Charles Hazlitt Upham was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and educated at Christ's College and Canterbury Agricultural College. Before World War II he was a farm manager and then farm valuer before enlisting in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1939, at the age of thirty.
Despite the fact that he was not a career soldier, his age and his natural leadership qualities and resourcefulness earned him a commission as a second lieutenant. He became the only combat officer to win two VCs (Or a VC and bar) In the 150-year history of the award, only three bars have been awarded and both the other two were to medical officers.
His first VC, unlike most, which are received for single incidents, was awarded for his actions in Crete, between 22 and 30 May 1941. Over this period of nine days, Upham was blown up by one mortar shell, badly wounded by another, and wounded in the foot. He also contracted dysentery, but he refused hospital treatment to retain command of his men, who were under serious pressure in close quarters fighting.
But it was more than just leadership. Upham's personal courage was legendary. One incident occurred when two German soldiers trapped him on the fringes of an olive grove on his way to warn other troops that they were being cut off.
His platoon watched, helpless, as he was fired on. He played dead and coolly waited for his attackers to approach, any movement potentially fatal. The shoulder wound had left one arm useless in a sling so he supported his rifle in the crook of a tree, shot the first soldier as he approached, reloaded one-handed and shot the second. The second was so close he fell against the barrel of Upham's rifle as he died.
He also rescued a wounded man under fire, carrying him back to safety; and on 30 May 1941 he beat off an attack at Sphankia, killing or wounding 22 enemy troops.
He earned his bar in action at El Ruweisat Ridge, when though wounded, he again insisted on remaining with his men. where the New Zealand Division was stranded when armoured support failed to arrive. Just before dawn on 15 July 1942, as the Allied forces struggled to hold the line, Upham led his company in an attack on German and Italian strongpoints. He destroyed a German tank, several guns and vehicles with hand grenades, and although his arm was broken by a machine-gun bullet in the advance, he continued forward to bring back some of his men who had become isolated. Weak from loss of blood, he had his wounds dressed, but immediately returned to his men, and remained with them, consolidating their position, until more injuries left him unable to move.
He was finally captured, and after several attempts to escape, was imprisoned in Colditz.
When the war ended, he left the army, and went back to sheep farming in Hundalee, north of Christchurch.
Upham was always embarrassed by praise and tried to avoid media attention. The people of Canterbury collected 10,000 pounds in recognition of his gallantry, and offered it to him to purchase a farm, but Upham refused and asked that the money be put towards an educational scholarship for children of returned soldiers.
His only open acknowledgement of the war he had fought in was to refuse to use any German vehicles or equipment on his farm.
He died in 1994.