Flourishes of bravery exemplary

Sergeant Dick Travis (left) with one of his proteges, Corporal Robert Hill. Photo: Toitu Otago...
Sergeant Dick Travis (left) with one of his proteges, Corporal Robert Hill. Photo: Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
A stockman on the run from family troubles in Taranaki was one of the Otago battalion's unlikely heroes, writes Sean Brosnahan.  

He wasn't much to look at, a short, slim man of quiet demeanour. He had a troubled past.

Travis wasn't even his real name. He was born Dickson Cornelius Savage but left that name behind when he fell out with his family and departed his native Taranaki for the South.

Working as a stockman in Southland when war broke out, he first made his mark as an unconventional soldier at Gallipoli, but really came into his own on the Western Front.

He was a special forces operative before his time: meticulous in his military work, casual in his uniform and discipline.

His reputation among the New Zealand troops was huge.

On July 24, 1918, the Otago battalions were tasked with clearing German trench systems near Rossignol Wood. Travis knocked out two machine guns that were holding up the right of the attack and killed their crews. He then took out more Germans charging towards him and moved forward, bombing as he went, and seizing a 250m stretch of the next trench.

His actions ensured the success of the overall attack and earned Travis the Victoria Cross.

Next day, however, the man who had dodged so many bullets, bombs and bayonets for four years was killed by a random shell while back in the Otago positions.

His death cast a pall over the entire New Zealand Division. His funeral on July 26 at Couin was a sombre occasion.

The men of the Otago Regiment, who had seen their mates die on a daily basis for so long, wept for their fallen prince.

As they returned from his funeral, the Otago men were cheered by English soldiers coming out of their billets along the Couin valley in tribute to the fallen hero.

In remembrance of Travis, Toitu currently has on display the New Zealand and French flags that draped his coffin, on loan from Pukerau School.

Sean Brosnahan is the Curator of Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

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