Monday, 30 July 2018

"A QUEER SOUL" - George Sellars, 1910-2/7/1938

Photo: Hocken Library, E A Philips collection.

What, I wonder, impelled George Sellars to shake hands with me when he said good bye on Friday evening? (writes P. A. M., in the Christchurch "Star-Sun")

Photo: Hocken Library, E A Philips collection.

We had said "Hullo" and "Cheerio"' many a score of times without that formality. Did he feel, I wonder, that his luck was turning after he had put it to the test two hundred times? 

Utterly devoid of superstition, he would not be worried by any ordinary omens.  To him, it was just a joke to hear, on his previous visit to Christchurch, an elderly lady prophecy his early death. On the morning after he had made a descent at Wigram happened to sit next to her at breakfast at the hotel where he was staying. "I see that foolish man Sellars has made another parachute jump," she remarked to him unaware, of course of whom she was addicting. "He'll do it once too often, and kill himself, you mark my words. Why doesn't he give it up before he is killed?" 
While most people attach, more or less vaguely, a sinister influence to the number 13 George Sellars used to mention his thirteenth parachute descent with no little satisfaction. Certainly he made a very bad landing, hitting the ground so hard that he suffered concussion, and was in bed for a couple of weeks, but—he became engaged to his nurse. He was, in fact, looking forward to marrying in the near future and settling down in Auckland, in a little shop, which would leave him free to make an occasional parachute descent during week-ends. 
Whether or not he had any forebodings about making a descent at Westport on Saturday, he certainly was far from being his usual self when he had that one brief round of drinks on Friday evening. "Turn down an empty glass." It was our last. 
Less than 24 hours later he was dead and the prophecy that one of our group made then was grimly set at nought. "That beer tastes good," said George Sellars. "I haven't had much lately. I have had ptomaine poisoning, and have been on a milk diet. 
Photo: Hocken Library, E A Philips collection.
Formerly a Fitter. 
He was rather a queer soul, was George Sellars. Small, though of sturdy build, and nervous in speech and action, yet quite fearless. Formerly a fitter in the New Zealand railways, he owed his peculiar bent-knee walk to an accident at the Hutt railway workshops. In overhauling the cab of a locomotive, he accidentally turned a tap which released a jet of steam and boiling water into the pit under the engine where a workmate was oiling the bearings. 
In response to his scream, George leaped out of the cab and into the pit, where he stood ankle deep in boiling water and enveloped in scalding steam while he lifted the other man out. His feet remained, for the rest of his life, excessively tender and gave him agony when he made a heavy landing. 
Once again, at the Hutt workshops, he came as near to death, he declared, as he had ever done as a parachutist. Engaged in cleaning out the smoke-box of a locomotive, he was overcome with the heat and fainted. Along came the fireman, laid his kindling in the furnace, and was about to put a match to it when Sellars' workmate came looking for him, and insisted, against the fireman's protests, in going into the engine to see if he were there. 
Only once as a parachutist did George Sellars come as near to death and escape. That was at Wigram this year, when his parachute opened prematurely and whisked him into space as he was climbing out of the cockpit on to the wing of the aeroplane, preparatory to jumping. By no more than a few inches did he miss hitting the tailplane of the machine; had he done so not only would the blow have killed him but the aeroplane, rudderless and uncontrollable, would inevitably have crashed and killed the pilot. 
George attributed the accident to what he called "his army of worst enemies," the people who, not content to see, must try to handle his parachute. Someone, unnoticed by Sellars, had tugged the release cord, pulling out one of the pins that held the parachute in its knapsack. 
Could Not Swim. 
Fearless in the air, George Sellars had a strange horror of the water. The Auckland Aero Club, so proud of their extensive Mangere aerodrome, would be surprised to hear how much George disliked making a descent there, for the reason that it is almost surrounded by the waters of the Manukau Harbour. 
A couple of years ago he came down in a creek near the aerodrome. For a while the breeze kept his parachute full, and it towed him up the creek; then the breeze died away and the parachute settled down in the water. So did George, but his feet touched bottom, with the water up to his neck, and there he stood until a boat put out from the shore to rescue him. 
"Lucky the wind took you into shallow water," I commented. "If you had had to unbuckle your parachute and swim for it you might have lost your parachute."
"I would have lost more than that." quoth George, with a grin. "I can't swim a stroke."' 
Yet, in order to get a big "gallery," he planned to make a descent next summer into the Auckland Harbour, with a launch handy to pick him up! 
A Bundle of Contradictions. 
That was tho queer bundle of contradictions he was; determined to make a name for himself, even if he had to defy his own constitution. The same strength of purpose impelled him to risk the loss of his license by making descents in wholly unsuitable weather rather than disappoint the people who expected to see him. At the mercy of blustering, incalculable winds he made some strange landings—on the roof of a motor car on the West Coast and astride a cow at Mangere. 
But the best index to his character may be read in the inspiration that made him a parachutist. At Oamaru in l931 he saw that reckless Norseman, Haakon Qviller, crash to his death, still struggling to open the parachute that had failed him. If anything would deter an ordinary youth George was then only 21 from adopting the same profession it would surely be a sight like that. 
But when Qviller died Sellars decided that he had left room in the world for another parachutist. George already had a pilots license, but club flying offered little opportunity of acquiring the personal fame that George Sellars craved So, with Qviller's fate before him, George became his successor, calmly accepting .he inevitable—that like Qviller he would in the end tempt Fate once too often.  -Aukland Press, 6/7/1938.
Photo: Hocken Library, E A Philips collection.
The official opening of the Balclutha airport on Saturday was marked by an aerial pageant, in the presence of the largest crowd so far seen at any function of the kind in South Otago. Rain had fallen during the previous night and in the early morning, but the afternoon was fine, and very favourable for flying. 
The sensation of the afternoon was a parachute descent from a height of 2000 feet by Pilot George W. Sellars, who was born in this district, and received his training as a pilot locally. The parachute, aided by a south-west wind, went a little further afield in landing than intended, coming to rest on the Inch Clutha side of the river, but its long, slow descent provided an unusual spectacle, and the crowd contributed handsomely towards a collection for the daring young pilot. 
The formal opening of the airport was entrusted to Mr I. H. Penrose, president of the Otago Aero Club, and he was preceded by Mr R. R. Grigor, president of the South Otago Aero Club, who gave a brief history of the ground, and voiced the thanks due to the Balclutha Borough Council for its assistance. He also referred to the success of the South Otago pilots at the recent South Island pageant held at Dunedin.
Mr Penrose said the district was to be congratulated on its fine airport. Air mails would be the transport of the future, and he could visualise before long Balclutha as an important stopping place on the air mail route from Dunedin to Invercargill. It seemed to him remarkable that the formation of the airport had cost only £ll an acre, compared with £2OO an acre in other parts of the Dominion, and it had all been done without Government assistance, which, he thought, was unparalleled in the history of aviation fields in New Zealand. If all parts of Otago had shown the same spirit they would soon have had a chain of airports throughout the country. In this connection, he instanced Ranfurly, where, he said, a spirit of apathy in regard to the matter seemed to prevail. The speaker then formally declared the ground open to all aircraft in New Zealand and to visiting aircraft from overseas. 
The Mayor (Mr D. T. Fleming), in the course of his remarks, said the Borough Council could be depended upon to keep its end up in any developments that might occur. There was no doubt that great progress in aerial navigation was bound to come before long. 
Mr F. Waite, M.L.C., in a brief speech, commented on the fact that the young parachutist (Mr George Sellars) had been born at Balclutha and had qualified in South Otago in 1931 as a pilot. He was the first professional parachutist that New Zealand had produced. 
Afterwards a splendid aerial programme was gone through, including an acrobatic display by Pilot D. Campbell (Dunedin) and also displays of fancy flying by Flying Officer S. Gilkinson and Flying Officer J. H. Smith. A height-estimating competition, in which the pilot executed two half rolls, was won by Miss N. Rodger (Lovell's Flat) and A. F. Allan (Awamangu), who both guessed the correct height, 2150 feet. The proceeds will go to the M'Gregor Fund. 
In the South Otago landing competition the winner was Pilot B. Renton, and the bombing competition was won by Pilot J. H. Stevenson. The winner of the open landing competition was Pilot F. Wallis (Southland), and the open bombing was won by Pilot C. Tait (Otago). Only first awards were made in each section. Everything passed off without accident or untoward incident. As secretary, Mr G. H. Mitchell proved the right man for the position. In the evening a dance was held for the entertainment of visiting pilots.  -Otago Daily Times, 30/3/1936

