Tag Archives: Victoria Cross

Victoria Cross & Victoria Cross and Bar – What’s it all about

Victoria Cross

Established 29 January 1856
First awarded 1857
Last awarded 26 February 2015
Total awarded 1,358

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories] It is first in the order of wear in the United Kingdom honours system, and takes precedence over all other orders, decorations, and medals, including the Order of the Garter. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. The VC is usually presented to the recipient or to their next of kin by the British monarch at an investiture held at Buckingham Palace.

The VC was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals, 11 to members of the British Army, and four to the Australian Army, have been awarded since the Second World War. The traditional explanation of the source of the metal from which the medals are struck is that it derives from Russian cannon captured at the Siege of Sevastopol. Some research suggested a variety of origins for the material actually making up the medals themselves.[4] Research has established that the metal for the medals came from two Chinese cannons[5] that were captured from the Russians in 1855.

Owing to its rarity, the VC is highly prized and the medal has fetched over £400,000 at auction.[6] A number of public and private collections are devoted to the Victoria Cross. The private collection of Lord Ashcroft, amassed since 1986, contains over one-tenth of all VCs awarded. Following a 2008 donation to the Imperial War Museum, the Ashcroft collection went on public display alongside the museum’s Victoria and George Cross collection in November 2010.[7]

Beginning with the Centennial of Confederation in 1967, Canada[8] followed in 1975 by Australia[9] and New Zealand[10] developed their own national honours systems, separate and independent of the British or Imperial honours system. As each country’s system evolved, operational gallantry awards were developed with the premier award of each system, the VC for Australia, the Canadian VC and the VC for New Zealand being created and named in honour of the Victoria Cross. These are unique awards of each honours system, recommended, assessed, gazetted and presented by each country


In 1854, after 39 years of peace, Britain found itself fighting a major war against Russia. The Crimean War was one of the first wars with modern reporting, and the dispatches of William Howard Russell described many acts of bravery and valour by British servicemen that went unrewarded.[11]

Before the Crimean War, there was no official standardised system for recognition of gallantry within the British armed forces. Officers were eligible for an award of one of the junior grades of the Order of the Bath and brevet promotions while a Mention in Despatches existed as an alternative award for acts of lesser gallantry. This structure was very limited; in practice awards of the Order of the Bath were confined to officers of field rank.[12] Brevet promotions or Mentions in Despatches were largely confined to those who were under the immediate notice of the commanders in the field, generally members of the commander’s own staff.[13]

Other European countries had awards that did not discriminate against class or rank; France awarded the Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) and The Netherlands gave the Order of William. There was a growing feeling among the public and in the Royal Court that a new award was needed to recognise incidents of gallantry that were unconnected with a man’s lengthy or meritorious service. Queen Victoria issued a Warrant under the Royal sign-manual on 29 January 1856[11][14] (gazetted 5 February 1856)[14] that officially constituted the VC. The order was backdated to 1854 to recognise acts of valour during the Crimean War.[15]

Queen Victoria had instructed the War Office to strike a new medal that would not recognise birth or class. The medal was meant to be a simple decoration that would be highly prized and eagerly sought after by those in the military services.[16] To maintain its simplicity, Queen Victoria, under the guidance of Prince Albert, vetoed the suggestion that the award be called The Military Order of Victoria and instead suggested the name Victoria Cross. The original warrant stated that the Victoria Cross would only be awarded to soldiers who have served in the presence of the enemy and had performed some signal act of valour or devotion.[17] The first ceremony was held on 26 June 1857 where Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in a ceremony in Hyde Park, London.[11]

It was originally intended that the VCs would be cast from the cascabels of two cannon that were captured from the Russians at the siege of Sevastopol.[18][19][20] In 1990 Creagh and Ashton conducted a metallurgical examination of the VCs in the custody of the Australian War Memorial.[21][22] Later, the historian John Glanfield,[4] wrote that, through the use of x-ray studies of older Victoria Crosses, it was determined that the metal used for VCs is from antique Chinese guns and not of Russian origin.[4][19][20] Theories abound. One theory is that the cannon were originally Chinese weapons but the Russians captured them and deployed them at Sevastopol. They are indeed Chinese cannon: Creagh [21] noted the existence of Chinese inscriptions on the cannon which are now barely legible due to corrosion. It was also thought that some medals made during the First World War were composed of metal captured from different Chinese guns during the Boxer Rebellion. This is not so, however. The VCs examined by Creagh and Ashton [21][22] both in Australia (58) and at the QE II Army Memorial Museum in New Zealand (14) [21] spanned the entire time during which VCs have been issued and no compositional inconsistencies were found.[21] It was also believed that another source of metal was used between 1942 and 1945 to create five Second World War VCs when the Sevastopol metal “went missing”.[4] Creagh [21] accessed the Army records at MoD Donnington in 1991 and did not find any gaps in the custodial record. The composition found in the WW2 VCs, amongst them those for Edwards (Australia) and Upham (New Zealand), is similar to that for the early WW1 medals. This is likely to be due to the reuse of material from earlier pourings, casting sprues, defective medals, etc.

The barrels of the cannon in question are on display at Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich. The remaining portion of the only remaining cascabel, weighing 358 oz (10 kg), is stored in a vault maintained by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at MoD Donnington. It can only be removed under armed guard. It is estimated that approximately 80 to 85 more VCs could be cast from this source. A single company of jewellers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every VC awarded since its inception.[23]


The obverse and reverse of the bronze cross pattée medal; obverse showing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR with a crimson ribbon; the reverse shows the inscription of the recipient on the bar connecting the ribbon with the regiment in the centre of the medal.

The front and back of Edward Holland‘s VC.

The decoration is a bronze cross pattée, 1 39/64″ (41 mm) high, 1 27/64″ (36 mm) wide, bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion, and the inscription FOR VALOUR.[24] This was originally to have been FOR THE BRAVE, until it was changed on the recommendation of Queen Victoria, as it implied that not all men in battle were brave.[19] The decoration, suspension bar and link weigh about 0.87 troy ounces (27 g).[25]

The cross is suspended by a ring from a seriffed “V” to a bar ornamented with laurel leaves, through which the ribbon passes. The reverse of the suspension bar is engraved with the recipient’s name, rank, number and unit.[16] On the reverse of the medal is a circular panel on which the date of the act for which it was awarded is engraved in the centre.[16]

The Original Warrant Clause 1 states that the Victoria Cross “shall consist of a Maltese cross of bronze”.[24] Nonetheless, it has always been a cross pattée; the discrepancy with the Warrant has never been corrected.[26]

The ribbon is crimson, 1 1/2 ” (38 mm) wide. The original (1856) specification for the award stated that the ribbon should be red for army recipients and dark blue for naval recipients.[27] However the dark blue ribbon was abolished soon after the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. On 22 May 1920 King George V signed a warrant that stated all recipients would now receive a red ribbon and the living recipients of the naval version were required to exchange their ribbons for the new colour.[28] Although the army warrants state the colour as being red it is defined by most commentators as being crimson or “wine-red”.[29]

Award process

The obverse of the bronze cross pattée medal; showing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR with a blue ribbon

The obverse of William Johnstone’s VC showing the dark blue ribbon for pre-1918 awards to naval personnel.

