The Victoria Cross is the highest award for bravery in the British military, and was formerly the highest available medal for troops from the British colonies. It 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”. There have been only 15 such awards in the last 70 years. In total, 182 VCs were awarded in the course of World War II.
Two VCs were awarded to New Zealanders during the Battle of Crete in May 1941. One to Second Lieutenant Charles Upham, who would win a second VC in Egypt 14 months later; the other to Sergeant Clive Hulme.
Hulme was a farm labourer, who before the war had worked on his parents’ tobacco farm at Motueka, near Nelson, on South Island. He was something of a mystic, being a water diviner and a fortune-teller. When war broke out he and his brother Harold joined the 2nd New Zealand Division and were sent to Crete. They were there when the Germans launched a parachute assault on the island. Harold was killed while Clive began a startling career as a sniper, often behind enemy lines. His personal battle with the Germans lasted eight days during which killed at least 33 German snipers, and ended with him being shot in the shoulder during the Allied evacuation. He returned home a national hero, settling on North Island with his family, including his five year old son Denny Hulme, who would later become the 1967 Formula One World Champion.
Hulme told his son that he never worried about being shot because he knew he would survive the battle – and believed that the bullets bent around him.