(Per United Press Association.] WESTPORT, July 14. A verdict was returned to-day by the coroner (Mr E. R. Fox), who inquired into the circumstances attending the death of William George Sellars, professional parachutist, that death was due to injuries received on July 2, 1938, at the opening of the aerodrome at North Beach, Westport. When the deceased jumped from a plane and the parachute to which he was attached failed to open he was dashed to the ground, thus causing his death. 
Evidence was given by Dr Foote concerning the injuries to the deceased, by Pilot Instructor William Frederick Park, who was in control of the plane from which Sellars made the jump, and also by Police Constable Cliff George, a spectator of the crash.
Park, in the course of his evidence, said arrangements had been made for him to take up George Sellars for a parachute descent after the completion of the opening ceremony. The official opening was over at approximately 3.30 p.m. The wind was blowing from the northeast, a steady wind at about 25 miles an hour on the ground level. At 2000 feet, when Sellars left the aircraft, it was blowing north-north-east at about 15 miles per hour. At this time there were no rain squalls, and the ceiling was 2300 feet. The arrangement was that they were to be 1500 feet, but Sellars actually jumped off at 2000 feet. The flight was carried out in a D.H. 82 aeroplane, registered No. ZKAFY. Witness informed Sellars that the wind was slightly different upstairs from what it was on the ground, and not so strong, except in squalls. He also informed him that he would climb to 2000 feet and set a course north-north-east along the western side of the aerodrome, and when he was ready Sellars could leave the machine. Sellars left the machine on the northern boundary of the aerodrome. He altered the course of witness slightly to the right after he left the cockpit and then sent him back again slightly to the left. Sellars left the machine about 100 yards over the boundary on the northern side of the aerodrome. Witness was concerned on keeping the machine straight for Sellars. He could not remember the exact words of Sellars when he left the machine. He said something like O.K. or cheerio. After the deceased left the machine witness did a quick turn to the left. This was a habit of his whenever he dropped a man off for a parachute descent. Witness wanted to know if the parachute envelope had opened. When he turned round the parachute had left the pack, and witness was amazed to see a very small dome. The theory that passed through his mind when he saw this was that Sellars for trying to spill the air, and as witness was gliding with his back to Sellars, and wanted to get behind the aerodrome before executing another turn to the left, he could not keep the deceased under observation all the time, and when he did eventually get round the parachute was lying flat on the sand approximately 100 yards from the boundary on the northern side of the aerodrome. It was limp and flat out instead of being billowed and full of air, which should have been the case if the parachutist had landed intact. Witness could offer no suggestions as to the cause of this. He did not hold a licence for parachute construction. Everything was in the hands of the man who was going to make the parachute descent. He decided absolutely if the weather were unfavourable or any other circumstances unfavourable. He simply stated that he was not going to jump, and that was the end of it.
At the close of the inquest Mr Fox announced that he was retiring owing to the age limit from the coronership, which he had held for 12 years, and was being succeeded by Mr George Taylor, a retired railway servant and child welfare officer. -Evening Star, 15/7/1938.
Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.