The Victoria Cross is awarded for

… most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.[2]

A recommendation for the VC is normally issued by an officer at regimental level, or equivalent, and has to be supported by three witnesses, although this has been waived on occasion.[30] The recommendation is then passed up the military hierarchy until it reaches the Secretary of State for Defence. The recommendation is then laid before the monarch who approves the award with his or her signature. Victoria Cross awards are always promulgated in the London Gazette with the single exception of the award to the American Unknown Soldier in 1921.[31] The Victoria Cross warrant makes no specific provision as to who should actually present the medals to the recipients. Queen Victoria indicated that she would like to present the medals in person and she presented 185 medals out of the 472 gazetted during her reign. Including the first 62 medals presented at a parade in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857 by Queen Victoria, nearly 900 awards have been personally presented to the recipient by the reigning British monarch. Nearly 300 awards have been presented by a member of the royal family or by a civil or military dignitary. About 150 awards were either forwarded to the recipient or next of kin by registered post or no details of the presentations are known.[32]

The original Royal Warrant did not contain a specific clause regarding posthumous awards, although official policy was not to award the VC posthumously. Between the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the beginning of the Second Boer War the names of six officers and men were published in the London Gazette with a memorandum stating they would have been awarded the Victoria Cross had they survived. A further three notices were published in the London Gazette in September 1900 and April 1901 for gallantry in the Second Boer War. In an exception to policy for the South Africa War 1899–1902, six posthumous Victoria Crosses, three to the officers and men mentioned in the notices in 1900 and 1901 and a further three, the first official posthumous awards, were granted on 8 August 1902.[33][a] Five years later in 1907, the posthumous policy was reversed and medals were sent to the next of kin of the six officers and men.[34] The awards were mentioned in notices in the Gazette dating back to the Indian Mutiny. The Victoria Cross warrant was not amended to explicitly allow posthumous awards until 1920, but one quarter of all awards for World War I were posthumous.[35][36] Although the 1920 Royal Warrant made provision for awards to women serving in the Armed Forces, no women have been awarded a VC.[37]

In the case of a gallant and daring act being performed by a squadron, ship’s company or a detached body of men (such as marines) in which all men are deemed equally brave and deserving of the Victoria Cross then a ballot is drawn. The officers select one officer, the NCOs select one individual and the private soldiers or seamen select two individuals.[38] In all 46 awards have been awarded by ballot with 29 of the awards during the Indian Mutiny. Four further awards were granted to Q Battery, Royal Horse Artillery at Korn Spruit on 31 March 1900 during the Second Boer War. The final ballot awards for the army were the six awards to the Lancashire Fusiliers at W Beach during the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 although three of the awards were not gazetted until 1917. The final seven ballot awards were the only naval ballot awards with three awards to two Q-Ships in 1917 and four awards for the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918. The provision for awards by ballot is still included in the Victoria Cross warrant but there have been no further such awards since 1918.[30]

Between 1858 and 1881 the Victoria Cross could be awarded for actions taken “under circumstances of extreme danger” not in the face of the enemy.[39] Six such awards were made during this period—five of them for a single incident during an Expedition to the Andaman Islands in 1867.[40] In 1881, the criteria were changed again and the VC was only awarded for acts of valour “in the face of the enemy”.[40] Due to this it has been suggested by many historians including Lord Ashcroft that the changing nature of warfare will result in fewer VCs being awarded.[41] The prevalence of remote fighting techniques has meant that opportunities to carry out acts of bravery in the face of the enemy are diminishing. Since 1940, military personnel who have distinguished themselves for gallantry not in the face of the enemy have been awarded the George Cross, which is immediately after the VC in the Order of Wear.[citation needed]

Colonial awards

The Victoria Cross was extended to colonial troops in 1867. The extension was made following a recommendation for gallantry regarding colonial soldier Major Charles Heaphy for action in the New Zealand land wars in 1864.[42] He was operating under British command and the VC was gazetted in 1867. Later that year, the Government of New Zealand assumed full responsibility for operations but no further recommendations for the Victoria Cross were raised for local troops who distinguished themselves in action.[43] Following gallant actions by three New Zealand soldiers in November 1868 and January 1869 during the New Zealand land wars, an Order in Council on 10 March 1869 created a “Distinctive Decoration” for members of the local forces without seeking permission from the Secretary of State for the Colonies.[44] Although the governor was chided for exceeding his authority, the Order in Council was ratified by the Queen. The title “Distinctive Decoration” was later replaced by the title New Zealand Cross.[43]

The question of whether recommendations could be made for colonial troops not serving with British troops was not asked in New Zealand, but in 1881, the question was asked in South Africa. Surgeon John McCrea, an officer of the South African forces was recommended for gallantry during hostilities which had not been approved by British Government. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and the principle was established that gallant conduct could be rewarded independently of any political consideration of military operations. More recently, four Australian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross in Vietnam although Britain was not involved in the conflict.[45]

Indian troops were not originally eligible for the Victoria Cross since they had been eligible for the Indian Order of Merit since 1837 which was the oldest British gallantry award for general issue. When the Victoria Cross was created, Indian troops were still controlled by the Honourable East India Company and did not come under Crown control until 1860. European officers and men serving with the Honourable East India Company were not eligible for the Indian Order of Merit and the Victoria Cross was extended to cover them in October 1857. It was only at the end of the 19th century that calls for Indian troops to be awarded the Victoria Cross intensified. Indian troops became eligible for the award in 1911. The first awards to Indian troops appeared in the London Gazette on 7 December 1914 to Darwan Sing Negi and Khudadad Khan. Negi was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V during a visit to troops in France. The presentation occurred on 5 December 1914 and he is one of a very few soldiers presented with his award before it appeared in the London Gazette.[46]

Separate Commonwealth awards

The cross pattée bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion with the inscription FOR VALOUR etched into stone.

Victoria Cross as it appears on Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones.

Since the Second World War, most but not all Commonwealth countries have created their own honours systems and no longer participate in the British honours system. This began soon after the Partition of India in 1947, when the new countries of India and Pakistan introduced their own systems of awards. The VC was replaced by the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) and Nishan-e-Haider (NH) respectively. Most if not all new honours systems continued to permit recipients of British honours to wear their awards according to the rules of each nation’s order of wear. Sri Lanka, whose defence personnel were eligible to receive the Victoria Cross until 1972, introduced its own equivalent, the Parama Weera Vibhushanaya medal. Three Commonwealth realms—Australia, Canada and New Zealand[47]—have each introduced their own decorations for gallantry and bravery, replacing British decorations such as the Victoria Cross with their own. The only Commonwealth countries that still can recommend the VC are the small nations, none of whose forces have ever been awarded the VC, that still participate in the British honours system.[48]

Australia was the first Commonwealth realm to create its own VC, on 15 January 1991. Although it is a separate award, its appearance is identical to its British counterpart.[49] Canada followed suit when in 1993 Queen Elizabeth signed Letters Patent creating the Canadian VC, which is also similar to the British version, except that the legend has been changed from FOR VALOUR to the Latin PRO VALORE This language was chosen so as to favour neither French nor English, the two official languages of Canada.[50] New Zealand was the third country to adapt the VC into its own honours system. While the New Zealand and Australian VCs are technically separate awards, the decoration is identical to the British design, including being cast from the same Crimean War gunmetal as the British VC.[47][49] The Canadian Victoria Cross also includes metal from the same cannon, along with copper and other metals from all regions of Canada.[51]

Five of the separate VCs have so far been awarded. Willie Apiata received the Victoria Cross for New Zealand on 2 July 2007, for his actions in the War in Afghanistan in 2004. The Victoria Cross for Australia has been awarded four times. Mark Donaldson was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia on 16 January 2009 for actions during Operation Slipper, the Australian contribution to the War in Afghanistan.[52] Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia on 23 January 2011 for actions in the Shah Wali Kot Offensive, part of the War in Afghanistan.[53] Daniel Keighran was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia on 1 November 2012 for his actions during the Battle of Derapet in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, on 24 August 2010.[54] A posthumous award was made to Corporal Cameron Baird for actions in Afghanistan in 2013. A Canadian version has been cast that was originally to be awarded to the Unknown Soldier at the rededication of the Vimy Memorial on 7 April 2007. This date was chosen as it was the 90th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge but pressure from veterans’ organisations caused the plan to be dropped.[55]

Authority and privileges

As the highest award for valour of the United Kingdom, the Victoria Cross is always the first award to be presented at an investiture, even before knighthoods, as was shown at the investiture of Private Johnson Beharry, who received his medal before General Sir Mike Jackson received his knighthood.[18] Owing to its status, the VC is always the first decoration worn in a row of medals and it is the first set of post-nominal letters used to indicate any decoration or order.[48] Similar acts of extreme valour that do not take place in the face of the enemy are honoured with the George Cross, which has equal precedence but is awarded second because the GC is newer.[56]

