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Charles Hazlitt Upham

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Boyer, Charles Percy Samuel (1945). V.C. Recipients of the First and Second World Wars. Group portrait of eleven of New Zealand Victoria Cross recipients from the First and Second World War on the steps of Parliament in Wellington. Front row left to right: John Hinton, Keith Elliott, Charles Hazlitt Upham, Alfred Clive Hulme, Samuel Frickleton, John Gildroy Grant. Back row, left to right: Leslie Wilton Andrew, Reginald Stanley Judson, James D. Crichton, Henry (Harry) John Laurent, Cyril Royston Bassett. The photograph is mounted on card and has been autographed by the men below the photograph in order of as they are placed. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-1956-1. Permission to reproduce this image should be sought from Auckland War Memorial Museum and the copyright holder where applicable.
Boyer, Charles Percy Samuel (1945). V.C. Recipients of the F … Read more

Identity

  • Title
  • Forenames
    Charles Hazlitt AWMM
  • Surname
    Upham AWMM
  • Ingoa
  • Also known as
    Charlie AWMM
  • Service number
    8077 AWMM
  • Gender
    Male AWMM
  • Iwi
  • Hapū
  • Waka
  • Rohe
  • Religion

Civilian life

About birth

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  • Birth
    21 September 1908 AWMM ChristchurchCanterbury AWMM
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Birth notes
  • Address before enlistment
    Pre 18 September 1939 AWMM Lincoln College, Lincoln, New Zealand AWMM
  • Post war occupation
  • Next of kin on embarkation
    • Mr J.H. Upham (father), 32 Gloucester Street, Christchurch, C. 1, New Zealand AWMM
    • Mrs M.E. Upham (wife), 32 Gloucester Street, Christchurch, C. 1, New Zealand AWMM
  • Relationship status

Service

Wars and conflicts

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  • War
  • Campaign
    • Greece AWMM
    • 1941 AWMM
      World War 2/wars AWMM
      Crete AWMM
    • North Africa AWMM
    • Minqar Qaim AWMM
    • Ruweisat Ridge AWMM
  • Armed force / branch
    Army AWMM
  • Service number
    8077 AWMM
  • Military service
    Territorials 5 years AWMM
  • Promotions/ Postings/ Transfers

Military decorations

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  • Medals and Awards
    • Victoria Cross and bar (VC*) AWMM
      VC. New Zealand Gazette 1941 No. 80 p. 1142. VC: Gazetted 14 October 1941, citation: "Between 22 and 30 May 1941 in Crete, Second Lieutenant Upham display oustanding leadership and courage in the very close-quarter fighting. He was blown up by one mortar shell and badly wounded by another. He was also wounded in the foot, but in spite of his wounds and a severe attack of dystentery, he refuse to to go hospital. He carried a wounded man back to safety when his company was forced to retire on 22 May and on 30 May he beat off an attack at Sphakia, 22 German falling to his short-range fire." - Register of the Victoria Cross, p. 319. VC bar: Gazetted 26 September 1945, citation: "On 14/15 July 1942 at El Ruweisat Ridge, Western Desert, Captain Upham, in spite of being twice wounded, insisted on remaining with his men. Just before dawn he led his company in a determined attack, capturing the objective after fierce fighting; he himself destroyed a German tank and several guns and vehicles with hand grenades. Although his arm had been broken by a machine-gun bullet, he continued to dominate the situation and when at last, weak from loss of blood, he had his wounds dressed, he immediately returned to his men, remaining with them until he was again severely wounded and unable to move." - Register of the Victoria Cross, p. 319. AWMM
    • 1939-1945 Star AWMM
    • Defence Medal AWMM
    • War Medal 1939-1945 with oak leaf AWMM
    • New Zealand War Service Medal AWMM
    • Coronation Medal 1953 AWMM
    • New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal AWMM

