|"He showed fine leadership at all times and under his command his Company earned a remarkable reputation in attack. Captain Upham's complete indifference to danger and his personal bravery has become a byword in the whole of the NZEF."|
- Second Victoria Cross citation
New Zealand is kind of like the Canada of Australia. Sure, everyone is aware of its existence and all, but the place never really seems to get the same kind of badass cred as its closest neighbor, especially when it comes to cultural aspects like being awesome, flipping out, and/or smashing anyone who crosses them into a non-dissipating miasma of floating blood globules. This is kind of bullcrap, because, much like our Canadian friends, New Zealand has a rich and glorious history of intensely busting their enemies about the head with a tire iron until they die from it, high-fiving their buddies, and then kicking back on the couch with a refreshing alcoholic beverage of some sort. New Zealand is the traditional land of bone-crushing Maori tribesmen who tattoo their own faces and annihilate skulls by whacking jerks in the dome with a hefty polished chunk of jade, it's served as the backdrop for pretty much every epic sword-swinging film and screen production from The Lord of the Rings, to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and it's also the native home of a man named Charles Upham – a high-octane, neck-breaking maniac who holds the insanely-badass distinction of being the only infantryman to receive the Victoria Cross twice, and the somewhat-less-prestigious honor of being the first person on this website with a last name that starts with the letter U.
Born in Christchurch in 1908, Upham got a degree in Agriculture and spent his early days working as a sheep herder and farm valuer, making him one of the more unsuspecting badasses I've ever written about. Realizing that raising adorable sheeps isn't exactly the first step in the path towards slaughtering all who oppose you and then driving over their hearts with a motorcycle, Upham enlisted in the New Zealand Territorial Army, where he served in the home guard for five years. When World War the Second looked like it was going to be some serious business, Upham joined the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), and was sent to Greece to help the Greek people fight off an invasion of Hitler's minions.
By 1941 things had gone a little South in Greece, what with the killing and the stabbing and the Panzers and all, so Lieutenant Upham and his men went, well, South of Greece, withdrawing to the island of Crete. Well, if you know anything about the Nazis, you know that they aren't really going to sit around when there are enemy soldiers that they could be shooting in the face, so of course the Germans' next step was to launch a full-out invasion of Crete. In a daring, balls-out attack – the first real all-airborne invasion in military history – the Nazis landed 10,000 paratroopers near the Cretan (not to be confused with Cretin) city of Meleme, fragged everything into bouncing giblets, and captured the airfield so they could fly in reinforcements.
Upham was commanding a platoon near the outskirts of Maleme, and was ordered to send his thirty-odd men to retake the airfield from an unrelenting horde of maschinenpistole-slinging Nazi cows. Upham responded with his best B.J. Blazkowicz impression, single-handedly charging an enemy machine gun nest armed only with a pistol and grenades and somehow taking it out by himself. Then, to prove it wasn't a fluke, he crawled up to a house with two MG-34s in it, dropped a grenade in the window, and blew the gunners into giant clouds of meat shrapnel before they even had a chance to scream "Mein Leiben!". Finally, still operating lone-wolf style, this psycho-freak killer Kiwi crawled within fifteen feet of a third machine gun position and lobbed his last grenade right into the gunner's coat pocket, sending him up like Hitler at the end of Bionic Commando.
Well, seeing as how real-life doesn't allow for Debug Mode, Upham somehow fell short in his mission to single-handedly kill ten thousand elite German paratroopers, destroy a few metric shit-tons of war material, and re-capture the airfield all by his lonesome, and before long the New Zealanders were getting pushed back by a steady stream of reinforcements coming in through the air base at Maleme. During the fighting withdrawal across the Cretan countryside, Upham once again proved himself to be a fearless war hero who was harder than a battleship hull - once he carried a wounded man to safety in the middle of a firefight, another time he organized a detail to go into a heavy crossfire to save wounded men another time, and on a third occasion he personally went out on a daring night attack, killed two Germans, tracked down a previously-cut-off company of New Zealand infantry, and lead them to safety. All in a day's work for Captain New Zealand.
