Monday, 2 December 2013

The Victoria Cross: Bar for the Cross

This is the second part of an occasional series looking back at winners of the Victoria Cross. It seems odd that men who have won such a high award are often barely known today, so this series is designed to bring some of their exploits to light once more and celebrate them, if only on a small scale.

Today we're looking at the three men who reside in a very exclusive sub-group of Victoria Cross winners; those who have been awarded the Victoria Cross twice, for which they are awarded a bar for the ribbon on their cross.
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Martin Leake, VC and Bar, Royal Army Medical Corps
Leake won the Victoria Cross during the Second Boer War, as a then Surgeon Captain in the South African Constabulary, attached to a British field ambulance unit. He received the award for actions on the 8th February 1902 near Vlakfontein, close to the spot where just six months earlier the then Lieutenant William John English of the 2nd Scottish Horse had won the same award.

Leake went forward to tend to wounded men who were just 100 yards or so from the Boer positions. During the course of the action he himself was wounded three times, but stayed forward to deliver aid until he was overcome with exhaustion. Afterwards he was evacuated from the theatre to recuperate and went on to join the Red Cross, providing medical aid in a number of warzones until he returned to Britain at the start of World War One.

Upon his return he joined the 5th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps as a Lieutenant. Deployed near Zonnebeke in Belgium, Leake earned the bar for his cross for actions carried out between the 29th October and 8th November 1914. With complete disregard for his own safety he crawled out repeatedly into the ground between British and German lines to recover a large number of wounded soldiers, often while under fire from the enemy and sometimes within spitting distance of the German lines.

Leake ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel and retired from service shortly after. He returned to India to work as a medical officer for the Bengal-Nagpur Railway company, before coming home to retire in 1937. During World War Two he served as an Air Raid warden. He died in 1953, aged 79.

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC and Bar, MC, Royal Army Medical Corps
Chavasse joined the army in 1913, attached to the territorial 10th Kings (Liverpool) as a Surgeon-Lieutenant. Promoted to Captain in April of 1915, he won the Military Cross for actions at Hooge in Belgium in June. However it was his actions of 9th-11th August 1916 at Guillemont in France that earned him his Victoria Cross.

During a British attack he spent the entire day dodging bullets and shells to bring medical care to the wounded. That night he crawled forward to search for more wounded in front of the German trenches. The next day he lead a stretcher party ferrying wounded to the rear, during which he himself was wounded by shell fragments. 

He shook off the wounds and stayed forward, journeying out again into no mans land that night. He is credited with recovering three wounded men from a shell hole less than fifty yards from the Germans positions, all while taking occasional machine gun and artillery fire. In total it's believed he saved the lives of at least twenty severely wounded men, as well as the numerous others he helped.

He earned the bar for his cross almost exactly a year later, for his actions between 31 July and 2nd August 1917, at Wieltje in Belgium, part of the battle of Passchendaele. Chavasse had been carrying a wounded soldier to a dressing station when he was hit by enemy fire. Despite this he remained at his post, and for the next two days he repeatedly went back out into no mans land to recover the wounded, despite shell and machine gun fire around him.

He was eventually taken to the rear, exhausted from his actions and a lack of food, and in a bad way as a result of his wounds. He died on the 4th August, 1917, aged 32.

Captain Charles Hazlitt Upham, VC and Bar, 20th Battalion (New Zealand)
Upham, born in Christchurch, New Zealand, served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force sent to fight in Europe during the Second World War. Originally a sergeant in a territorial unit, Upham joined his battalion as a private, and was eventually sent to an Officer Cadet Training Unit.

First deployed to Greece, the New Zealanders soon found themselves defending Crete against a German invasion, which is where the then Second Lieutenant Upham earned his Cross. On 22nd May, 1941, Upham lead a platoon as part of a counter attack on the airfield at Maleme. On multiple occasions he personally crawled up to within yards of German machine gun positions and took them out with grenades. When the attack faltered and his company withdrew, Upham personally carried out one of his wounded men.

Later he was sent forward to guide in a company that had become isolated during his battalions withdrawal. He and another man crawled through around 600 yards of enemy occupied terrain to make contact with and recover the company, which they achieved successfully. Over the ensuing days he was wounded twice by mortar fire and shot in the foot, but remained with his men.

On the 25th May his platoon came under attack, and despite heavy enemy fire he crawled forward to locate the enemies positions, before bringing up the platoon from cover for an ambush that beat back a German attack. When the Platoon was ordered back, he stayed to make contact with adjacent units and warn them of the withdrawal. He was engaged by two Germans, but managed to hide and then ambush them as they approached. On 30th May he commanded a party that ambushed and broke up a German attack close to a friendly forces HQ.

Throughout the entire battle Upham had been suffering from Dysentery, in addition to his severe wounds and distinct lack of rest. He was one of the lucky ones evacuated to Egypt by the Royal Navy.

Upham, now a Captain, earned the bar for his cross at the first battle of El Alamein for his actions on the 14th-15th July, 1942, during the attack on El Ruwesiat Ridge. Wounded twice in the early goings, Upham (in a reserve battalion) was told to send an officer forward to report on the progress of the attack after communications were lost. He went himself, engaging a few German machine gun positions on the way and returning with the required information.

When his battalion was finally sent forward to maintain the attack it ran into heavy resistance, during which he lead his company on a flank attack, destroying two German positions and capturing all of its objectives. Upham was personally credited with destroying a German tank and several gun positions using grenades. 

Later, despite having his arm broken when it was hit by small arms fire, he continued forward to bring in men from positions that had become isolated during the action, before organising and consolidating his position to fight off a German counter attack. Upham was taken back to an aid post, but returned to his company as soon as his wounds were dressed. Here he was wounded yet again, this time more severely, and ultimately captured by the Germans when they over ran his companies positions.

After being treated at a German field hospital he was eventually removed first to a hospital in Italy, then to Germany itself. He attempted to escape captivity numerous times, though rarely made it more than a few hundred yards from his captors, before he was finally moved to Colditz castle. 

Upham survived the war and returned to New Zealand, where he purchased a farm and lived till 1994, when he died aged 86.

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