Plunket Secretary with "single-minded devotion." - Gwendoline Gretchen Hoddinott, 1891-26/6/1941.



The death occurred in Dunedin this morning of Miss Gwendoline Gretchen Hoddinott, elder daughter of Mr and Mrs F. W. Hoddinott, of 118 St. David street. Miss Hoddinott was well known throughout New Zealand for her work in the cause of the Plunket Society, of which she was at the time of her death Dominion secretary and treasurer. Miss Hoddinott was born at Napier, but spent most of her early years in Invercargill, where she received her education at the Southland Girls’ High School, which she entered as the holder of the first national scholarship to be granted in the Southland province. She was dux in 1907 and for a time was subsequently employed by the Perpetual Trustees Estate, and Agency Company of New Zealand before being appointed to her position with the Plunket Society. It was in this work that Miss Hoddinott’s kindness of heart and pleasing manner endeared her to her large circle of friends and acquaintances throughout New Zealand. For her humanitarian services, Miss Hoddinott was presented with the Jubilee Medal in 1935, and her name figured in the 1938 New Year honours list as an M.B.E.  -Evening Star, 26/6/1941.

Evening Star

Tributes to the services of Miss G. G. Hoddinott, Dominion secretary of the Plunket Society, whose death occurred last week, were expressed at a meeting of the Dominion executive of the society held yesterday. 
The Dominion president (Mrs James Begg) said that Miss Hoddinott entered the service of the society early in 1917. Her connection with those early years and her intimate association with the founder, Sir Truby King, gave her an invaluable insight into his policy that had been of great assistance to the executive and council. 
“She was of a retiring disposition,” said Mrs Begg,“ and a much-loved home and the work of the society filled her life. She served the society with a single-minded devotion, and her ideal for it was a very high one. Her touchstone for all matters connected with the society was the true Plunket spirit, and her worst condemnation of what did not please her in the conduct of its affairs was that it did not conform to that spirit. Her long association with the society gave her a unique knowledge of its history and its intricate and widespread organisation. Her ready sympathy and advice were willingly at the service of the committees and branches throughout New Zealand. Her sound judgment and wise counsel were a tower of strength to the executive and high officials of the society who worked in such close touch with her. She possessed the complete confidence of the Health Department, and in consequence our relations with it were very happy. A gentle exterior covered a core of steel, and she could be very firm when the occasion warranted. The society throughout its history has had many difficulties to face, and she was seldom downhearted and never bitter, while her calm courage was an inspiration to all associated with her. Her bright and friendly welcoming look when we entered the office will be much missed by us all. We have lost not only a much valued official. but a faithful friend.” 
The deepest sympathy of the executive was extended to the members of Miss Hoddinott’s family in their bereavement. 
Sincere tributes to the memory of Miss Hoddinott were paid by Mrs Joseph McGeorge (Dunedin president), Lady Sidey (past Dominion president), and by other members of the executive. Tributes were also paid by Dr Deem (medical adviser to the council) and Miss Fitzgibbon (nursing adviser), who spoke of the great assistance they had received from Miss Hoddinott in connection with the work of the society. Many messages of condolence were received from members of the council in other centres and from branches throughout New Zealand, and from Dr M. H. Watt (Director-General of Health) and Mr Justice Blair (chairman of the Karitane Products Society). -Evening Star, 2/7/1941.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.

"Died tragically" - May (1901-12/8/1903) and Christina (1872-1/1/1910) Taylor,

I could speculate for several lines over the details of the story of May and Christina Taylor, buried together in the Alexandra Cemetery.  This time, the newspapers can speak for them:

Alexandra Cemetery.