There is a widespread though erroneous belief that it is statutory for “all ranks to salute a bearer of the Victoria Cross”. There is no official requirement that appears in the official Warrant of the VC, nor in Queen’s Regulations and Orders, but tradition dictates that this occurs and as such the Chiefs of Staff will salute a Private awarded a VC or GC.[56]

The Victoria Cross was at first worn as the recipient fancied. It was popular to pin it on the left side of the chest over the heart, with other decorations grouped around the VC. The Queen’s Regulations for the Army of 1881 gave clear instructions on how to wear it; the VC had to follow the badge of the Order of the Indian Empire. In 1900 it was ordained in Dress Regulations for the Army that it should be worn after the cross of a Member of the Royal Victorian Order. It was only in 1902 that King Edward VII gave the cross its present position on a bar brooch.[57] The cross is also worn as a miniature decoration on a brooch or a chain with mess jacket, white tie or black tie. As a bearer of the VC is not a Companion in an Order of Chivalry, the VC has no place in a coat of arms.[58]


The original warrant stated that NCOs and private soldiers or seamen on the Victoria Cross Register were entitled to a £10 per annum annuity.[59] In 1898, Queen Victoria raised the pension to £50 for those that could not earn a livelihood, be it from old age or infirmity.[60] Today holders of the Victoria Cross or George Cross are entitled to an annuity, the amount of which is determined by the awarding government. Since 2015, the annuity paid by the British Government is £10,000 per year.[61] This is exempted from tax for British taxpayers by Section 638 Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003, along with pensions or annuities from other awards for bravery.[62] In Canada under the Gallantry Awards Order, members of the Canadian Forces or people who joined the British forces before 31 March 1949 while domiciled in Canada or Newfoundland receive Can$3,000 per year.[63] Under Subsection 103.4 of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986, the Australian Government provides a Victoria Cross Allowance.[64] Until November 2005 the amount was A$3,230 per year. Since then this amount has been increased annually in line with the Australian Consumer Price Index.[65][66]

Forfeited awards

The original Royal Warrant involved an expulsion clause that allowed for a recipient’s name to be erased from the official register in certain wholly discreditable circumstances and his pension cancelled.[67] King George V felt very strongly that the decoration should never be forfeited and in a letter from his Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, on 26 July 1920, his views are forcefully expressed:

The King feels so strongly that, no matter the crime committed by anyone on whom the VC has been conferred, the decoration should not be forfeited. Even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear his VC on the scaffold.[31]

The power to cancel and restore awards is still included in the Victoria Cross warrant but none has been forfeited since 1908.[31]


The 93rd Highlanders storming Sikandar Bagh. National Army Museum, London (NAM 1987-06-12)

A total of 1,358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since 1856 to 1,355 men.[68] There are several statistics related to the greatest number of VCs awarded in individual battles or wars. The greatest number of Victoria Crosses won on a single day is 18, for deeds performed on 16 November 1857, during Second Relief of Lucknow (primarily the assault on and capture of Sikandar Bagh), during the Indian Mutiny; the greatest number won in a single action is 28, for the whole of the Second Relief of Lucknow, 14–22 November 1857.[citation needed] The greatest number won by a single unit during a single action is seven, to the 2nd/24th Foot, for the defence of Rorke’s Drift, 22–23 January 1879, during the Zulu War.[69] The greatest number won in a single conflict is 628, being for the First World War.[70] There are only six living holders of the VC—four British, one Australian, one Gurkha—one award for the Second World War and four awards since; in addition one New Zealander holds the Victoria Cross for New Zealand and four Australians hold the Victoria Cross for Australia. Eight of the then-twelve surviving holders of the Victoria Cross attended the 150th Anniversary service of remembrance at Westminster Abbey on 26 June 2006.[71]

In 1921 the Victoria Cross was given to the American Unknown Soldier of the First World War (the British Unknown Warrior was reciprocally awarded the US Medal of Honor).[72] One VC is in existence that is not counted in any official records. In 1856, Queen Victoria laid the first Victoria Cross beneath the foundation stone of Netley Military hospital.[73] When the hospital was demolished in 1966 the VC, known as “The Netley VC”, was retrieved and is now on display in the Army Medical Services Museum, Mytchett, near Aldershot.[73]

Three people have been awarded the VC and Bar, the bar representing a second award of the VC. They are: Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake, both doctors in the Royal Army Medical Corps, for rescuing wounded under fire; and New Zealander Charles Upham, an infantryman, for combat actions.[74] Upham remains the only combatant soldier to have received a VC and Bar. An Irishman, Surgeon General William Manley, remains the sole recipient of both the Victoria Cross and the Iron Cross. The VC was awarded for his actions during the Waikato-Hauhau Maori War, New Zealand on 29 April 1864 while the Iron Cross was awarded for tending the wounded during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.[75] New Zealand Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg has the distinction of being the only serviceman ever awarded a VC on evidence solely provided by the enemy, for an action in which there were no surviving Allied witnesses.[76] The recommendation was made by the captain of the German U-boat U-468 sunk by Trigg’s aircraft. Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope was also awarded a VC on recommendation of the enemy, the captain of the Admiral Hipper, but there were also numerous surviving Allied witnesses to corroborate his actions.[77]

The St Nazaire Raid or Operation Chariot on 28 March 1942, a successful British amphibious attack on the heavily defended Normandie dry dock at St Nazaire in German-occupied France, resulted in the award of five Victoria Crosses.[78]

Since the end of the Second World War the original VC has been awarded 15 times: four in the Korean War, one in the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation in 1965, four to Australians in the Vietnam War, two during the Falklands War in 1982, one in the Iraq War in 2004, and three in the War in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2012.[72] The three awards given in the 21st century to British personnel have been for actions in the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War. On 18 March 2005, Lance Sergeant (then Private) Johnson Beharry of the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment became the first recipient of the VC since Sergeant Ian McKay in 1982.[18] One of the most recent awards of the Victoria Cross to a British service person was the posthumous award on 14 December 2006 to Corporal Bryan Budd of 3 Para. It was awarded for two separate acts of “inspirational leadership and the greatest valour” which led to his death, during actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan in July and August 2006.[79] Another Victoria Cross has been awarded in March 2013 to British Lance Corporal James Ashworth, who showed a courage “beyond words” during a fierce battle with the Taliban in Helmand’s Nahr-e Saraj district, Afghanistan, and was fatally wounded as a result.[80] On 26 February 2015 a further award was announced, to Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment for actions in Afghanistan in 2013.[81]

Public sales

Since 1879, more than 300 Victoria Crosses have been publicly auctioned or advertised. Others have been privately sold. The value of the VC can be seen by the increasing sums that the medals reach at auction. In 1955 the set of medals awarded to Edmund Barron Hartley was bought at Sotheby’s for the then record price of £300 (approximately £7000 in present-day terms[82]). In October 1966 the Middlesex Regiment paid a new record figure of £900 (approximately £15000 in present-day terms[82]) for a VC awarded after the Battle of the Somme. In January 1969, the record reached £1700 (£25000[82]) for the medal set of William Rennie.[83] In April 2004 the VC awarded in 1944 to Sergeant Norman Jackson, RAF, was sold at auction for £235,250.[84][85] On 24 July 2006, an auction at Bonhams in Sydney of the VC awarded to Captain Alfred Shout fetched a world record hammer price of A$1 million (approximately £410,000 at then exchange rates).[6]


Several VCs have been stolen and, being valuable, have been placed on the Interpol watch-list for stolen items.[86] The VC awarded to Milton Gregg, which was donated to the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, Ontario Canada in 1979, was stolen on Canada Day, (1 July 1980), when the museum was overcrowded[87] and has been missing since. A VC awarded in 1917 to Canadian soldier Corporal Filip Konowal[88] was stolen from the same museum in 1973 and was not recovered until 2004.[89]

On 2 December 2007, nine VCs were among 100 medals stolen from locked, reinforced glass cabinets at the QEII Army Memorial Museum in Waiouru, New Zealand with a value of around NZD$20 million. Charles Upham’s VC and Bar was among these.[90] A reward of NZ$300,000 was posted for information leading to the recovery of the decorations and conviction of the thieves, although at the time there was much public debate about the need to offer reward money to retrieve the medals.[91] On 16 February 2008 New Zealand Police announced all the medals had been recovered


Victoria Cross and Bar

There have only been three men in history who have Victoria Cross & Bar

Those who have won the Victoria Cross twice—the subsequent award is the Bar attached to the original Victoria Cross. There are only three men who have been awarded the VC twice.

