soldiers managed to trap him alone in an olive grove. This occurred while he was on his way to warn other troops that they were about to be cut off. While his platoon watched a helpless distance away, the two German soldiers fired at him. With amazing courage and coolness he feigned dead and waited for the enemy troops to approach him. Upham, who had his arm in a sling, use a tree as a support for his rifle and shot the first soldier before killing the second who was only metres away. Charles Upham’s second citation was for his part in the July 1942 attack on Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt, where his division was stranded after armoured support never arrived. Upham and his company then eased the allies struggle, who were battling to hold the line, and attacked the German and Italian strong points, an act which has been described as savage. Upham was alone responsible for destroying not only several guns and vehicles, but managed to put a German tank out of service while again forward position and saving his wounded men’s lives. Eventually Upham agreed to be removed to the regimental aid post but immediately returned to his men after all his wounds were properly dressed. After most of his company were slaughtered by mortar and artillery fire, Upham and his six remaining members held their position, until most of them unable to move through injuries, were overrun and captured by the enemy forces. Charles Upham was typical to his nickname, “Pug”, several times he attempted to escape before eventually being branded “dangerous” by the Germans and held in the prison, Fortress Colditz.
May 11th 1945, King George VI pinned the Victoria Cross to proud Upham’s uniform. In September that year he returned to New Zealand, in April that year he was again awarded by being given full membership of the New Zealand Victory Contingent. Upham was embarrassed by the attention to his bravery and attempted to steer well clear of the media. He was even awarded £10,000 by the people of his home town, rather than purchase a farm like they wanted, Upham decided to donate the money towards education for the children of returned soldiers. After the war he returned to his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he resumed life as a sheep farmer. It is rumoured that he would never let German machinery or tools to be used on his farm. He spent his last days doing what he was brought up to do, before he died in 1994.
King George VI once asked Major-General Kippenberger whether Upham should be awarded a Bar to his Victoria Cross, Kippenberger simply replied
“In my respectful opinion, sir. Upham has won the Victoria Cross several times over”