A little girl named May Taylor (two years of age) died at Alexandra on Wednesday night as the result of severe burns. The child's clothes caught fire, and before anything could be done she was severely burned about the body.  -Otago Daily Times, 14/8/1903

Dunedin, This Day.
Christine Taylor, a married woman suffering from nervous breakdown, hanged herself at Alexandra South. -Waikato Argus, 4/1/1910.

And that's all there is to say, except - was there a Mr Taylor?  Alexander Taylor's name features in an  "In Memoriam" inserted in local papers, one of her "sorrowing parents" in 1904 and 1905.  I have found no further reference to him.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

39359 Private Hugh Augustus Tohill, 23/10/1892-25/7/1918.

Hugh Tohill - Otago Witness, 21/8/1918.

Alexandra Cemetery.

Still another of our tine local boys has laid his young manhood on the altar of National Service. Word reached Alexandra on Saturday that Private Hugh Tohill son of the late Harry Tohill of Alexandra had died as the result of wounds received on or about 25th July.  Hugh was one of our own, born, brought up and educated in our township. He enlisted and proceeded to Europe with the 22nd reinforcements, taking part in several engagements. Recent letters home mentioned that he was serving in what is well known to be at times the dangerous work of despatch running. But Hugh ever possessed the indomitable courage which shirks at no danger, and his many local friends feel sure that his death is but the price he was willing to pay in the performance of his duty.  Hugh Tohill was a keen footballer, and a distinguished wearer of the Green, for which colour he put up many a hard battle on the football field. Twenty-three years of age, Alexandra will know him no more, but his many local friends honour his passing, and will revere his memory. -Alexandra Herald, 7/8/1918.

Hugh Augustus Tohill was born in Alexandra and was farming nearby when he joined the army.  He'd had some previous military experience, having spent time before the war with the 5th Mounted Rifles (Otago Hussars).

Hugh was in France by June of 1917 and served for nearly a year in the 10th Comapny, 2nd Battalion of the Otagos before being wounded in action - the records show multiple bullet wounds to a leg.  The action in which he was wounded was described by the Official History of the Regiment: "At the revised time, 5 p.m. on July 24th, under a brief light trench mortar bombardment only, the two Companies of the Regiment committed to the operation, 10th Company of the 1st Battalion on the left and 10th Company of the 2nd Battalion on the right, advanced to the attack. The enemy being busy with his evening meal was taken completely by surprise; there being also evidence that he was on the point of being relieved. His resistance was accordingly weaker, and his posts were either rushed or bombed in quick succession. On the left of the attack, the first post yielded two prisoners and a machine gun to the 1st Battalion; while further ahead at the junction of a communication trench with Shag trench another post was encountered and bombed, the enemy being driven out, leaving one killed. The left platoon met with temporary opposition from a machine gun position in Shag trench, from which quarter 2nd-Lieut. A. M. Rhinesmith and his orderly were shot down on entering the trench. Right parties, working from the flank, drove the post out; the enemy abandoning a machine gun in his flight. The left attacking platoon, after establishing a block in Railway trench, worked its way across the open to the sunken road and rushed a position, which we then took over and established a block at the junction of the sunken road and Railway trench. A number of the enemy were killed, and three prisoners, two machine guns, and a quantity of equipment captured. The assault over the left portion of the selected front had thus achieved distinct success."

This was the action for which Sergeant Dick Travis won his Victoria Cross.  Hugh died the same day as Dick, at an Advanced Dressing Station behind the lines, but was not saluted by the officers he passed on his way to the graveyard at Foncquevillers.

News had also recently come to hand of the death of private Hugh Tohill. Private Tohill was one of our local boys, born and brought up here, and he with other brothers joined the army to serve his country. The receipt of the sad news had cast a gloom over the town. He (the Mayor) moved "That the clerk be instructed to write to both families conveying the sympathy of the council in their bereavement."—Seconded by Cr. Weaver, and carried by the council upstanding. -Alexandra Herald and Central Otago Gazette, 7/8/1918.

...Millers' Flat defeated Roxburgh by a try to nil; Cromwell defeated Alexandra by 16 points to nil (three brothers Tohill withdrawing from the Alexandra team on receipt of a telegram that their brother Hugh had been killed in action); Cromwell defeated Millers' Flat by a try to nil, and thus... -Otago Witness, 14/8/1918.


TOHILL.—In sad and loving memory of Hugh Augustus, who died in action, France, on July 25, 1918.—Inserted; by his loving mother, sister, and brother.
TOHILL.—In sad and loving memory of Hugh Augustus Tohill, 22nd Reinforcements, died of wounds received while in action near Passchendaele, France, July 25, 1918. R.I.P. —Inserted by his loving mother, sister, and brothers. -Otago Witness 27/7/1920

36548 Corporal Gordon Ernest Brown 28/8/1895-24/7/1918


Corporal Gordon Ernest Brown, whose death took place on July 28 in France, was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs R. Brown, of Neidpath road, Mornington. He was educated at High Street School and the High School, was for a few years in the Dunedin office of the Standard Insurance Company, but before enrolling was engaged in farming in the North Island. He left with the 21st Reinforcements, and had last year been twice wounded.  His genial disposition made him well liked, and he made many friends. He was a prominent member of St. Andrews Bible Class. -Evening Star, 10/8/1918.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.  Allan Steele photo.