Noel Godfrey Chavasse

N.G. Chavasse, VC.jpg
Noel Godfrey Chavasse
Born (1884-11-09)9 November 1884
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Died 4 August 1917(1917-08-04) (aged 32)
Brandhoek, Belgium
Buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1913–1917
Rank Captain
Unit Royal Army Medical Corps
Battles/wars First World War

Awards Victoria Cross & Bar
Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches
Other work Olympic athlete

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC (9 November 1884 – 4 August 1917) was a British medical doctor, Olympic athlete, and British Army officer from the Chavasse family. He is one of only three people to be awarded a Victoria Cross twice.[1]

The Battle of Guillemont was to see acts of heroism by Captain Chavasse, the only man to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice during the First World War. In 1916, Chavasse was hit by shell splinters while rescuing men in no-man’s land. It is said he got as close as 25 yards to the German line, where he found three men and continued throughout the night under a constant rain of sniper bullets and bombing. He performed similar heroics in the offensive at Passchendaele to gain a second VC and become the most highly decorated British officer in the war. Although operated upon, he was to die of his wounds two days later in 1917


Noel Godfrey Chavasse was the younger of identical twin boys born to the Rev. Francis Chavasse (later Bishop of Liverpool and founder of St Peter’s College, Oxford) and Edith Jane Chavasse (née Maude) on 9 November 1884 at 36 New Inn Hall Street, Oxford.[3] Christopher Maude was born 20 minutes before his brother. In all, there were seven children born to the Chavasse family, in age order: Dorothea, Christopher, Noel, Edith, Mary, Francis and Aidan. The twins were so small and weak at birth that their baptism was delayed until 29 December 1884 and both were very ill with typhoid in their first year of life.

Chavasse was educated at Magdalen College School in Cowley Place, Oxford, where a blue plaque was dedicated to him in 2005, Liverpool College and Trinity College, Oxford.[3][4] The family grew up in Oxford until, on 3 March 1900, Rev. Chavasse was offered the Anglican Bishopric of Liverpool. The move was not without regrets as Liverpool during this time was one of the busiest seaports in the Empire and also had a great deal of religious turmoil in progress. The family moved to the Bishop’s Palace at 19 Abercromby Square, Liverpool. Noel and Christopher went to school at Liverpool College where they excelled at sports from the start. Their academic progress was initially rather slower but as they grew older, both did well until in 1904, both were admitted to Trinity College, Oxford.[3]

University and early professional career

In 1907, Noel graduated with First-class honours[3] but Christopher failed, leading to a nervous breakdown. Both of them stayed at Oxford, Noel to study medicine and Christopher to retake his exams. During their time at Trinity, both men had not neglected their sports, rugby union being a favourite of theirs. In 1908, both twins represented Great Britain in the Olympic Games in the 400 metres. Noel finished third in his heat while Christopher finished second, neither time being fast enough to progress further.[5]

In January 1909, Noel joined the Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps Medical Unit. By the following May, he was promoted to Lance-Sergeant. Noel finished his studies at Oxford in July 1909 and returned to Liverpool to continue his studies under such eminent teachers as Sir Robert Jones who went on to become a leading authority in orthopaedic surgery.

On returning to Liverpool, Chavasse resumed his connection with the Grafton Street Industrial School, an institution for homeless boys in Liverpool. In the autumn, he went to London to sit his examination for Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. He failed, apparently because of ill health. When he sat the examination again in May 1910, he passed it with ease. Christopher, in the meantime, was well into his studies for the ministry under his father’s guiding hand. Noel progressed through his studies having studied pathology and bacteriology. As part of his course, he was obliged to undertake a hospital “placement”. He found a position at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Whilst Chavasse liked Dublin, his first experience of living in a Roman Catholic community disturbed him.

In January 1912 Chavasse passed his final medical examination, and was awarded the university’s premier medical prize, the Derby Exhibition, in March that year. On 22 July 1912, Noel registered as a doctor with the General Medical Council. His first placement was at the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool,[3] initially until 31 March 1913 and then for a further six months. He then became house surgeon to Robert Jones, his former tutor.

Military career and decorations

In early 1913, after discussions with some of his fellow doctors, Chavasse applied for and was accepted by the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC); he was commissioned as a lieutenant on 2 June.[6] Thanks to one of his mentors, Dr McAlistair, who was then Surgeon-Captain of the 10th Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment), the Liverpool Scottish, he was attached to the battalion as Surgeon-Lieutenant.[citation needed] The 10th Kings had been a Territorial battalion since the Haldane Reforms in 1909. Chavasse joined the battalion on 2 June 1913 and was welcomed by Lieutenant-Colonel W. Nicholl, the commanding officer. As an officer in a Territorial unit, Chavasse now had to attend to both his civilian and military duties.

During the First World War, Chavasse was a captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps, British Army attached to the 1/10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment).

Chavasse was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at Hooge, Belgium in June 1915, although the award was not gazetted until 14 January 1916.[7] He was promoted captain on 1 April 1915;[8] on 30 November 1915 that year he was Mentioned in Despatches.

Victoria Cross

Medals of Noel and Christopher Chavasse. Noel’s medals are top row. Christopher’s medals are bottom row.

Chavasse was first awarded the VC for his actions on 9 August 1916, at Guillemont, France when he attended to the wounded all day under heavy fire. The full citation was published on 24 October 1916 and read:[9]

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, M.C., M.B., Royal Army Medical Corps.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.

During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy’s lines for four hours.

Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and under heavy shell fire carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of twenty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty-five yards from the enemy’s trench, buried the bodies of two officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns.

Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice, were beyond praise.

Bar to Victoria Cross

Chavasse’s headstone in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery.

Chavasse’s second award was made during the period 31 July to 2 August 1917, at Wieltje, Belgium; the full citation was published on 14 September 1917 and read:[10]

War Office, September, 1917.

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of a Bar to the Victoria Cross to Capt. Noel Godfrey Chavasse, V.C., M.C., late R.A.M.C., attd. L’pool R.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action.

Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Capt. Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out.

During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men, over heavy and difficult ground.

By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example, he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions.

This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.

Chavasse died of his wounds in Brandhoek and is buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, Vlamertinge.[11] His military headstone carries, uniquely, a representation of two Victoria Crosses.[3]

Chavasse was the only man to be awarded both a Victoria Cross and Bar in the First World War, and one of only three men ever to have achieved this distinction.[3]

Personal life

Noel’s memorial at the Chavasse family grave at Bromsgrove

At the time of his death, Chavasse was engaged to one of his cousins, Frances Gladys Ryland Chavasse (1893–1962), daughter of his uncle Sir Thomas Frederick Chavasse (1854–1913) of Bromsgrove, a surgeon. Noel’s engagement is mentioned on a plaque at the Chavasse family grave at Bromsgrove. Gladys Chavasse was mentioned in despatches 1945 at Monte Cassino, Italy, and killed in 1962 in an accident in France while crossing the road.[12]


Noel Chavasse Memorial on display at the Army Medical Services Museum

Chavasse is believed to be commemorated by more war memorials in the UK than any other individual. Sixteen have currently been recorded by the UK National Inventory of War Memorials.