Training and Enlistment

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Prisoner of war

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  • Capture details
    • WW2 POW - Mersa Matruh, North Africa AWMM
      Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt AWMM
      15 Jul 1942-15 April 1945 AWMM
    • POW - Modena, Italy AWMM
      Western Desert, North Africa AWMM
    • POW - Stalag VIII-B (later 344), Lamsdorf, Germany AWMM
    • POW - Oflag VA, Weinsberg Germany AWMM
    • WW2 POW - Oflag IV C, Colditz Castle, Germany AWMM
      1944 AWMM
    • WW2
      17 July 1942 AWMM
    • WW2 POW - Oflag 5A, Weinberg (Wurtemburg), Germany 2NZEF, Germany and German occupied territories : imperial prisoners of war alphabetical list : section 4. N.Z. 1945.
      Germany, Europe 2NZEF, Germany and German occupied territories : imperial prisoners of war alphabetical list : section 4. N.Z. 1945.
  • Days interned
  • Liberation date
  • Liberation Repatriation
    WW2 15 April 1945 AWMM
  • POW liberation details
  • POW serial number
    WWII 28487 AWMM

Medical history

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  • Medical notes
    • Hospital Diseases , Wounds, WWII AWMM
      Wounded 22 May 1941 in shoulder by enemy mortar fire, Crete. AWMM
    • Hospital Diseases , Wounds, WWII AWMM
      Wounded 25 May 1941 in foot by enemy bullet, Crete. AWMM
    • Hospital Diseases , Wounds, WWII AWMM
      Wounded 27 June 1942 in both arms by his own grenades, Minqar Qaim. AWMM
    • Hospital Diseases , Wounds, WWII AWMM
      Wounded twice 14-15 July 1942 in arm and leg by enemy fire, Ruweisat Ridge. AWMM
    • Died of Disease, Cause of Death AWMM
      Emphysema AWMM

Last known rank

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Biographical information

Biographical information

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  • Charles Upham was the son of John Hazlitt Upham, a lawyer, and his wife Agatha Mary Upham (nee Coates). He was the second of four children.

    Attended Waihi School in South Canterbury and at Christs College in Christchurch.

    He enrolled for a Diploma of Agriculture at Canterbury Agricultural College; now Lincoln University, graduating in 1930. He then worked as a Canterbury high country farm manager and musterer for six years before becoming a farm valuer. Having joined the Government Valuation Department he was attending a course in land valuation and farm management at Lincoln College when war was declared and he enlisted immediately.

    Upham was 30 years old, and engaged, when he joined the 20th Battalion at Burnham camp under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Howard Kippenberger. While training in New Zealand, Upham was promoted to Lance Corporal, then Sergeant and in December 1939 embarked for Egypt with the 1st Echelon.

    In Egypt Upham was selected for the Officer Cadet Training Unit where his rejection of what he thought were outdated and obsolete ideas meant he graduated bottom of his class! Being bottom of the officer list meant that Kippenberger could get his former NCO, now Second Lieutenant Upham, returned to the 20th Battalion where he took command of the West Coasters.

    In early 1941, after a confused withdrawal of Allied soldiers from mainland Greece, some New Zealand Division units were taken to the island of Crete, Upham included. General Freyberg, Commander of the New Zealand Division, was ordered to defend Crete but his soldiers were inadequately armed. Upham played a major part in a number of fierce battles on Crete, including one battle during which he wiped out a group of German attackers threatening the evacuation of his fellow Kiwi soldiers. Despite the bravery of soldiers such as Upham, Crete was lost to the better-equipped Germans. Upham returned from Crete a walking skeleton due to dysentery and spent time in hospital recovering from the rigours of the campaign. Kippenberger meanwhile had recommended Upham for the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on Crete. Upham was genuinely distressed to be singled out for the award, believing that many others deserved it more than he did. Only by seeing it as a recognition of the bravery and service of his unit could Upham cope with the award and the unwanted fame that went with it.