Gordon Brown joined the Otago Infantry Regiment from the intake for the army in September of 1916.  He was in France less than a year later, in May, 1917.

He was admitted to hospital on July 1, 1917, having been gassed that day.  The closest reference I can find in the Official History is this: "On the 28th (June) the Regiment moved to a new camping area close to the Neuve Eglise-Wulverghem Road."  He was discharged to his unit on July 9th so his dose must have been a mild one.  He was a casualty again later that year when he Otagos went into battle in the Paesschendaele area, his record showing that he'd been shot in the "upper arm, foot, left arm, thigh."  He was marched back into Regimental territory, fully fit, two days before Christmas, 1917.

Gordon wasn't the most obedient of soldiers.  He was caught twice for being AWOL and punished with forfeiture of pay but, despite this, was promoted to Lance-corporal ("to complete establishment") one month after rejoining his Regiment, presumably as an experienced soldier needed to lead the new ones making up numbers after the slaughter that was "3rd Ypres."

Gordon was killed during the Otago Regiment's attack on German positions at Rossignol Wood, the action in which Dick Savage won his Victoria Cross.

Monday, 23 July 2018

39191 Private Thomas Donelly, 9/9/1895-19/7/1918.

We regret to chronicle the death of Private Thomas Donnelly, who was killed in France during the fighting in July. Private Donnelly left New Zealand with the 22nd Reinforcements and had seen a lot of hard fighting. He was well known in our district and a very popular young man. Prior to enlisting he worked as head trainer for Mr A. F. Roberts, Teviot Station. He was born at Weatherstones, but finished his education at the local school. He will always be remembered for the keen interest he took in all forms of sport. His brother, Mr William Donnelly, recently lost a son in France. To his sorrowing relatives is extended the sympathy of the whole district. -Mt Benger Mail, 7/8/1918

Thomas Donnelly joined the army three weeks after marrying his wife Rachael at the end of September, 1916.  He spent some time in hospital in France, diagnosed with "myalgia."  He was with the 1st Battalion of the Otago Regiment at the beginning of their drive east after the retreating Germans.  At Rossignol Wood the Otagos were stopped by a series of prepared defences.  Before they were assaulted, Thomas was "killed in action."

Rachael married again in February of 1919.

Gommecourt Cemetery, Photo: NZ War Graves Project

Otago Witness, 21/8/1918.


Another Batch "Sworn In." Under New Regulations.
Lieutenant Hamilton, of the Milton Defence Office, was in Roxburgh last week, and enrolled several recruits, who have been successful in passing the medical test. Those sworn in were —
Thomas Donnelly, Roxburgh, K. M. Sinclair. Bank of N.Z., Roxburgh. George Gordon. Coal Creek. K. J. Thompson, Roxburgh. Kerr, Roxburgh. D. Dunlay. Coal Creek. These are the first to be sworn in under the new regulations which recently came into operation. Previously a recruit could sign on and stay at home if he did not feel inclined to go. The old order of things has been changed. The recruit becomes a soldier from the moment he enlists. He is given a choice of going to the training camps within three months instead of six, and if he does not parade on the day his draft goes forward the police will want to know the reason why. Immediately he enlists he receives two papers: a white one for which on presentation at the Post Office he will receive 5s. being one day's military pay on enlistment, and a blue one, a pass giving the holder leave until the date of departure of the Reinforcement draft for which he has enlisted. This will serve to do away with the trouble previously occasioned the authorities by men failing to put in an appearance at parade at the last minute. Those who now enlist and do not turn up run the risk of being arrested as deserters, or may be taken into camp under escort at the first opportunity. -Mt Benger Mail, 11/10/1916.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

9/523 Sergeant Richard Travis VC, DCM, MM, C de G.(Bel.), 6/4/1882-25/7/1918.

Dick Travis was a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a muddy khaki tunic.  To begin his story, literally, he wasn't born Dick Travis.  His parents named him Dickson Cornelius Savage and he grew up on the family farm at Opotiki.  It was a hard upbringing and a healthy one.  Dick left school after Standard Four.

He worked on the family farm, learning all that there was to learn - but his passion was for horses.  Dick became a champion horsebreaker while in his teenage years.  His father's plans were for him to work the farm and eventually inherit it but Dick had other ideas.  Apparently there was an argument between father and son and Dickson moved away from home.

Dickson Cornelius Savage

Two days ride from Opotiki was Gisborne and there Dick found work on another farm.  Word got around that he was a good trainer of horses and people started bringing them to him - the meaner the better.  He worked in the Gisborne area until 1909.

His reasons for leaving Gisborne are mysterious - at least, they might appear to be in the 1966 biography "Travis VC" by James Gasson.  Defence Department records for Travis contain an interesting confidential minute from 1958 referring to the proposed biography and how much access was to be given to the writer.  There is mention of Dick having "got a young woman into trouble" in Gisborne - not the thing for a hero's biography in the New Zealand of the 1950s.

