Only three men have been awarded two Victoria Crosses for bravery since the awards inception in 1857. The double VC winners included Captain Charles Upham, Surgeon Captain Arthur Martin-Leake and Captain Noel Chavasse.
Surgeon Captain Arthur Martin-Leake was a British double recipient of the Victoria Cross. He was awarded the VC as a result for his actions in the Boer War in 1902. He risked his life to treat a soldier who was wounded merely 100 metres from the enemy line. Despite being shot and injured, he continued to treat men. Before he collapsed of exhaustion, he issued an order that those who were wounded should have water before himself.
His second VC was awarded in recognition of his service in Belgium in 1914, where he risked his life rescuing men whilst under fire from enemy guns.
He was mentioned by Sir John French in his Despatch in 1915:
"Lieutenant Arthur Martin-Leake, Royal Army Medical Corps, who was awarded the Victoria Cross on 13 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 29 October to 8 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.”
Captain Noel Chavasse received two VCs for his First World War service. Before the war, Chavasse Oxford studied medicine at Oxford and competed in the 400m at the 1908 Olympic Games. On the outbreak of World War One, he was eager to join the war effort. He wrote: "If ever I get sent to the front with a regiment, I shall almost shed tears of joy," he wrote in August 1914.
"I do envy Chris going off so soon, but I think this dog is going to have his day soon too."
He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). His RAMC unit was attached to 10th Battalion King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. In 1915 he fought at the Battle of Hooge - one of the bloodiest battles of the war: only 2 officers and 140 men survived out of the 900 strong 10th battalion. Captain Chavasse was presented with the Military Cross for his bravery in the battle.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, Chavasse’s battalion was made to launch an attack on the fortified village of Guillemont. The 10th battalion suffered major casualties, as did a lot of other units. Chavasse worked into the night to nurse the wounded men. On two occasions he was struck by shrapnel and one time carried a wounded man 500m to the trenches. Chavasse also tried to collect the dog tags of men who had died in the attack.
King George V was the one to present Chavasse with his VC in February 1917.
Chavasse fought in July 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele. He manned an advanced first-aid post in a captured German dugout. The Germans shelled this position and Chavasse suffered a blow to the head which fractured his skull. According to a witness, Chavasse simply took off his helmet, bandaged the wound and carried on working. He experienced two more head injuries as a result of more shelling. Stretcher-bearers took other wounded men back to safer areas on Chavasse’s orders, but he stayed where he was. He continued to conduct perilous searches for wounded soldiers. On 2 August 1917 he was severely injured in the stomach by a shell blast. He died of his injuries on 4 August 1917 at the age of 32.
Chavasse was buried at Brandhoek in Belgium in the military cemetery. Out of all the headstones in the world, only his one has two VCs engraved on it.
Captain Charles Upham was born in 1908 in Christchurch, New Zealand. He won his first VC for a series of brave acts in May 1941 in Crete. On one occasion, Upham helped carry an injured man whilst under fire. On another, Upham was injured by a mortar shell, but remained on duty. He suffered from dysentery whilst in Crete, but did not let the illness impinge on the quality of his service.
His first VC citation included these words:
“During the operations in Crete this officer performed a series of remarkable exploits, showing outstanding leadership, tactical skill and utter indifference to danger… 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.”
Upham served in North Africa in 1942 and was awarded a second Victoria Cross for his conduct during the Second Battle of El Alamein. He managed to capture a German position and destroyed a tank and a number of vehicles with grenades. His arm was ruined by a machine gun but he carried on fighting, only stopping when he became faint through blood loss. It was only then that he chose to have his wounds dressed, after which he continued fighting and suffered more injuries. His company was eventually overrun and he was captured. The VC ciation said that he had shown ‘outstanding gallantry’ and ‘magnificent leadership’. During his time as a Prisoner of War, Upham tried to escape several times. He was eventually sent to the Colditz Castle POW camp, where he was rescued by the Americans at the end of the war.
Charles Upham died in New Zealand aged 86 in November 1994.
See also: The George Cross
"Double VC Winners". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.