    In 1942 Upham was sent to Minqar Qaim in command of C Company. Under heavy German fire he continually encouraged his men and the Germans were beaten back without the Kiwis conceding any positions to the enemy. At one point they had been surrounded by the enemy, but Upham led a daring night time charge, hurling grenades and firing his pistol to break through the enemy encirclement. Kiwi casualties were light but the German Panzer Grenadier 1st Battalion was cut to pieces.

    Despite small victories such as this, the Allied High Command began preparations to withdraw entirely from North Africa. The British 8th Army retreated to a final defensive position at El Alamein, Egypt. The New Zealand Division was ordered to capture Ruweisat Ridge, a small rise on an otherwise featureless landscape. After a confused battle, Upham decided to reconnoiter the position and stumbled directly into the enemy. After reporting back that the Kiwis had actually captured the ridge, Upham returned to his company to lead it in a frontal assault on the German positions. The company took heavy casualties, Upham among them, his left elbow being smashed by a machine-gun bullet. Upham refused to leave his men and was later hit in the leg by shrapnel, immobilising him. Along with 1000 other New Zealanders, Upham was taken prisoner during a German counter-attack on 15 July 1942.

    Upham was sent to a makeshift hospital at Mersa Matruh, where he narrowly escaped having his arm amputated. He was then shipped to a POW camp at Modena in Italy. When Italy capitulated, the Germans rounded up the POWs, including Upham, and sent them north to Germany. Upham began to cause trouble for his captors, first attempting to escape by sawing through the floor of a truck with a sharpened kitchen knife. When this failed, he simply threw himself off the truck and ran for it. He was shortly recaptured and interned at the Weinsberg, Oflag VA Camp.

    In Germany, Upham plagued his captors by taking every opportunity to escape, whether it be by tunnelling under or climbing over fences. The German guards even took a photo of Upham lighting a cigarette in a tangle of wire after one abortive escape attempt. The Germans used this evidence to have Upham shifted to the "escape-proof" Colditz Castle. While en route to Colditz, Upham flung himself from the speeding train and managed to avoid capture for twelve hours. The only New Zealand Division combatant to be sent to Colditz, Upham found life there more than frustrating, having to give up the idea of escaping as the POWs' Escape Committee refused to approve any ideas.

    When the Americans arrived at Colditz on 15 April 1945, Upham was eager to rejoin the fight, but an order soon came through forbidding freed POWs to return to active service. Instead, he was sent to the UK, where he was reunited with his fiancee, Molly McTamney, who was serving as a nurse. In May, he attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace, where he finally received his first Victoria Cross from King George VI. On 20 June, Upham and McTamney were married at New Milton, Hampshire. They returned to New Zealand shortly thereafter.

    In September 1945, Upham received word that he had been awarded a second Victoria Cross for his actions at Minqar Qaim and Ruweisat Ridge. Recommendations had been written out for two additional Victoria Crosses, but these had been combined into one award for Upham's extraordinary deeds in the Western Desert campaigns. He was only the third person ever to receive the Victoria Cross twice, and the very first combatant to do so.

    Typically humble and shunning any celebrity status, Upham returned to civilian life as a farmer. He never acknowledged his hero status and always said that the soldiers under his command were the real heroes. He and his wife Molly raised three daughters and eventually retired to Christchurch in 1994. He died later that same year. Thousands of New Zealanders came to see his funeral procession and to pay their last respects to a great New Zealander.

    His medals are held by the National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand.

    Upham is related through his maternal side to Captain Noel Chavasse (VC and Bar, WW1) AWMM
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Death

About death

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  • Death
    22 November 1994 AWMM
    Age 86 AWMM
    ChristchurchCanterbury AWMM
  • Date of death
  • Age at death
  • Place of death
  • Cause of death
  • Death notes
  • Cemetery
    St Paul's, Riccarton, Christchurch, New Zealand AWMM
  • Cemetery name
  • Grave reference
  • Obituary
    Obituary: The New Zealand Herald, 23 November 1994

    Obituary: The Press, 23 November 1994 AWMM
  • Memorial name
  • Memorial reference

Memorials

Memorial

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  • Memorial name
    Dunedin Cenotaph, Queens Gardens, Dunedin, New Zealand AWMM

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  • So I was assigned to the US Antarctic Program and always wanted to meet Charlie, as he lived in Christchurch. The morning I arrived, Saturday, December 1, 1994, I kept my promise to the local stamp club, and staggered into the youth stamp club meeting, racked with jet lag, and helped the kids' meeting. They were amazed by my US accent.