Chavasse’s medals, which had been left by his family to St Peter’s College, Oxford, were purchased in 2009 by Lord Ashcroft for around £1.5 million, a world record price.[13] The medals, along with others, are displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum.[13]

A piobaireachd commemorating him Lament for Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC and Bar, MC, RAMC was composed in his honour by Joe Massey

Chavasse Park in Liverpool city centre was named in honour of the Chavasse family; Francis (2nd Bishop of Liverpool) and his twin sons Christopher Maude Chavasse (an Olympic athlete and later Bishop of Rochester), and Noel Godfrey Chavasse.[14]

A hospital ward is named after him at the Walton Centre in Liverpool.


Arthur Martin-Leake

Arthur Martin-Leake.jpg
Arthur Martin-Leake

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Martin-Leake VC & Bar (4 April 1874 – 22 June 1953) was a British double recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Martin-Leake was the first of only three men to be awarded the VC twice.

Born (1874-04-04)4 April 1874
Standon, Hertfordshire
Died 22 June 1953(1953-06-22) (aged 79)
High Cross, Hertfordshire
Buried at High Cross Church
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1899–1902
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit Imperial Yeomanry
South African Constabulary
Royal Army Medical Corps
Commands held 46th Field Ambulance
Battles/wars Second Boer War
First World War
Awards Victoria Cross & Bar

Early life

Arthur, the fifth son of Stephen Martin-Leake of Thorpe Hall, Essex,[1] was born at Standon, near Ware, Hertfordshire, and was educated at Westminster School before studying medicine at University College Hospital, qualifying in 1893. He was employed at Hemel Hempstead District Hospital before enlisting in the Imperial Yeomanry, to serve in the Boer War in 1899.[2]

Boer War

Monument commemorating Martin-Leake, farm Syferfontein, South Africa

Martin-Leake first served in the Second Boer War as a trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry. After his year service was completed he stayed on in South Africa as a civil surgeon. He then joined the South African Constabulary until he was forced to return home due to his wounds.

He was 27 years old, and a surgeon captain in the South African Constabulary attached to the 5th Field Ambulance during the Second Boer War on 8 February 1902, at Vlakfontein when he won his first VC.

During the action at Vlakfontein, on the 8th February, 1902, Surgeon-Captain Martin-Leake went up to a wounded man, and attended to him under a heavy fire from about 40 Boers at 100 yards range. He then went to the assistance of a wounded Officer, and, whilst trying to place him in a comfortable position, was shot three times, but would not give in till he rolled over thoroughly exhausted. All the eight men at this point were wounded, and while they were lying on the Veldt, Surgeon-Captain Martin-Leake refused water till every one else had been served.[3]

He received the decoration from King Edward VII at St James’s Palace on 2 June 1902.[4]


Martin-Leake qualified as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1903 after studying while convalescing from wounds. He then took up an appointment in India as Chief Medical Officer with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway.[2]

In 1912 he volunteered to serve with the British Red Cross during the Balkan Wars, attached to the Montenegran army, and was present during the Siege of Scutari (1912–13) and at Tarabosh Mountain. He was awarded the Order of the Montenegran Red Cross.[2]

First World War

On the outbreak of the First World War Martin-Leake returned to service, as a lieutenant with the 5th Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, on the Western Front.[2]

He won his second VC, aged 40 years, during the period 29 October to 8 November 1914 near Zonnebeke, Belgium whilst serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, British Army.

His award citation reads:

Lieutenant Arthur Martin Leake, Royal Army Medical Corps, who was awarded the Victoria Cross on 13th May, 1902, is granted a Clasp for conspicuous bravery in the present campaign: —

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty throughout the campaign, especially during the period 29th October to 8th November, 1914, near Zonnebeke, in rescuing, whilst exposed to constant fire, a large number of the wounded who were lying close to the enemy’s trenches.[5]

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Army Medical Services Museum, Aldershot, England.

He was promoted captain in March 1915, major in November the same year, and in April 1917 took command of 46th Field Ambulance at the rank of lieutenant colonel.[2]


Martin-Leake retired from the army after the war and resumed his company employment in India until he retired to England in 1937. Although there is no record of his being a pilot, he was registered in 1939 as the owner of a De Havilland Moth Minor aircraft, registered G-AFRY [6]

During the Second World War he commanded an ARP post.[2]

He died, aged 79, at High Cross, Hertfordshire. Following cremation at Enfield, Middlesex, Martin-Leake was buried in St John’s Church, High Cross. He is commemorated with a plaque and a tree at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire.

Memorial service at High Cross, Hertfordshire, for Martin-Leake, 2002. Major C.D.V. Bonfield, RAMC, Mrs Sybil Martin-Leake, Mr Hugh Martin-Leake, Major Charles Monk and Trumpeter C/Sergeant Gardner, The Royal Anglian Regiment.


Charles Upham

Charles Upham

Captain Charles Hazlitt Upham, VC & Bar (21 September 1908 – 22 November 1994) was a New Zealand soldier who earned the Victoria Cross (VC) twice during the Second World War: in Crete in May 1941, and at Ruweisat Ridge, Egypt, in July 1942. He was the last of only three people to receive the VC twice, the only one to receive two VCs during the Second World War and the only combat soldier to receive the award twice.[4] As a result, Upham is often described as the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of that war, as the VC is the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy

Nickname(s) Pug[1]
Born (1908-09-21)21 September 1908
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died 22 November 1994(1994-11-22) (aged 86)
Christchurch, New Zealand
Allegiance New Zealand
Service/branch New Zealand Military Forces
Years of service 1939–45
Rank Captain
Unit 20th Battalion
Battles/wars Second World War

Awards Victoria Cross & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches
New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal[2][3]
Order of Honour (Greece)
Other work Sheep Farmer

Early life

Upham was born at 32 Gloucester Street in Central Christchurch on 21 September 1908, the son of John Hazlitt Upham, a lawyer, and his wife, Agatha Mary Coates. He boarded at Waihi School, near Winchester, South Canterbury, between 1917 and 1922 and at Christ’s College, Christchurch, from 1923–27. He attended Canterbury Agricultural College (now known as Lincoln University) where he earned a diploma in agriculture in 1930.[1]

He worked first as a sheep farmer, later as manager, and then valuing farms for the New Zealand government. In 1937, he joined the Valuation Department as assistant district valuer in Timaru. The following year he became engaged to Mary (Molly) Eileen McTamney (a distant relative of Noel Chavasse, VC and Bar). In 1939, he returned to Lincoln to complete a diploma in valuation and farm management.

Second World War

In September 1939, Upham enlisted in the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) at the age of 30, and was posted to the 20th Canterbury-Otago Battalion, part of the New Zealand Division.[1] Despite the fact that he already had five years experience in New Zealand’s Territorial Army, in which he held the rank of sergeant, he signed on as a private.[6] He was soon promoted to temporary lance corporal, but initially declined a place in an Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). In December, he was promoted to sergeant and a week later sailed for Egypt. In July 1940, he was finally persuaded to join an OCTU.


The Victoria Cross, twice awarded to Upham

In March 1941, Upham’s battalion left for Greece and then withdrew to Crete, and it was here that he was wounded in the action, from 22 to 30 May 1941, that gained him his first VC. When informed of the award, his first response was: “It’s meant for the men.”[7]


War Office, 14th October, 1941.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of awards 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.
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. During this operation his platoon destroyed numerous enemy posts but on three occasions sections were temporarily held up.
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, the other machine gun being silenced by the fire of his sections.
In the third case he crawled to within 15 yards of an M.G. post and killed the gunners with a grenade.
When his Company withdrew from Maleme he helped to carry a wounded man out under fire, and together with another officer rallied more men together to carry other wounded men out.
He was then sent to bring in a company which had become isolated. With a Corporal he went through enemy territory over 600 yards, killing two Germans on the way, found the company, and brought it back to the Battalion’s new position. But for this action it would have been completely cut off.
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.
At Galatas on 25th May his platoon was heavily engaged and came under severe mortar and machine-gun fire. While his platoon stopped under cover of a ridge Second-Lieutenant Upham went forward, observed the enemy and brought the platoon forward when the Germans advanced. They killed over 40 with fire and grenades and forced the remainder to fall back.
When his platoon was ordered to retire he sent it back under the platoon Sergeant and he went back to warn other troops that they were being cut off. When he came out himself he was fired on by two Germans. He fell and shammed dead, then crawled into a position and having the use of only one arm rested his rifle in the fork of a tree and as the Germans came forward he killed them both. The second to fall actually hit the muzzle of the rifle as he fell.
On 30th May at Sphakia his platoon was ordered to deal with a party of the enemy which had advanced down a ravine to near Force Headquarters. Though in an exhausted condition he climbed the steep hill to the west of the ravine, placed his men in positions on the slope overlooking the ravine and himself went to the top with a Bren Gun and two riflemen. By clever tactics he induced the enemy party to expose itself and then at a range of 500 yards shot 22 and caused the remainder to disperse in panic.
During the whole of the operations he suffered from dysentery and was able to eat very little, in addition to being wounded and bruised.

