Richard Travis 1918 — Rossignol Wood, France
Richard Travis, a deadly sniper, the “Prince of Scouts” and the “King of No Man’s Land”, was a natural born warrior — and a flouter of military discipline.
A winner of the VC, the Military Medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Belgian Croix de Guerre, Travis also had his pay docked for absence without leave and was disciplined for drunkenness and refusing to obey orders.
“Brave, fearlessly brave, wonderfully clever, crude, illiterate, lovable, this remarkable man had done those things which we read of only in story books,” an officer friend wrote of Sergeant Travis, soon after he was killed by an exploding shell in late July 1918.
“He had a genius for patrol work — absolutely without fear and clever in all he did,” the unnamed officer said in a letter published in the Otago Witness under the headline, “A superhero”.
In the action which won him the VC at Rossignol Wood, west of Bapaume — the day before his death — Travis had crawled forward to destroy a wire barrier with grenades. Rushing ahead, he killed the crews of two machine guns, then four more enemy soldiers who came at him around a bend in the trench.
Born Dickson Cornelius Savage at Opotiki in 1884, he moved by stages to Southland, turned his back on his family, changed his name and became a horse-breaker.
Travis signed up soon after the war began and served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
● Note — Seven other men with connections to New Zealand, including Bernard Freyberg, who was educated in Wellington and became Governor-General, won the VC while serving in the armed forces of Australia or Britain.