    Then the bigshots took me to lunch, and I said, "I want to meet Charles Upham." Their faces fell. He had died seven days before. Just missed. I met his widow at a V-E Day event, which was quite a thrill.

    Charlie Upham defined New Zealand at its very best -- courageous, determined, hard-working, resilient, humble, relaxed. He remains a role model for the entire British Commonwealth as well as his home country. He would not admit it, but he is a hero in every way, more so than an athlete.

    My daughter defined him in a school project: a true "bad-ass."
    Public - Dave - Researcher - 17 January 2019
  • I am an ex-patriot Kiwi now living in England. I have admired this incredible New Zealander since my school days growing up in New Zealand. I attended Nelson College and I was in the same class as one of his nephews whose surname was Rawlinson. I have read his book Mark of a Lion and recently, I returned to renew my studies about this remarkable bloke. I am an ex-seviceman who flew for nearly 6 years in the RNZAF before transferring to the RAF where I served for 20 years. I saw active service in Borneo and Vietnam with the RNZAF. I am in awe at the bravery of Charles Upham and his complete disregard for his own safety whilst trying to protect the men under his command and have the ability to so effectively destroy his foes under fire. I remain a very proud Kiwi and I revere the memory of this amazing New Zealand soldier.
    Public - Graeme - 12 March 2018
  • CANTER
    Trenchant Charlie his"handle pins" of arm
    Blasting all wary a fragment for darn;Minqar Qaim owns harm!
    The battle of Crete "mens" victories VC
    Mortar my shoulder,bullet afoot sickly.
    El Alamein of "bravery" battle a bar
    Crosses an honour Ruweisat Ridge a scar.
    Advancing Maleme,surges my 20th Battalion
    Strongly as kiwi,three thousand a yard gunners we pen!
    Galatas countering halts enemy we fend.
    Resting a fork I will fool a guy
    My barrel a branch,yielding two they die.
    I will company the Americans toward wars end
    Only back to Britain,Molly a wife a friend
    Now closely my daughters;short a breath Christchurch I end!

    Copyright:N.J.Deller 23/4/17 "Soldier on Hazlitt Upham smile a song"
    Public - Nathan John - 18 August 2017
  • brave and great man not forgeting his men and always even when severley wounded he always was there to help. Shame there are not more New Zealanders like him.
    Public - luke - 31 May 2015

Sources

Sources

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  • External links
  • Documents
    • Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. (1941). Nominal Roll Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force No. 1 (Embarkations to 31st March, 1940). Wellington, N.Z.: Govt. Printer. AWMM
      WW2 1: WW2 186 AWMM
    • Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. (1950). Nominal Roll Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force No. 16 (Embarkations from 1st January, 1946 to 30th June, 1948). Wellington, N.Z.: Govt. Printer. AWMM
      WW2 16: WW2 136 AWMM
    • The New Zealand Herald AWMM
      Obituary: The New Zealand Herald, 23 November 1994 AWMM
    • The Christchurch Press AWMM
      Obituary: The Press, 23 November 1994 AWMM
    • Cemetery Register: St Paul's, Riccarton, Christchurch, New Zealand AWMM
    • Armoury Cenotaph File AWMM
    • List of 2NZEF Prisoners of War. 1941-1945. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS 2009/8. AWMM
    • Great Britain Army. (1945). Germany and German occupied territories : imperial prisoners of war alphabetical list : section 4. London, U.K.: Government Printer. AWMM

Contributors

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DateNameLocationRelationshipContact
12 March 2018Graeme Felbridge East Grinstead West Sussex EnglandOther
31 May 2015lukeAucklandOther