Confidential minute: 28/12/58
"Briefly, the history of Sgt Travis is that he was born under the name of Savage and as a young man apparently quarreled violently with his father and left home.  He then resided in Gisborne for a period where he is thought to have got a young woman into trouble and because of this he moved to Southland and adopted a new name." - Brigadier Leonard Thornton, Adjutant General.

Confidential minute:  4/12/58
"I can't see any reason why this file should not be handed over to Mr Gasson.  A VC holder is a notable figure in the Commonwealth and it is to be expected that after his death the biographer will want to record for posterity the life story and achievements of the VC winner.  Because of the peculiar domestic and private affairs of Travis, possibly some unsavoury incidents may necessarily be mentioned but I don't think that situation can be avoided." F B Dwyer, Army Secretary.

to Gasson, 15/12/58
"The only other condition it is desired to make as to the use of the file is that you submit your manuscript to Brigadier Fairbrother so that he may ensure that the proper discretion has been exercised in the use of material from this file."  - F B Dwyer, Army Secretary.

Dick Travis arrived in Southland at the beginning of 1910 and quickly gained a reputation as a hard worker and champion horsebreaker.  He was a quiet man but one who could be quietly forceful when necessary.  He made a big impression at the Southland Agricultural and Pastoral Show of 1912.  There was a prize offered to anyone who could ride an unbroken horse named Wildfire and Travis sat in the saddle of the bucking horse, to the delight of the crowd, until the saddle girth broke.  There were threats of violence from the crowd when the showman refused to pay up.

Dick was working as a general farmhand for Tom Murray at Ryal Bush when he enlisted in the Army, on August 11, 1914.  He joined the lines of the Otago Mounted Rifles at Tahuna Park, Dunedin, and was assigned to the Transport Section. One of his jobs was to break in and train the Regiment's horses and he was happy to do it.  He quickly gained the reputation of being the best horseman in the Rifles.  He left with them from Port Chalmers on September 22nd.  December 2nd saw them at Alexandria, Egypt.

In April of 1915, the Mounted Rifles packed up and embarked for the beaches of Gallipoli.  Dick Travis was not invited to the party and he wasn't happy about it.  He stowed away but the Army was not impressed by his independent spirit.  He was put on fatigues until he could be sent back to Egypt, where he was punished with 14 days CB (Confined to Barracks).

He returned to Gallipoli in October and it was there that he got his first taste of the work which would make him famous - patrolling in no-man's-land, scouting out enemy positions.  When the decision was made and the time came to evacuate Gallipoli, Dick was one of the last of the OMR to leave.  Just as the last of the men were about to leave the trenches, Dick showed up unexpectedly, a jar of Army issue rum under each arm.  Cases of it were being destroyed on the beach, he told his Sergeant.  Sergeant Tapper filled a couple of water bottles against emergencies, filled Dick's with an order to leave it alone until off the beach and poured out the rest.

Four men sat in the dark trench that night, where there had usually been more than a hundred.  In the small hours Major McKenzie, in charge of the evacuation, arrived and the emergency rum was broached.  They drank a toast to the men they were leaving behind in the Turkish soil, then stole quietly down to the beach to join the other rearguard parties.  The only sound was the occasional crack of rifles left behind, fired by home-made timing devices made of cans of water with small holes in them, dripping water down to lower cans attached to the rifle triggers with string.

Back in Egypt, Dick Travis found a friend in an unusual way.  He happened to encounter a British officer being beaten up by some of the Cairo natives.  Dick waded in and was later presented with a visiting card from his grateful rescuee.  On the back was written "Please supply Trooper Travis, NZ Mtd Rifles, with anything he requires and charge to my account."  On the front was the officer's name, preceded by "Lieutenant The Honourable."  The card was worth many a bottle of good whisky for Dick and his mates.

Travis was drafted into the Otago Infantry Regiment during the reorganisation of NZ forces on their way to France.  When the regiment arrived at the Front, he soon got a reputation for patrolling and scouting out beyond the trenches and bringing in prisoners and information about what was on "the other side."  When the "Big Push" - the Battle of the Somme - opened and the Otagos were sent against German trenches, he was in his element, dealing with snipers and winning the Distinguished Conduct Medal.  The Somme battle then became literally stuck in the mud, as rain turned trenches into muddy ditches.

One of the lessons of the Somme battle for the British forces was that organised scouting parties were needed.  This was, of course, Dick Travis' specialty and he was promoted to Sergeant and put in charge of a Snipers and Observers Section.  Six men were put under Travis and they quickly became known as "Travis' Gang."  But they were no group of reckless ruffians.  Travis was a very careful operator in No Man's Land, studying the terrain and enemy positions, planning for every eventuality while "out there" and always able to think and come up with a revised plan when a situation changed.

On November 26, 1916, immediately after the announcement of the award of the DCM to Travis, his unit came out of the Line for a rest and it was time for celebration.  Dick's friend Sergeant Tapper had a case of Army rum that seemed not to be needed by the Army and they put it to good use.  A recently arrived Major wasn't impressed by the noise of the party and complained
- "What's all this terrible noise?  I won't have it."

