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.

Dec­o­rated sol­dier

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.

Leav­ing home

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.

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