He showed superb coolness, great skill and dash and complete disregard of danger. His conduct and leadership inspired his whole platoon to fight magnificently throughout, and in fact was an inspiration to the Battalion.

— London Gazette, 14 October 1941[8]

Bar to VC

Upham was evacuated to Egypt, now promoted to captain. He received a Bar to his VC for his actions on 14–15 July 1942, during the First Battle of El Alamein.


War Office, 26th September, 1945.

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

Captain Charles Hazlitt UPHAM, V.C. (8077), New Zealand Military Forces.

Captain C. H. Upham, V.C., was commanding a Company of New Zealand troops in the Western Desert during the operations which culminated in the attack on El Ruweisat Ridge on the night of 14th–15th July, 1942.

In spite of being twice wounded, once when crossing open ground swept by enemy fire to inspect his forward sections guarding our mine-fields and again when he completely destroyed an entire truck load of German soldiers with hand grenades, Captain Upham insisted on remaining with his men to take part in the final assault.

During the opening stages of the attack on the ridge Captain Upham’s Company formed part of the reserve battalion, but, when communications with the forward troops broke down and he was instructed to send up an officer to report on the progress of the attack, he went out himself armed with a Spandau gun and, after several sharp encounters with enemy machine gun posts, succeeded in bringing back the required information.

Just before dawn the reserve battalion was ordered forward, but, when it had almost reached its objective, very heavy fire was encountered from a strongly defended enemy locality, consisting of four machine gun posts and a number of tanks.

Captain Upham, without hesitation, at once led his Company in a determined attack on the two nearest strongpoints on the left flank of the sector. His voice could be heard above the din of battle cheering on his men and, in spite of the fierce resistance of the enemy and the heavy casualties on both sides, the objective was captured.

Captain Upham, during the engagement, himself destroyed a German tank and several guns and vehicles with grenades and although he was shot through the elbow by a machine gun bullet and had his arm broken, he went on again to a forward position and brought back some of his men who had become isolated. He continued to dominate the situation until his men had beaten off a violent enemy counter-attack and consolidated the vital position which they had won under his inspiring leadership.

Exhausted by pain from his wound and weak from loss of blood Captain Upham was then removed to the Regimental Aid Post but immediately his wound had been dressed he returned to his men, remaining with them all day long under heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire, until he was again severely wounded and being now unable to move fell into the hands of the enemy when, his gallant Company having been reduced to only six survivors, his position was finally overrun by superior enemy forces, in spite of the outstanding gallantry and magnificent leadership shown by Captain Upham.

The Victoria Cross was conferred on Captain Upham for conspicuous bravery during the operations in Crete in May, 1941, and the award was announced in the London Gazette dated 14th October, 1941.

— London Gazette, 26 September 1945[9]

King George VI had invested Upham with his first Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on 11 May 1945. When the recommendation was made for a second VC, the King remarked to Major-General Howard Kippenberger that a bar to the cross would be “very unusual indeed” and enquired firmly, “Does he deserve it?” Kippenberger replied, “In my respectful opinion, sir, Upham won the VC several times over.”[10]

With this award, Upham became the third man to be awarded a Bar to the VC. The previous recipients were Captain Arthur Martin-Leake and Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, both doctors serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Martin-Leake received his VC for rescuing wounded under fire in the Second Boer War, and the Bar for similar actions in the First World War. Chavasse was similarly decorated for two such actions in the First World War, subsequently dying of wounds received during his second action. Neither of these men were combatants, so Upham remains the only fighting soldier to have been decorated with the VC and Bar.

POW in Colditz Castle

Having been taken prisoner of war (POW), he was sent to an Italian hospital where an Italian doctor recommended his wounded arm be amputated in view of their extremely scarce supplies and ability to prevent or treat gangrene. Upham strenuously refused, in no small part because the operation would have to be carried out without anaesthetic and he had witnessed other patients dying in agony under surgery.[11] He remained in the hospital to recuperate but attempted to escape numerous times before being branded “dangerous” by the Germans.

One attempt to escape occurred when a group of POWs were being transported in open trucks through Italy. Upham jumped from the truck at a bend and managed to get 400 yards (370 m) away before being recaptured. He had broken an ankle in jumping from the moving truck.

Another attempt occurred when he was being moved between prison camps on a civilian train while guarded by two Germans. Upham was only allowed to visit the toilet when the train was travelling at high speed, to prevent him from jumping through a window. Nevertheless, Upham pried open the toilet window and jumped onto the tracks, knocking himself unconscious.

On a third occasion, he tried to escape a camp by climbing its fences in broad daylight. He became entangled in barbed wire when he fell down between the two fences. When a prison guard pointed a pistol at his head and threatened to shoot, Upham calmly ignored him and lit a cigarette. This scene was photographed by the Germans as “evidence” and later reprinted in his biography (Mark of the Lion, by Kenneth Sandford).

After this incident, Upham was considered extremely dangerous and was placed in solitary confinement. He was only allowed to exercise alone, while accompanied by two armed guards and while covered by a machine gun in a tower. Despite these precautions, Upham bolted from his little courtyard, straight through the German barracks and out through the front gate of the camp. The guard in the machine-gun tower later told other prisoners that he refrained from shooting Upham out of sheer respect, and as he could see German soldiers coming up the road who he expected to capture Upham.

Upham was soon recaptured and sent to the infamous Oflag IV-C (Colditz) on 14 October 1944.


When Colditz Castle was captured by American forces, most of the inmates made their own way home immediately. Upham joined an American unit, was armed and equipped, and wanted to fight the Germans.

Upham was keen to see action again, but was instead sent to Britain where he was reunited with Molly McTamney, who was then serving as a nurse. They were married at New Milton, Hampshire, on 20 June 1945. He returned to New Zealand in early September, and she followed him in December.

Upham was also mentioned in despatches on 14 November 1946.[12]


Charles Upham’s gravestone

After the war Upham returned to New Zealand, and the community raised £10,000 to buy him a farm. However, he declined and the money went into the C. H. Upham Scholarship for children of ex-servicemen to study at Lincoln College or the University of Canterbury.[10]

He obtained a war rehabilitation loan and bought a farm on Conway Flat, Hundalee, North Canterbury. It is said that for the remainder of his life, Upham would allow no German manufactured machinery or car onto his property.[1]

Although somewhat hampered by his injuries, he became a successful farmer and served on the board of governors of Christ’s College for nearly 20 years. He and Molly had three daughters, and lived on their farm until January 1994, when Upham’s poor health forced them to retire to Christchurch.

