Upham won his first VC as a second lieutenant in the 20th Battalion, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force on Crete for actions between 22 and 30 May 1941. At Minqar Qaim in North Africa while in command of a company, he was recommended for his second VC when, on the night of 27 June 1942, he single-handedly attacked a stalled column of German trucks while armed with a sandbag full of hand grenades. At Ruweisat Ridge, he was severely wounded twice on the night of 14–15 July, but he refused evacuation. When the Germans attacked his company for the last time, he led the counterattack, personally destroying a German tank and several guns. He kept going until he passed out from loss of blood.
Captured, Upham spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war (POW), but he received a third VC recommendation for his conduct at Ruweisat Ridge. After his many attempts to escape, the Germans finally sent Upham to Colditz, where he remained until he was freed by American forces in 1945. Even then, he demanded that his rescuers give him an American uniform and a weapon and allow him to accompany them as they pursued the retreating Germans.
Following his repatriation, Upham's two pending VC recommendations were resurrected from the files where they had sat while he was a POW. For whatever reason, the British military could not accept the idea of a soldier with three VCs, so he essentially received the Bar for the Ruweisat Ridge action. After being decorated in London by King George VI, Upham returned to his native New Zealand and became a sheep farmer. For the remainder of his life, he resisted all urging to enter politics or to exploit in any way his status as one of the greatest Allied heroes of World War II. Upham died in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 22 November 1994.
David T. Zabecki
Buzzell, Nora. The Register of the Victoria Cross. London: This England, 1988.; Sandford, Kenneth. Mark of the Lion: The Story of Capt. Charles Upham, VC and Bar. London: Hutchinson, 1962.