TRAVIS, Richard Charles
Victoria Cross winner.
A new biography of Travis, Richard Charles appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Richard Charles Travis was born at Opotiki on 6 April 1884, the elder son of James Savage, farmer and former member of the Armed Constabulary, and was named Dickson Cornelius Savage. He was educated at Opotiki School and subsequently worked on his father's farm, becoming notable as a horsebreaker when he was still a youth. He left Opotiki for the Gisborne district in 1905 and worked there as a driver and farmhand until he went to Southland early in 1910. It was at this time that he changed his name. In Southland he worked on farms and threshing mills and was known as a great horseman. He enlisted from Ryal Bush in August 1914, joining the Otago Mounted Rifles.
Travis was on Gallipoli Peninsula for the last month of the occupation and it was here that he began the scouting in front of the New Zealand lines which was later to make him famous in France and Belgium. In the reorganisation of units after Gallipoli, Travis joined the 8th (Southland) Company of the 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, in March 1916, and two months later he began his nightly prowling in No Man's Land. The information he brought in was of such value that it was mentioned in Routine Orders; moreover, he carried out preliminary reconnaissances for the earliest raids made by the New Zealanders.
By a rapid series of steps from 26 September to 1 November 1916, Travis was promoted from the rank of private to that of sergeant, and he was the first Otago patrol leader of the specialist units known as Sniper and Observation Sections which were formed about that time. The group of men he led became known as “Travis's Gang” and their exploits in capturing enemy soldiers for interrogation and in bringing in information soon became legendary. On 15 September 1916 Travis stalked and eliminated enemy snipers who were enfilading the battalion's advance in the Somme Battle, and for this he was awarded the D.C.M. on 25 October. In the same battle he and two others outflanked a pillbox which was holding up the advance and silenced the occupants with hand grenades.
Both as a lone scout and as a patrol leader, Travis continued his remarkable reconnaissances. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre (Belgian) in February 1918 and the Military Medal in May 1918.
In July 1918 the New Zealanders were engaged in heavy fighting to reduce a German salient around Rossignol Wood. When the Germans withdrew from the wood, Travis led a reconnaissance to locate their new lines. When members of the Otago Battalion attacked the new position on 24 July, the advance was held up by two machine guns which kept the New Zealanders pinned down. Sergeant Travis rushed the gun position and killed the crews. The objective was taken after hard fighting in the German trenches, and it was for his work in this attack that Travis was awarded (posthumously) the Victoria Cross.
The following morning, when he was visiting the new New Zealand front line, Sergeant Travis was killed by a shell.
by James Arthur Gasson, Public Relations Officer, Tourist and Publicity Department, Wellington.