Tapper replied - "Sir, we have a very distinguished ex-member of the Otago Mounted Rifles present and he has just been presented with the DCM so we thought it fitting that we should drink his health.  I think it would be a fine gesture, sir, if you joined us."

The Major was happy to join them and they poured him a good measure of the rum.  Then another.  By the time the Major left he seemed not to notice the noise of the party any more.  It was a good night for Travis and his mates.  Not, apparently, such a good morning after.

Travis was nicknamed "The King of No Man's Land" for his exploits.  He made an offer to his General, Sir Andrew Russell that "I can find you an identification (prisoner) any day you like."  It was no empty boast.  As such a valuable member of the Otagos, he got away with a laxness of uniform that infuriated some officers who saw him for the first time.  He preferred a balaclava helmet to the regulation steel one.  He carried no rifle or bayonet but instead a couple of "officers only" revolvers stuck in his belt, which replaced the regulation canvas web equipment.  One new officer put him under open arrest, to report to him, fully equipped, in ten minutes' time.  Travis appeared in due course, with a muddy set of web gear, a rusty bayonet, a mud-covered helmet and a rifle - a German one.

The new Lieutenant's reaction was predictable.  He was just getting started with a loud flow of words when the Major arrived, not unamused.  Travis was sent off and the Lieutenant was told about Dick Travis, DCM.  As Lieutenant Thomas settled into his role, he and Travis became friends.

As the war continued Travis wrote to a Mrs Tombs, of the Dunedin Patriotic Society, his hostess of the Tahuna Park days of 1914:

"I have had some rough times since I left NZ but have been very lucky, never been sick or wounded, well just a few scratches and they don't count...How are things in general at the early Settlers Hall.  What times we used to have there, if only they would come again.  It all seems like an empty dream, and seems so long, it is just 3 1/2 years now, and it may be years before I am back in NZ.  Of course I am talking, but a fellow's life is not his own 5 minutes, but if Mr Dick does not get pinked over I am going to have a good time at your house, and Mrs Powell will sing to me, and the nice young ladies you had there will play to me, and if we don't have a rare kick up my name is not Dick Travis..."

Not long after that letter was written the German Army's last chance for victory was taken.  The chaos of German infiltration tactics put Dick in his element.  With the failure of their Spring Offensive, the German Army became desperate to hold off the advancing Allies.  Things were becoming worse in every way for them and the cracks were beginning to show in their morale.  On July 24th, 1918, the Otagos had reached a place named Rossignol Wood.  They had driven the Germans back but driven them back to strong defensive lines.  Ahead of the planned Otago attack on those lines went Dick Travis.  He carried two mortar bombs and his objective was a tangle of wire close to the German positions.  He crawled out at 4.30pm, preparing for the attack at 5.  At 4.59 he set off the bombs, blowing the wire blockage.  NZ artillery opened up and the Otago troops charged.  The German troops had been preparing for relief and wearing their packs.  They were having a last meal before moving out and were caught by surprise.

As the Otagos attacked, Travis observed a couple of machine guns to the right.  He charged the guns, taking on the crews with his revolvers.  The Otagos fought along the trench lines with rifle, pistol and grenade.  The opposing Germans managed to block the advance but the damage was done.  Part of what they captured was the Company HQ and its paperwork was duly sent back.  Fourteen minutes was all it took, then German artillery began shelling their lost positions.  In his written report of the action, Travis stated: "Had our party had enough bombs they could have gone to Berlin."  For his actions at Rossignol Wood, Travis was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Next day, German artillery opened up with a heavy barrage at about 8am.  Travis and a 2nd Lieutenant Kerse toured the trenches to make sure the men were all right.  At a bay in one of the trenches they stopped to talk to the men there and a shrapnel shell exploded in their direction.  All the men in the bay were hit, Travis and Kerse were killed.  At 10.15am Dick's body was carried out of the front line to the Battalion Headquarters.  His funeral took place on July 26.  The men of the Otago Infantry Regiment, preceded by a band playing the "Dead March" and a wagon with the two coffins, passed through the village of Couin, whose church bell tolled as they all passed by.  Soldiers at the roadside stood to attention.  Officers saluted.  Heavy rain poured on the Otagos as the funeral rites were performed, then came the traditional three volleys of rifle fire and the bugle playing the Last Post.  The boom of artillery in the background continued.  The Otagos returned through the village with the band playing a faster, lively number while the other troops lining the road cheered them as they passed.  So was marked the end of the reign of the "King of No Man's Land."

In September of 1918, news came to New Zealand of the award of the Victoria Cross to R C Travis.  Newspapers immediately began to call him "King of No Man's Land," "Prince of Scouts," "The Invincible King of the Raiders" and "Rough-house Dick."  Questions about his identity soon arose - some people referred to him as American, as he'd told some people he was from Seattle.  Questions began to be asked - who was Dick Travis?  A returning soldier from Opotiki said he was sure that Travis was really Dickson Savage.
Dick's ID disc, in the possession of his great-nephew Noel Bocket.