He died in Canterbury on 22 November 1994, surrounded by his wife and daughters. His funeral in the now-destroyed Christchurch Cathedral was conducted with full military honours. The streets of Christchurch were lined by over 5,000 people.[13] Upham is buried in the graveyard of St Paul’s Church Papanui.[14] His death was also marked by a memorial service on 5 May 1995 in London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, attended by representatives for the Royal Family, senior New Zealand government and political figures, senior members of the British and New Zealand armed forces, Valerian Freyberg, 3rd Baron Freyberg, grandson of VC holder Lord Freyberg, the commander of Allied forces in Crete and 7th Governor-General of New Zealand, representatives of veterans’ organisations and other VC and George Cross holders.[15]

In November 2006, Upham’s VC and Bar were sold by his daughters to the Imperial War Museum for an undisclosed sum.[16] However, as New Zealand legislation prohibits the export of such historic items, the Imperial War Museum agreed to a permanent loan of the medals to the Waiouru Army Museum.[3] On 2 December 2007, Upham’s VC was among nine stolen from locked, reinforced glass cabinets at the Museum.[17] His VC and Bar was on display at the QEII Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru, until its theft in December 2007. On 16 February 2008, the New Zealand Police announced all the medals had been recovered as a result of a NZ$300,000 reward offered by Michael Ashcroft and Tom Sturgess.[18]

Other honours

Charles Upham statue in Amberley.

In 1992, he was presented with the Order of Honour by the Government of Greece, in recognition of his service in the Battles of Greece and Crete.[6]

HMNZS Charles Upham, a Royal New Zealand Navy ship, was commissioned in 1995, and decommissioned in 2001

A bronze statue stands outside the Hurunui District Council buildings in Amberley, North Canterbury, depicting Charles Upham “the observer”.[19]

A street in suburban Christchurch is named Charles Upham Avenue. There is also a street in Havelock North, Hawkes Bay, named Upham Street, accompanied by fellow VC recipients Elliot, Grant, and Chrichton.[clarification needed]

A Jetconnect Boeing 737-800 was named Charles Upham in August 2011


Japanese war crimes – Execution of Bill Newton – Life & Death

William Ellis (Bill) Newton

8 June 1919 – 29 March 1943

William Ellis (Bill) Newton
Informal head-and-shoulders portrait of dark-haired, moustachioed man in dark military jacket with pilot's wings on left breast pocket, and peaked cap

Bill Newton, c. 1942
Nickname(s)“The Firebug”; “Blue Cap”
Born(1919-06-08)8 June 1919

St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

Died29 March 1943(1943-03-29) (aged 23)

Salamaua, Papua New Guinea

Service/branchCitizen Military Force (1938–40)

Royal Australian Air Force (1940–43)

Years of service1938–43
RankFlight Lieutenant
UnitNo. 22 Squadron (1942–43)
Battles/warsWorld War II

AwardsVictoria Cross

William Ellis (Bill) Newton, VC (8 June 1919 – 29 March 1943) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a member of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.

He was honoured for his actions as a bomber pilot in Papua New Guinea during March 1943 when, despite intense anti-aircraft fire, he pressed home a series of attacks on the Salamaua Isthmus, the last of which saw him forced to ditch his aircraft in the sea. Newton was still officially posted as missing when the award was made in October 1943. It later emerged that he had been taken captive by the Japanese, and executed by beheading on 29 March.

Raised in Melbourne, Newton excelled at sport, playing cricket at youth state level. He joined the Citizen Military Forces in 1938, and enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in February 1940. Described as having the dash of “an Errol Flynn or a Keith Miller“.

Newton served as a flying instructor in Australia before being posted to No. 22 Squadron, which began operating Boston light bombers in New Guinea late in 1942. Having just taken part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, he was on his fifty-second mission when he was shot down and captured. Newton was the only Australian airman to receive a Victoria Cross for action in the South West Pacific theatre of World War II, and the sole Australian to be so decorated while flying with an RAAF squadron.

Family, education and sport

Born in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda on 8 June 1919, Bill Newton was the youngest child of dentist Charles Ellis Newton and his second wife Minnie.[2][3] His three older half-siblings from Charles’ earlier marriage included two brothers, John and Lindsay, and a sister, Phyllis. Bill entered Melbourne Grammar School in 1929, but two years later switched to the nearby St Kilda Park Central School as the family income was reduced through the impact of the Great Depression.

In 1934, aged fifteen, he was able to return to Melbourne Grammar where, despite struggling with his schoolwork, he completed his Intermediate certificate He gave up further study when his father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of fifty-one, and began working in a silk warehouse.

Considered while at school to be a future leader in the community, Newton was also a talented all-round sportsman, playing cricket, Australian rules football, golf and water polo.  A fast bowler in cricket, he was friends with Keith Miller, and collected the Victorian Cricket Association (VCA) Colts bowling trophy for 1937–38, while Miller collected the equivalent batting prize.[9] In January 1938, Newton dismissed Test batsman Bill Ponsford—still the only Australian to twice score 400 in a first-class innings —for four in a Colts game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The following year, he gained selection in the Victorian Second XIHe opened the bowling against the New South Wales Second XI—his first and only match—taking a total of 3/113 including the wickets of Ron Saggers and Arthur Morris who, like Miller, went on to become members of the Invincibles.

Early career

Newton had been a sergeant in his cadet corps at school, and joined the Citizens Military Force on 28 November 1938, serving as a private in the machine-gun section of the 6th Battalion, Royal Melbourne Regiment.[13][14] Still employed in the silk warehouse when World War II broke out in September 1939, he resigned to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 5 February 1940.

He had earlier attempted to enlist when he turned eighteen in 1937, but his mother refused to give her permission; with Australia now at war, she acquiesced. His brothers—dentists by profession, like their father—also enlisted in the armed forces, John as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy and Lindsay as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps.

Informal outdoor portrait of dark-haired moustachioed man in suit leaning on fence, flanked by two dark-haired women

Newton relaxing at Wagga in 1941

Newton undertook his initial training with No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School in Parafield, South Australia, flying De Havilland Tiger Moths, and with No. 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron at RAAF Station Laverton, Victoria, flying CAC Wirraways. He was awarded his wings and commissioned as a pilot officer on 28 June 1940. Following advanced training on Avro Ansons with No. 1 Service Flying Training School at RAAF Point Cook in September, he was selected to become a flight instructor.

He completed the requisite course at Central Flying School in Camden, New South Wales, and was promoted to flying officer on 28 December.  He subsequently began training students under the Empire Air Training Scheme at No. 2 Service Flying Training School near Wagga Wagga, under the command of Group Captain Frederick Scherger.

In October 1941, Newton transferred to No. 5 Service Flying Training School at Uranquinty. He found instruction frustrating, as he longed for a combat assignment. His fortunes changed in February 1942, when he was selected for the navigation course on Ansons at the General Reconnaissance School based at Laverton. From there he was sent to No. 1 Operational Training Unit at Sale, Victoria, for conversion to Lockheed Hudson twin-engined light bombers during March and April. 

Promoted to flight lieutenant on 1 April 1942, Newton was posted the following month to No. 22 (City of Sydney) Squadron, based at RAAF Station Richmond, New South Wales.

Previously equipped with Hudsons, the unit had just begun converting to the more advanced Douglas Boston when Newton arrived. A comrade described him as a:

“big brash, likeable man who could drink most of us under the table, was a good pilot, good at sports, and had a way with girls”

No. 22 Squadron was engaged in convoy escort and anti-submarine patrols off Sydney from July to September, before moving north to Townsville, Queensland. In November, it was deployed to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, under the control of No. 9 Operational Group RAAF.

Newton undertook the first of his fifty-two operational sorties on 1 January 1943, under the leadership of his commanding officer, Squadron Leader Keith Hampshire. During February, Newton flew low-level missions through monsoon conditions and hazardous mountain terrain, attacking Japanese forces ranged against Allied troops in the Morobe province.

In early March, he took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, one of the key engagements in the South West Pacific theatre bombing and strafing Lae airfield to prevent its force of enemy fighters taking off to intercept Allied aircraft attacking the Japanese fleet.

Newton gained a reputation for driving straight at his targets without evasive manoeuvre, and always leaving them in flames; this earned him the nickname “The Firebug”. The Japanese gunners, however, reportedly knew him as “Blue Cap”, from his habit of wearing an old blue cricket cap on operations. In spite of the hazards of the air war in New Guinea, he was quoted as saying,

“The troops on the ground should get two medals each, before any airman gets one”.