The next day, the Steve Rogers from Down Under organized a defensive perimeter against a powerful German assault, holding the line against a massive assault of tanks, men, and giant robo Nazi mechs. During the fighting he was knocked over by a mortar, hit in the shoulder with shrapnel, and shot in the foot by a machine gun, but this crazy unstoppable lightning bolt of carnage somehow managed to shrug all of that damage off and repel a couple of counter-attacks, including one in which he needed to scramble up a huge cliff face without any climbing gear and fortify a position on the edge of a ravine. At one point during the fighting he was attacked by two German soldiers, and was shot by a Mauser rifle. He fell down, pretending to be killed, but surreptitiously positioned his rifle in the crook of the tree next to where he was laying. When the Germans approached him, he popped caps in both of enemy troops at close-range – one-handed like Ash, and in such rapid succession that they didn't get a shot off. That's some stone-cold Wild West shit right there, but for this dude it was like the tenth coolest thing he did in a single campaign.
So remember how I said Charles Upham won two Victoria Crosses? All of this shit I just described combined for one-half of that total. The second VC didn't come until a year later, when he was fighting Rommel and the Afrikakorps in the Battle of El Alamein – an insane clusterhump of blood and twisted metal that would be the decisive turning point in the battle for North Africa.
Upham was a Captain by this point, having received a much-deserved promotion for the ridiculous carnage he left in his wake back in Crete, and was commanding a company that had been tasked with capturing a German-controlled ridge. He went out by himself to recon some intel on the qt, but when a truckload of German infantrymen drove up and blocked his path, he obviously didn't have a problem tossing a grenade in the back and detonating a dozen Nazis with some high explosives. Seriously, this guy must have been awesome at horseshoes or some shit, because he was completely nuts when it came to chucking grenades with laser-like precision. Fragging a couple squads of Germans gets a man noticed, however, and while trying to escape back to Allied lines Upham was wounded twice by gunfire. This, of course, didn't stop him from personally leading the assault on the ridge, taking 100 men up against four machine gun nests, a squadron of tanks, and a few hundred Nazi riflemen. Charging out in front of his men, Upham destroyed a couple Panzers and gun positions with grenades, which would be run-of-the-mill stuff for this guy except that he had been shot through the elbow and was winging these things around with a shattered throwing arm (this is kind of like the military equivalent of Kirk Gibson coming out of the dugout on the busted wheel and hitting a walk-off home run in the World Series). Upham somehow let his men to capture the ridge against these insane odds.
It was probably something like this.
After passing out from a loss of blood, he was evacuated to the hospital, but as soon as his wounds were healed he went back out and continued being completely insane. He led his men in yet another defense against a ferocious Fascist counter-attack, but was blown up by an artillery shell. Badly wounded, unable to move, and only one of six survivors from his unit, he was overrun and captured by the Germans. Of course, this couldn't even stop this madman, and he escaped from POW camps a number of times, including once when he jumped out the back of a moving truck, broke his ankle, and still kept running (awesome). He was branded "dangerous" and moved to Colditz camp, the toughest POW camp the Nazis had, but nothing could stand in the way of Charles Upham and his seething, unrelenting rage. After Colditz was liberated by the Allies, while most of the now-freed prisoners took a much-deserved ride back home, Charles Upham broke into the camp's armory, grabbed a submachine gun, and went out into the woods to continue his one-man war against Hitler and his robot Gatling gun arms.
After the war, Upham went home, married his long-time girlfriend, and had a statue built in his honor. His community raised enough money for him to buy a huge farm to retire on, but being a true selfless badass, Upham refused, and instead donated the money to set up a scholarship so ex-servicemen could go to college. He bought a small farm, lived a quiet life, and was known for his steadfast refusal to allow any Germans or German-made machines on his property. It only took one guy driving his VW off Upham Farm at high speeds while being chased by a crazy old man with an Enfield rifle to drive that point across.
The New Zealand Edge
Victoria Cross Citations
Horner, David Murray and Paul Collier. The Second World War. Taylor & Francis, 2003.
Macklin, Robert. Bravest. Allen & Unwin, 2008
The Complete List
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