Richard Travis

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for the actor see Richard Travis (actor)
Richard Charles Travis
Richard Travis.jpg
Born 6 April 1884
Opotiki, New Zealand
Died 25 July 1918(1918-07-25) (aged 34)
Rossignol Wood, France
Buried at Couin, France
Allegiance  New Zealand
Service/branch New Zealand Military Forces
Years of service 1914–1918
Rank Sergeant
Unit 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars

First World War

Awards

Richard Charles Travis VC DCM MM (6 April 1884 – 25 July 1918) was a New Zealand soldier who fought during the First World War and was posthumously decorated with the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to Commonwealth forces. Prior to serving in the military Travis worked as a farm hand and horse breaker and was known as being a bit of trouble maker to the extent that he led a rather transient existence after leaving home at the age of 21. During the war he served briefly at Gallipoli before being sent to France where he fought in the trenches along the Western Front, earning a reputation as scout and sniper. He was killed by shellfire a day after performing the deed that led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross.

Early life[edit]

Travis was born as Dickson Cornelius Savage on 6 April 1884 in Opotiki,[2] New Zealand. He was one of nine children, being the fifth in the brood. His father, James Savage, a former member of the New Zealand Armed Constabulary, had migrated to New Zealand from Ireland and was employed as a farmer.[3][4] His mother, Frances (née O'Keefe), had originally come from Sydney, Australia.[3] As a child Dickson Savage attended schools at Opotiki and Otara but only completed the first four years of his education before his family took him out of education to work on the farm. He acquired various farming skills, but showed a particular talent for horse breaking for which he earned a degree of local fame.[3]

However, Savage had an impetuous nature and he found himself in trouble after leaving home and moving to Gisborne at the age of 21 after falling out with his father.[3] Amid claims of impropriety with a local woman he moved on and, seeking a clean break, he changed his name to Richard Charles Travis and in 1910 he settled in Winton. There he found work as a farmhand with a local farmer by the name of Tom Murray at his property around Ryal Bush. Sometime later he and Murray's daughter, Lettie, became engaged although the pair were not married before the war in Europe separated them.[3]

Military service[edit]

Less than a month after the outbreak of the First World War Richard Travis sought to join the 7th (Southland) Mounted Rifles, a squadron of the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment.[3] Enlisting in Invercargill Travis' height 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m) and weight 133 pounds (60 kg) with "a fresh complexion, blue eyes and fair hair" belied his military potential. He was attested on 20 August 1914 and after a short period of basic training Travis departed New Zealand along with the first contingent—known as the "Main Body"—of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force bound for Egypt.[3]

Upon arrival in the Middle East in December 1914, the New Zealanders undertook further training, before taking part in the Landing at Anzac Cove as part of the Gallipoli campaign on 25 April 1915.[5] The Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment (including the Southland Squadron) did not take part in the initial landing; instead they were sent as dismounted reinforcements the following month.[3] It seems, however, that Travis, was not scheduled to proceed with rest of the Southland Mounted Rifles Squadron, presumably having been assigned to a rear detail or reserve party that was to remain in Egypt until called for later on. Nevertheless, exhibiting the same disregard for discipline that had gotten him in trouble earlier in his life, he took it upon himself to stow away upon the squadron's transport and joined them on the Gallipoli Peninsula.[3][6] His unauthorised presence was soon discovered and disciplinary proceedings followed with Travis being returned to Egypt and receiving 14 days' confinement. Nevertheless he was later able to return to Gallipoli to take part in the final month of the campaign before the Allied forces were evacuated in December 1915, and while at ANZAC Cove he established a reputation as a fine soldier who possessed the ability to move through "no man's land" unscathed.[3][4]

Following the evacuation of Gallipoli, the New Zealanders returned to Egypt while their future employment was being considered. In March 1916, Travis was transferred to the infantry and was posted to the 8th (Southland) Company of the 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment[6] and after the decision was made to transfer the New Zealanders to the European theatre he sailed with them to France, arriving there in April, to serve in the trenches along the Western Front.[3] After the 2nd Battalion entered the line near Armentieres,[6] Travis began conducting scouting missions at night into "no man's land" to gather intelligence on German positions and help in mapping the front.[3]

