Although he was treated as a hero for the rest of his life, Captain Charles Upham refused to take on the mantle he'd earned as New Zealand's best soldier.
Wounded many times, famous for taking risks others would not, Charlie Upham is the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of WWII. No small achievement for a farmer from Canterbury.
'He was the archetypal fearless warrior' says documentary producer Gary Scott about this episode of Kiwis At War. 'There are many reports of his courage on the battlefield, how ferocious his behaviour, how loud his voice, but in the end everyone says how much of an ordinary Kiwi he was.'
'He hated the attention' adds Major General Sandy Thomas. 'A hell of a nice bloke and just the kind of guy that you would be happy to sit down with and have a beer'.
Upham won the Victoria Cross not once, but twice, the highest commendation a Kiwi soldier could win. Upham is the only man among millions of Allied troops from WWII to be awarded both the V.C. 'and Bar'.
This episode of Kiwis At War captures the intense drama of the campaign on Crete in 1941, during which Upham won his first V.C.
Crete was a ten-day pitched battle in which exhausted New Zealand troops were slowly over run by the Nazis. Upham repeatedly saved the lives of his men by sneaking up on German positions. Single-handed, he attacked the deadly machine gun nests with grenades and then his gun
'There were never any survivors' says historian Tony Simpson. 'His attacks were deadly, and he didn't mess around.' Simpson adds that Upham had a reputation for hating Germans and for never being prepared to surrender.
Despite Upham's heroics, New Zealand troops lost vital positions and were forced into a desperate two-day march over barren mountains to meet the evacuation ships.
Upham's leadership was recognised by his superiors. His comrade, Bill Allison, tells of a platoon of the German Mountain Division stationed high in the mountains, threatening the retreat. Upham was suffering from dysentery, a badly wounded sholder and had a bullet in his foot. Despite this, Allison recalls how Colonel Kippenberger specifically asked for Charlie Upham and his men to be sent to deal with the lethal Nazi snipers. Which he did, with typically brutal efficiency.
Upham finished the war in the notorious Colditz prison. When the King asked if Upham deserved a bar to his V.C., Colonel Kippenberger is said to have replied that in his 'respectful opinion, Captain Upham has won the V.C. several times over.'
But Upham always claimed he was only doing an 'ordinary man's
duty', a reluctant hero to the end.
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