Remembering a war hero
Cpl. Matthew Brazil remains an icon at Spaniard’s Bay Legion
It’s nearly been three decades since a high-ranking French official came to the Royal Canadian Legion in Spaniard’s Bay and bestowed that country’s highest award for bravery on a local man who distinguished himself in battle during the First World War.
But the legacy of Matthew Brazil is still as strong as ever at Branch No. 9, which is named in honour of the unassuming war hero.
“A person today who did what he did would be a hero and receive national recognition,” says Jack Chipman, the secretary and public relations officer at Branch No. 9.
In the fall of 1983, some 25 years after Brazil’s death, the French consul general visited Spaniard’s Bay to present Brazil’s widow, Agnes, with the Croix de Guerre.
It was a momentous event for Brazil’s family, the Legion and the entire province.
“It was one of the biggest events here at the branch,” says Bill Titford, a pastpresident of Branch No. 9.
From that point on, the branch was officially renamed in honour of Cpl. Matthew Brazil.
Brazil was awarded several honours, including the Military Medal for conspicuous bravery under heavy machine fire in full view of the enemy. The Distinguished Conduct Medal recognized his bravery and devotion to duty during an attack.
Brazil also played a crucial role in the action which saw fellow Newfoundlander, Thomas R. Ricketts (1901-67), receive the Victoria Cross.
Chipman remembers Brazil from the 1950s, and describes him as quiet, modest and relatively short.
“He was what we would call years ago a wiry man,” Chipman recalls.
And if he had an ego, Chipman or Titford sure didn’t see it.
“He wasn’t the type of person who would say, ‘Look what I did,’” Chipman says.
‘He was brave’
Chipman wasn’t aware of Brazil’s exploits in war until he joined the Legion 37 years ago.
“Obviously, he was brave,” Chipman says. “ There was no question about it.”
Brazil enlisted in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on March 25, 1915.
He suffered severe frostbite at Gallipoli.
As befits a war veteran, his voice carried great authority, reminding Mike of an “iceberg in summer.”
Perhaps Mike, a daredevil in his youth, heard that voice more frequently than his siblings,
“I frightened the life out of a lot of people,” he says with a mischievous grin.
The boy could swim like a seal, even if he did take many chances that left onlookers holding their breath.
“I would beat anybody on a dive down in [Brazil’s] Pond,” he says.
Deciding to join the Christian Brothers, Mike traveled to New York in 1954 and entered Iona College, graduating four years later.
In 1960, he left the Christian Brothers.
“I had nothing against them,” he says. “ They treated me royally, but I wanted to branch out on my own.”
Back in Newfoundland, he set out on a successful teaching career at such places as St. John’s, Plate Cove, King’s Cove and Wabush, Labrador. He also worked as the French coordinator with the St. John’s Roman Catholic School Board. He retired in 1985.
A summer paradise
Mike and his wife Josephine make St. John’s their home, but during the summer make as many trips as possible to the Brazil homestead in Spaniard’s Bay.
“ This piece of sod here is paradise to me,” the 74-year-old Mike says.
Living in the old house brings back many memories, putting him in a reflective and sometimes emotional mood.
“ You talk about courage and bravery,” Mike says as he stares into the distance, tears glistening in his eyes. “Anybody who is in uniform is beyond the ordinary.”
He reserves his greatest praise for his father, recalling the time he “went back in the line of fire, got his cousin (Gus Dawson), and carried him to safety on his back.”
Matthew Brazil was — and is — revered in his hometown.
Mike and Josephine Brazil spend many summer days on the old Brazil homestead in Spaniard’s Bay.