b. 21/09/1908 Christchurch, New Zealand. d. 22/11/1994 Christchurch, New Zealand.
He was only the third person to receive the VC twice, the only person to receive two VCs during the Second World War and the only combat soldier to receive the award twice. Upham was born at 32 Gloucester Street in Central Christchurch on 21 September 1908, the son of John Hazlitt Upham, a lawyer, and his wife, Agatha Mary Coates. He boarded at Waihi School, Winchester, South Canterbury, between 1917 and 1922 and at Christ's College, Christchurch, from 1923-27. He attended Canterbury Agricultural College (presently known as Lincoln University) where he earned a diploma in agriculture in 1930.
He worked first as a sheep farmer, later as manager, and then valuing farms for the New Zealand government. In 1937 he joined the Valuation Department as assistant district valuer in Timaru, and the following year he became engaged to Mary (Molly) Eileen McTamney (a distant relative of Noel Chavasse, VC and Bar). In 1939 he returned to Lincoln to complete a diploma in valuation and farm management.
Upham enlisted in the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) at the age of 30 in September 1939 and was posted to the 20th Canterbury-Otago Battalion, part of the New Zealand Division. Despite the fact that he already had five years experience in New Zealand's Territorial Army, in which he held the rank of sergeant, he signed on as a private. He was soon promoted to temporary lance corporal, but initially declined a place in an Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). In December he was promoted to sergeant and a week later sailed for Egypt. In July 1940 he was finally persuaded to join an OCTU.
In March 1941, Upham's battalion left for Greece and then withdrew to Crete, and it was here that he was wounded in the action, from 22 to 30 May 1941, that gained him his first VC. When informed of the award, his first response was: "It's meant for the men."
Upham was evacuated to Egypt, now promoted to captain. He received a Bar to his VC for his actions on 14–15 July 1942, during the First Battle of El Alamein.
King George VI had invested Upham with his first Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on 11 May 1945. When the recommendation was made for a second VC, the King remarked to Major-General Howard Kippenberger that a bar to the cross would be "very unusual indeed" and enquired firmly, "Does he deserve it?" Kippenberger replied, "In my respectful opinion, sir, Upham won the VC several times over."
With this award, Upham became the third man to be awarded a Bar to the VC. Having been taken prisoner of war (POW), he was sent to an Italian hospital where an Italian doctor recommended his wounded arm be amputated in view of their extremely scarce supplies and ability to prevent or treat gangrene. He refused the operation.
He attempted on four separate occasions to escape, and after the fourth attempt, he was sent to the infamous Oflag IV-C (Colditz) on 14 October 1944. When Colditz Castle was captured by American forces, most of the inmates made their own way home immediately. Upham joined an American unit, was armed and equipped, and wanted to fight the Germans.
Upham was keen to see action again, but was instead sent to Britain where he was reunited with Molly McTamney, who was then serving as a nurse. They were married at New Milton, Hampshire, on 20 June 1945. He returned to New Zealand in early September, and she followed him in December.
Upham was also mentioned in despatches on 14 November 1946. After the war Upham returned to New Zealand, and the community raised £10,000 to buy him a farm. However, he declined and the money went into the C. H. Upham Scholarship for children of ex-servicemen to study at Lincoln College or the University of Canterbury.
He obtained a war rehabilitation loan and bought a farm on Conway Flat, Hundalee, North Canterbury. It is said that for the remainder of his life, Upham would allow no German manufactured machinery or car onto his property.
Although somewhat hampered by his injuries, he became a successful farmer and served on the board of governors of Christ’s College for nearly 20 years. He and Molly had three daughters, and lived on their farm until January 1994, when Upham's poor health forced them to retire to Christchurch.
He died in Canterbury on 22 November 1994, surrounded by his wife and daughters. His funeral in the now-destroyed Christchurch Cathedral was conducted with full military honours. The streets of Christchurch were lined by over 5,000 people. Upham is buried in the graveyard of St Paul's Church Papanui. His death was also marked by a memorial service on 5 May 1995 in London's St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. His medals were sold by his daughters to the Imperial War Museum for an undisclosed sum. However, as New Zealand legislation prohibits the export of such historic items, the Imperial War Museum agreed to a permanent loan of the medals to the Waiouru Army Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: QEII ARMY MEMORIAL MUSEUM, WAIOURU, NEW ZEALAND.
BURIAL PLACE: ST PAULS CHURCH, PAPANUI, NEW ZEALAND.
Statue in Amberley, Christchurch, New Zealand
Union Jack Club
Army Memorial Museum