A de­serv­ing mo­ment in the spot­light for Matthew Brazil


It's been 53 years since his death, and more than 90 years since he so valiantly proved him­self on First World War bat­tle­fields.

But Cpl. Matthew Brazil re­mains a le­gend in Spa­niard's Bay, his home­town.

The Royal Cana­dian Le­gion, Branch No. 9, is named in his hon­our, and the Brazil fam­ily homestead still stands, not far from Brazil's Pond, and is of­ten oc­cu­pied by Brazil's son, Michael.

Those who knew Cpl. Brazil still speak of him with rev­er­ence, and re­call how mod­est he was about his brav­ery dur­ing the war.

With­out doubt, he is one of this prov­ince's most dec­o­rated war heroes.

But, for gen­er­a­tions, his legacy prov­ince-wide has been over­shad­owed by an­other unas­sum­ing and re­luc­tant war hero, Vic­to­ria Cross win­ner Tommy Rick­etts.

Rick­etts is a house­hold name in this prov­ince, and was the youngest re­cip­i­ent of the VC dur­ing the First World War.

Rick­etts was pre­sented with his Vic­to­ria Cross by King Ge­orge V at York Cot­tage, San­dring­ham on Jan. 19, 1919. Af­ter pin­ning the VC to Rick­etts' tu­nic, the King re­port­edly stated: "This is the youngest VC in my army."

Af­ter the war, Rick­etts was greeted like a con­quer­ing hero in St. John's. In ad­di­tion to ac­co­lades and gifts, he was given an ed­u­ca­tion and groomed by some of the city's elite to be­come a busi­ness­man, and even­tu­ally opened a phar­macy.

Fol­low­ing his death in Fe­bru­ary 1967, then premier Joey Small­wood or­dered that Rick­etts re­ceive a state fu­neral.

Brazil was in­volved in the same battle in Oc­to­ber 1918 that re­sulted in Rick­etts be­ing awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross, ar­guably the world's most fa­mous dec­o­ra­tion for mil­i­tary val­our. Both were serv­ing with B Com­pany of the New­found­land Reg­i­ment, and on that day, records in­di­cate that at least six men in the com­pany lost their lives in battle.

It's a sure bet that many more would have died, had it not been for the gal­lantry of Rick­etts, Brazil and at least four oth­ers.

There's long been a quiet de­bate about whether Brazil should also have re­ceived the VC.

That de­bate abated some­what in 1983 when the French gov­ern­ment be­stowed its high­est award for brav­ery - the Croix de Guerre - upon Brazil, some 25 years af­ter his pass­ing.

Brazil's legacy is one that must be pre­served, be­cause he is sym­bolic of the sac­ri­fices and con­tri­bu­tions that so many New­found­lan­ders made to the war ef­fort nearly a cen­tury ago. This tiny is­land paid dearly for its in­volve­ment in the war, and it should not be for­got­ten.

It's why we ded­i­cate this week's edi­tion, and in­deed our en­tire front page, to Cpl. Matthew Brazil.

Let us re­mem­ber them all.

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