At home with a war hero’s son
Mike Brazil speaks about his father’s legacy; shares memories
It’s 1960 and Mike Brazil of Spaniard’s Bay is teaching school at Corner Brook. A man by the name of Bertram Butler seeks him out and, even before they exchange introductions, he exclaims, “Matt Brazil’s son. Sir, your father was the bravest soldier in my regiment. He should have won the Victoria Cross.”
Butler was Matthew Brazil’s military captain in the Royal Newfoundfland Regiment in the First World War.
At that moment, young Brazil realizes the quiet debate about whether his late father should have been awarded the highest military decoration for valour available in the British Commonwealth is over, at least as far as he’s concerned.
Fast forward to 1983: the French consul general visits Spaniard’s Bay to present Matthew Brazil’s widow, Agnes, with the Croix de Guerre, bestowing that country’s highest award for bravery on a soldier who distinguished himself in battle during the First World War.
“ Justice was done,” says Mike Brazil.
A boy’s hero
Matthew Brazil was already a hero in his son’s eyes, “awesome” and “ wonder- ful” being the words Mike uses to describe him.
“ There was no fear among us when my father was in our midst,” he admits.
Matthew was also easy going, evidenced by his love of “ jannying,” the practice of visiting houses disguised as mummers at Christmas.
“He would pull tricks on my mother and other people around his age in a lot of places,” Mike recalls.
The senior man was also athletically and recreationally minded, playing soccer, swimming and skating with his children.
At Beaumont Hamel, he was wounded in his left leg and face. A bomb attack left him with a scalded right hand and a bullet wound to his right wrist. At Boulogne, he was gassed several times.
Still, he remained in action until the war ended.
After the war, Brazil lived on the edge of Brazil’s Pond, a favourite swimming hole in the family’s garden at Spaniard’s Bay.
“I can remember Mr. Brazil coming out and watching us swimming in the summer and playing hockey in the winter,” Titford says. “He appeared very friendly.”
Brazil’s son, Michael, was instrumental in having the Croix de Guerre awarded to his late father by the French government.
There’s long been a quiet debate in many circles about whether Brazil should also have been awarded the Victoria Cross, which is the highest military decoration available in the British Commonwealth.
Chipman is of the opinion the Croix de Guerre “doesn’t match the Victoria Cross, but it sort of compen-
sates for it.”
Never joined the Legion
One wonders how Brazil himself would have reacted to the honour.
“I think he would have been — not reluctant altogether — but rather sheepish about it,” Chipman suggests. “He just did what he had to do for his country.”
Indeed, Brazil was never a Legion member, but that’s hardly reason enough to overlook the accomplishments of arguably the most distinguished veteran from this region.
“ The fact that we call this the Matthew Brazil branch distinguishes us from many other branches,” Chipman says.
Brazil’s medals, including the Croix de Guerre, along with his rifle, are on display in the lounge of Branch No. 9.
Titford feels a keen sense of pride in “ensuring that … the people of Spaniard’s Bay and the Legion members recognize the war efforts of one of our own.”
It’s a way of “seeing that the youth of our day are given the opportunity to learn some of (our) past history, the sacrifices and heroic things done by our own sons.”
He recalls to mind the “many stories of these gentlemen who, at a very tender age, went overseas as boys, but returned as men.”
Those were the ones, Titford adds, who “sacrificed their youth for our lives today.”