Captain Charles Upham with Ford V8 car
Captain Charles Hazlitt Upham, Charlie to those who knew him, is unique in the annals of the British Empire. He is the only combat soldier to ever win two Victoria Crosses, the highest award for gallantry in the British Army. A sheep musterer in the high country of New Zealand’s Southern Alps before the war, Charlie was a man of contrasts. He had his rough edges, swearing with the best, but also a Diploma in Farm Management and was a qualified Valuer. When war came, he was one of the first to enlist, determined to halt the Nazi menace as quickly as possible so that he could return and settle on his own farm. By the time the New Zealand Division went into battle, he’d been promoted to Second Lieutenant, despite frequent clashes with the instructors over tactics. On his way back from the course, he picked up his batman, ‘Leggy’ Le Gros an expert on the mysteries of horse racing and shady deals, but loyal and as rough and ready as his master. Upham won his first VC on Crete in May 1941. There over a period of a week, despite sickness and wounds, he led his men again and again into the attack. He was always at the front, leading the way, tackling machine-gun nests single-handedly or with his Sergeant, Kirk, armed with as many hand grenades as he could find, looking out for his men and shepherding them to safety. Charles Upham hated being in the limelight. He had to be ordered to wear the ribbon of his VC on his uniform and hated people bringing attention to it. He was very worried that he might be sent back to New Zealand for a publicity tour and fought as hard to stay with his men as he had against the Germans. Upham won his second VC twice over as a Captain commanding C Company, 20th Battalion. At Minqar Qaim outside Mersa Matruh he was in the forefront of the midnight charge that saved the New Zealand Division, and then again at Ruweisat Ridge in the Alamein line he led his company into the teeth of the German defences, fighting on with a shattered elbow until he and his men were finally surrounded and captured, Upham unable to walk from a leg wound. Upham’s capture wasn’t the end though. He was a bold and persistent escaper and eventually ended up in Colditz, the camp reserved for the most difficult prisoners. Even when liberated, he still wanted to fight, joining an American unit for a few days until ordered back to England.