Attacks on Salamaua

Three twin-engined military aircraft flying low above a valley

Douglas Bostons of No. 22 Squadron over New Guinea, c. 1942–43

On 16 March 1943, Newton led a sortie on the Salamaua Isthmus in which his Boston was hit repeatedly by Japanese anti-aircraft fire, damaging fuselage, wings, fuel tanks and undercarriage. In spite of this he continued his attack and dropped his bombs at low level on buildings, ammunition dumps and fuel stores, returning for a second pass at the target in order to strafe it with machine-gun fire.

Newton managed to get his crippled machine back to base, where it was found to be marked with ninety-eight bullet holes. Two days later, he and his two-man crew made a further attack on Salamaua with five other Bostons. As he bombed his designated target, Newton’s plane was seen to burst into flames, raked by cannon fire from the ground.

Attempting to keep his aircraft aloft as long as possible to get his crew away from enemy lines, he was able to ditch in the sea approximately 1,000 yards (910 m) offshore.

The Boston’s navigator, Sergeant Basil Eastwood, was killed in the forced landing but Newton and his wireless operator, Flight Sergeant John Lyon, survived and managed to swim ashore. Several of the other aircraft in the flight circled the area; one returned to base straight away to inform Hampshire, and the remainder were later forced to depart through lack of fuel. Newton and Lyon originally made their way inland with the help of natives, aiming to contact an Australian Coastwatcher, but subsequently returned to the coast. There they were captured by a Japanese patrol of No. 5 Special Naval Landing Force.

The two airmen were taken to Salamaua and interrogated until 20 March, before being moved to Lae where Lyon was bayoneted to death on the orders of Rear Admiral Ruitaro Fujita, the senior Japanese commander in the area.  Newton was brought back to Salamaua where, on 29 March 1943, he was ceremonially beheaded with a Samurai sword by Sub-Lieutenant Uichi Komai, the naval officer who had captured him.

Komai was killed in the Philippines soon after, and Fujita committed suicide at the end of the war.

Revelations and reactions

It was initially believed that Newton had failed to escape from the Boston after it ditched into the sea, and he was posted as missing. Squadron Leader Hampshire had immediately dispatched a sortie to recover the pair that were last seen swimming for shore, but no sign of them was found.

Two weeks later, he wrote a letter to Newton’s mother in which he described her son’s courage and expressed the hope that he might yet be found alive. Hampshire concluded:”.

The details of his capture and execution were only revealed later that year in a diary found on a Japanese soldier. Newton was not specifically named, but circumstantial evidence clearly identified him, as the diary entry recorded the beheading of an Australian flight lieutenant who had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire on 18 March 1943 while flying a Douglas aircraft.

The Japanese observer described the prisoner as “composed” in the face of his impending execution, and:

“unshaken to the last”.

After the decapitation, a seaman slashed open the dead man’s stomach, declaring :

“Something for the other day. Take that.”

General Headquarters South West Pacific Area, while releasing details of the execution on 5 October, initially refused to name Newton. Aside from the lack of absolute certainty as to identification, Air Vice Marshal Bill Bostock, Air Officer Commanding RAAF Command, contended that naming him would change the impact of the news upon Newton’s fellow No. 22 Squadron members “from the impersonal to the closely personal” and hence “seriously affect morale”.

News of the atrocity provoked shock in Australia. In an attempt to alleviate anxiety among the families of other missing airmen, the Federal government announced on 12 October that the relatives of the slain man had been informed of his death.

Victoria Cross

Newton was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 16–18 March, becoming the only Australian airman to earn the decoration in the South West Pacific theatre of World War II, and the only one while flying with an RAAF squadron.

The citation, which incorrectly implied that he was shot down on 17 March rather than the following day, and as having failed to escape from his sinking aircraft, was promulgated in the London Gazette on 19 October 1943:

Three-quarter portrait of moustachioed man in flying suit with a belt of machine-gun ammunition slung over his shoulders, leaning against an aeroplane

Newton c. 1942–43

Air Ministry, 19th October, 1943.

The KING has been graciously pleased, on the advice of Australian Ministers, to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

Flight Lieutenant William Ellis NEWTON (Aus. 748), Royal Australian Air Force, No. 22 (R.A.A.F.) Squadron (missing).

Flight Lieutenant Newton served with No. 22 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, in New Guinea from May, 1942, to March, 1943, and completed 52 operational sorties.

Throughout, he displayed great courage and an iron determination to inflict the utmost damage on the enemy. His splendid offensive flying and fighting were attended with brilliant success. Disdaining evasive tactics when under the heaviest fire, he always went straight to his objectives. He carried out many daring machine-gun attacks on enemy positions involving low-flying over long distances in the face of continuous fire at point-blank range.

On three occasions, he dived through intense anti-aircraft fire to release his bombs on important targets on the Salamaua Isthmus. On one of these occasions, his starboard engine failed over the target, but he succeeded in flying back to an airfield 160 miles away. When leading an attack on an objective on 16th March, 1943, he dived through intense and accurate shell fire and his aircraft was hit repeatedly. Nevertheless, he held to his course and bombed his target from a low level. The attack resulted in the destruction of many buildings and dumps, including two 40,000-gallon fuel installations. Although his aircraft was crippled, with fuselage and wing sections torn, petrol tanks pierced, main-planes and engines seriously damaged, and one of the main tyres flat, Flight Lieutenant Newton managed to fly it back to base and make a successful landing.

Despite this harassing experience, he returned next day to the same locality. His target, this time a single building, was even more difficult but he again attacked with his usual courage and resolution, flying a steady course through a barrage of fire. He scored a hit on the building but at the same moment his aircraft burst into flames.

Flight Lieutenant Newton maintained control and calmly turned his aircraft away and flew along the shore. He saw it as his duty to keep the aircraft in the air as long as he could so as to take his crew as far away as possible from the enemy’s positions. With great skill, he brought his blazing aircraft down on the water. Two members of the crew were able to extricate themselves and were seen swimming to the shore, but the gallant pilot is missing. According to other air crews who witnessed the occurrence, his escape-hatch was not opened and his dinghy was not inflated. Without regard to his own safety, he had done all that man could do to prevent his crew from falling into enemy hands.

Flight Lieutenant Newton’s many examples of conspicuous bravery have rarely been equalled and will serve as a shining inspiration to all who follow him.


Row of five military medals with ribbons

Newton’s medals on display at the Australian War Memorial

Buried initially in an unmarked bomb crater in Salamaua, Newton’s body was recovered and re-interred in Lae War Cemetery after Salamaua’s capture by Allied troops in September 1943.

Image result for lae war cemetery

In early 1944, the recently constructed No. 4 Airfield in Nadzab was renamed Newton Field in his honour. For many years, the story of Newton’s death was intertwined with that of an Australian commando, Sergeant Len Siffleet, who had also been captured in New Guinea.

A famous photograph showing Siffleet about to be executed with a katana was discovered by American troops in April 1944 and was thought to have depicted Newton in Salamaua. However, no photograph of the airman’s execution is known to exist.

Newton’s mother Minnie was presented with her son’s Victoria Cross by the Governor-General, the Duke of Gloucester, on 30 November 1945. She donated it to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, where it remains on display with his other medals.

Newton is also commemorated on Canberra’s Remembrance Driveway. In the 1990s, his friend Keith Miller successfully fought to ensure that the Victoria Racing Club abandoned a plan to rename the William Ellis Newton Steeplechase—run on Anzac Day—after a commercial sponsor. Later in the decade, Miller also publicly questioned Australia Post‘s exclusion of Newton from a series of stamps featuring notable Australians such as cricketer Sir Donald Bradman.

A plaque dedicated to No. 22 Squadron was unveiled at the Australian War Memorial by the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Angus Houston, on 16 March 2003, the sixtieth anniversary of Newton’s attack on Salamaua.

See: Execution of Leonard Siffleet