Amberley hero - Charles Upham

A statue in Amberley honours military hero and local farmer Charles Upham (1908-1994), the only combat soldier to receive the Victoria Cross twice. Upham's physical strength and determination were honed by his days mustering sheep in the rugged Canterbury high country.



The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to the undermentioned: —

Second Lieutenant Charles Hazlitt Upham (8077), New Zealand Military Forces.

During the operations in Crete this officer performed a series of remarkable exploits, showing outstanding leadership, tactical skill and utter indifference to danger.

Narrator:   In 1997, three years after his death, Charles Upham was honoured with a statue in the North Canterbury town of Amberley. Upham was the only man in the Second World War to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice for courage under fire. In the years after the war he became one of the nation’s heroes. The modesty, dependability and steely resolve of this Canterbury farmer personified characteristics that the nation admired.


He commanded a forward platoon in the attack on Maleme on 22nd May and fought his way forward for over 3,000 yards unsupported by any other arms and against a defence strongly organised in depth... on three occasions sections were temporarily held up.

Narrator: Upham was shaped by the tough high country where he used to muster sheep. There he developed great physical strength and powers of endurance; he also learnt how to read the lie of the land; and he acquired a rich vocabulary of expletives which he would later put to regular use.

In early 1941 he served with the New Zealand division in Greece and was then evacuated to Crete.


In the first case, under a heavy fire from a machine gun nest he advanced to close quarters with pistol and grenades, so demoralizing the occupants that his section was able to ‘mop up’ with ease.

Another of his sections was then held up by two machine guns in a house. He went in and placed a grenade through a window, destroying the crew of one machine gun and several others...

In the third case he crawled to within 15 yards of an M.G. post and killed the gunners with a grenade....During the following two days his platoon occupied an exposed position on forward slopes and was continuously under fire. Second Lieutenant Upham was blown over by one mortar shell, and painfully wounded by a piece of shrapnel behind the left shoulder, by another. He disregarded this wound and remained on duty. He also received a bullet in the foot which he later removed in Egypt.

During the whole of the operations he suffered from dysentery and was able to eat very little, in addition to being wounded and bruised...

Narrator: Charles Upham’s second VC was earned the next year for his actions in the western desert of North Africa. Despite being shot through the elbow and with a broken arm, Upham destroyed an enemy tank with grenades and brought back his men who had become isolated.  He was captured and made a series of daring efforts to escape which condemned him to the special camp at Colditz for habitual escapers. 

On hearing that he was to be awarded the Victoria Crosses Upham was genuinely distressed and only coped with the awards by seeing them as recognition for the bravery of his men.

When he returned to Canterbury after the war Christchurch citizens raised money to buy him a farm. He refused to accept it and the funds were used instead as a scholarship for the sons of servicemen.

Community contributions

No comments have been posted about Amberley hero - Charles Upham

What do you know?