Old white man of the day

A series on great men, and especially at this time, would not be complete without honouring Charles Upham VC and Bar.

What better man to end our ANZAC week series with than a Kiwi who was the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of World War Two??Quote:

Acknowledged widely as the outstanding soldier of the Second World War, Captain Charles Upham remains the only combatant soldier to have received the Victoria Cross and Bar (awarded to members of the armed forces of the Commonwealth for exceptional bravery). In Crete in May 1941, and the Western Desert in July 1942, Upham distinguished himself with displays of ?nerveless competence?.? [The other two VC and Bar recipients were medics who risked their lives while rescuing the wounded, under fire, in the Boer and First World wars.]

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1908 Upham was educated at Christ?s College and Canterbury Agricultural College, Lincoln. He was a farm manager and then farm valuer before enlisting in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (aged 30) in 1939, quietly citing his reason as a desire to fight for justice.

Upham was renowned for combining controlled courage with quick-thinking resourcefulness. While most medals for bravery are awarded for a single act, Upham?s first citation was for nine days of skill, leadership and evident heroism. In March 1941, he was a Second Lieutenant in the 20th NZ Battalion in Crete. His display of courage included: destroying numerous enemy posts; rescuing a wounded man under fire; penetrating deep behind enemy lines and killing twenty-two German soldiers on the way to leading out an isolated platoon. This was all after being blown over by a mortar shell, and with a shrapnel wound in his shoulder and a bullet in his foot.

The incident that exemplified Upham?s courage was when two German soldiers trapped him alone on the fringes of an olive grove. Upham (on his way to warning other troops that they were being cut off) was watched by his helpless platoon, who were some distance away as he was fired on by the Germans. With any movement potentially fatal, he feigned death and with calculated coolness waited for the enemy soldiers to approach. With one arm lame in a sling, he used the crook of a tree to support his rifle and shoot the first assailant, then reloaded with one hand, and shot the second (who was so close as to fall against the barrel of Upham?s rifle).

Captain Upham?s second citation was for his part in the July 1942 attack on Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt, where the New Zealand Division was stranded after promised armoured support failed to come through. As the Allied forces struggled to hold the line, Upham led his company on what was described as a savage attack on German and Italian strong points. Upham was personally responsible for destroying a German tank and several guns and vehicles with hand grenades and, though he was shot through the elbow with a machine gun bullet and had his arm shattered, he went on again to a forward position and brought back a number of his men who had become isolated.

He was removed to the regimental aid post, but immediately after his wounds had been dressed he returned to his men. He consolidated and held his position and despite exhaustion, loss of blood and further injuries (as a result of artillery and mortar fire that decimated most of his company) he stayed with the only six remaining members until, now unable to move, he was overrun by enemy forces and captured.

Typifying his character and nickname ?Pug?, he attempted to escape numerous times before being branded ?dangerous? by the Germans and incarcerated in the infamous prison fortress Colditz. […]

Epitomising a certain strain of Kiwi modesty, Charles Upham was embarrassed by the accolades he received and attempted to avoid international media attention. When the people of Canterbury collected ?10,000 for him to purchase a farm in recognition of his gallantry, Upham insisted the money be put towards an educational scholarship for children of returned soldiers.

At the conclusion of the war he returned to New Zealand to resume life as a sheep farmer in Hundalee, an isolated area north of Christchurch. It was rumoured that he never allowed a German-made car or machine onto the farm. He died in 1994.

When King George VI enquired of Major-General Kippenberger whether Upham deserved a Bar to the Cross, Kippenberger replied, ?In my respectful opinion, sir, Upham has won the VC several times over.? […]?End of quote.

But our story is not over yet.? Remember that “evil” capitalist conservative mentioned yesterday, Lord Ashcroft, who contributed to the Bomber Command fund so that Les Munro did not have to sell his medals?? Well, he features in the Charles Upham story as well: Quote:

Ashcroft collects Victoria Crosses. […] His collection is by far the largest in the world spanning 128 years from acts of valour at the start of the Crimean War in 1854 to an act of courage during the Falklands War in 1982. […]

Following the theft of a number of Victoria Crosses awarded to New Zealand servicemen from the Army Museum at Waiouru in late 2007, Ashcroft pledged NZ$200,000 for their return. Those stolen included the VC & Bar of Charles Upham. The medals were recovered three months later and at a presentation in Wellington on 15 April 2008 he pledged a further NZ$200,000 for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the thefts.

In July 2008, Ashcroft announced a donation of ?5 million for a permanent gallery at the Imperial War Museum, where the fifty Victoria Crosses held by the museum are now on display alongside his own collection of 162 VCs. […]?End of quote.

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