In September 1916 he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Commonwealth's second highest gallantry award, when he was involved in the fighting on the Somme, singlehandedly dealing with two German snipers that were firing upon a workparty.[7] After this the 2nd Battalion moved to Flanders to hold the line during winter.[6] Further accolades followed and throughout 1917 he progressed through the ranks reaching the rank of sergeant whereupon he was given responsibility for a sniper and reconnaissance section consisting of men hand picked by himself,[6] tasked with conducting reconnaissance of German lines and capturing prisoners to gain intelligence.[3] In early 1918 he was awarded the Croix de Guerre from the Belgian government,[8] and then later the Military Medal.[9] As a leader he was said to have a casual approach towards things such as dress and military protocol, however, he was resourceful, had a well-developed understanding of enemy courses of action and had a penchant for detailed planning.[3]

In July 1918, as part of the operations undertaken prior to the Allied Hundred Days Offensive that was planned for August, the 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, was committed to operations around Rossignol Wood, to the north of Hébuterne, where a salient had developed in the German lines.[4] Following the initial attacks the Germans withdrew from their positions and the reconnaissance section was sent out under Travis to discover where they had fallen back to. On 24 July the battalion was scheduled to launch its attack. Prior to stepping off, Travis crossed "no man's land" in daylight and destroyed a wire obstacle that threatened to block the path of the battalion's advance. Later, after the attack had been checked by heavy fire from a number of machine gun positions, seeing the danger, Travis singlehandedly approached two weapons pits and killed their occupants.[4][10]

He was killed the following day in an artillery barrage laid down by the Germans in preparation for a counter-attack. On 26 July 1918 he was interred in a grave near the small village of Couin, which is now the site of the Couin New British Cemetery.[1] For his deeds on 24 July he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in September 1918.[11]

Victoria Cross citation[edit]

The citation for Travis' Victoria Cross in the Supplement to the London Gazette on 27 September 1918 reads:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.

During 'surprise' operations it was necessary to destroy an impassable wire block. Serjt. Travis, regardless of personal danger, volunteered for this duty. Before zero hour, in broad daylight and in close proximity to enemy posts he crawled out and successfully destroyed the block with bombs, thus enabling the attacking parties to pass through.

A few minutes later a bombing party on the right of the attack was held up by two enemy machine guns, and the success of the whole operation was in danger. Perceiving this Serjt. Travis with great gallantry and utter disregard of danger, rushed the position, killed the crews and captured the guns. An enemy officer and three men immediately rushed at him from a bend in the trench and attempted to retake the guns. These four he killed single handed, thus allowing the bombing party on which much depended to advance.

The success of the operation was almost entirely due to the heroic work of this gallant N.C.O. and the vigour with which he made and used opportunities for inflicting casualties on the enemy. He was killed 24 hours later when, in a most intense bombardment prior to an enemy counter-attack, he was going from post to post encouraging the men.[11]

The Medal[edit]

His Victoria Cross is held at the Southland Museum, Invercargill, New Zealand.[12]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Casualty Details: Travis, Richard Charles". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "Cenotaph Record: Richard Charles Travis". Auckland War Memorial Museum. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Fox, Aaron. "Travis, Richard Charles 1884–1918". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gasson, James. "Travis, Richard Charles". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 1966. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  5. ^ "New Zealand Expeditionary Force". Digger History. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Byrne 1921, p. 318
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29837. p. 11563. 24 November 1916. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30792. p. 8191. 9 July 1918. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30897. p. 10779. 10 September 1918. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  10. ^ Byrne 1921, p. 319
  11. ^ a b The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30922. p. 11431. 24 September 1918. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  12. ^ "The Victoria Cross: Richard Travis". Birkenhead Returned Services Association. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Gasson, James (1966). Travis, VC. Wellington: Reed. OCLC 220065250.