Dick's parents had died unaware of his exploits at the War and his next of kin was his sister, who wrote to the Ministry of Defence in the 1930s asking for his medals.  She was told that, according to his will, Dick's medals were presented to his fiancee, Lettie Murray, daughter of his last employer in Ryal Bush.  The medals were never passed on to the Savage family.  They now reside in the Southland Museum and At Gallery.

Travis/Savage in the Auckland War Memorial Museum national roll of honour.

Dunedin Returned Services Association VC Winners' Memeorial, Queens Gardens.

Dick Travis is still very much the adopted son of Ryal Bush, honoured there every Anzac Day.  He is also commemorated by the Dick Travis Memorial Carpark at Brighton, south of Dunedin.  The Karori Rifle Club compete for the Dick Travis VC Trophy every year, the competition taking place at the Trentham rifle range and restricted to the army rifle calibre of .303.
The Travis Memorial Carpark, Brighton.

Citation for the Victoria Cross

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. During "surprise" operations it was necessary to destroy an impassable wire block. Sergeant Travis, regardless of all personal danger, volunteered for this duty. Before zero hour, in broad daylight, and in close proximity to enemy posts, he crawled out and successfully destroyed the block with bombs, thus enabling the attacking parties to pass through. A few minutes later a bombing party of the right of the attack was held up by two enemy machine guns, and the success of the whole operation was in danger. Perceiving this, Sergeant Travis, with great gallantry and utter disregard of danger, rushed the position, killed the crew and captured the guns. An enemy officer and three men immediately rushed at him from a bend in the trench and attempted to retake the guns. These four he killed single-handed, thus allowing the bombing party, on which much depended, to advance. The success of the operation was almost entirely due to the heroic work of this non-commissioned officer, and to the vigour with which he made and used opportunities for inflicting casualties on the enemy. He was killed twenty-four hours later when, under a most intense bombardment prior to an enemy counterattack, he was going from post to post encouraging the men." 

    Citation for the Distinguished Conduct Medal
    Distinguished Conduct Medal - London Gazette, 25 November 1916, p11563: "For conspicuous gallantry in action. He went out by himself and accounted for several enemy snipers who were firing at a working party. He has on many previous occasions done very fine work." 

    Citation for the Military Medal
    Military Medal - London Gazette, 13 September 1918, p10779, Rec No 2169: "Operations: On the British Front east of Hebuterne - 14th May 1918. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This N.C.O. commanded a patrol of four men which went out in broad daylight, and captured an enemy machine gun post; although their Battalion was in support these men volunteered to go out and secure identification, which was urgently required. They left our front line trench at about 7.15pm in broad daylight and by skillful use of ground they crept up to the enemy post unobserved, and, disposing themselves very cleverly completely surprised the enemy post of seven Germans. The Officer of the post showed fight and had to be shot; the connections in the post aroused a neighbouring post post who rushed down the sap to the aid of their comrades, firing at the above patrol who were conducting our prisoners to our lines; two of them being shot by their own comrades. The withdrawal was very cleverly covered by Sergeant Travis who fired his revolver until it was emptied. The above was carried out in a most daring manner, and the men concerned showed courage of a very high order, while the scheme was worked out very cleverly in all details. These men were subjected to heavy machine gun fire on withdrawing from the enemy post and were sniped at from all sides. The whole scheme had to be carried out with the utmost despatch, but nevertheless it was a complete success without casualties on our side. This N.C.O. by his excellent patrol work has obtained much valuable information example of courage and devotion to duty." 

    45212 Rifleman Thomas Edward Ingram, 8/2/1887-16/7/1918.

    Thomas Ingram enlisted in the NZ Rifle Brigade in January, 1917 and was in Britain by the end of that year.  He was posted to A Company in October of 1917.

    Almost as soon as he reached his company he was away from it - a case of tonsillitis put him in hospital for nearly a month.

    The Official History of the Rifle Brigade paints this picture of their activities in the period between the end of the German Spring Offensive and the Allied reply: "After an interval spent on the defensive, every opportunity was taken to rest and train Divisions; and, while their strength and efficiency were being restored, to execute, with ever-increasing frequency and scope, such minor operations as would maintain the fighting spirit of the troops, and at the same time effect local improvements in the line in readiness for the day when the Allied Armies could once more attack in strength."

    One such "minor operation" - on July 15 - was the taking of a German trench which involved an advance of 100-200 yards over a frontage of 1000 yards.  Preparations were carefully made to avoid making the enemy suspicious and the two Rifles companies went in after the covering artillery barrage lifted from the trench.  The Germans were caught by surprise but put up a good fight before retreating from their trench.  The action last forty minutes.

    A further advance was planned for the next day, beginning at 4.30am but enemy artillery opened up a heavy bombardment at 3 am and the Germans counter-attacked half an hour later "in strength and with great determination."  Two hundred yards of "A" Company's position was taken.  The Kiwis fought back, deploying trench mortars and retaking their 200 yards and more.  

    "In the subsidiary operations on the morning of the 16th, (reports the Official History of the Rifle Brigade) our casualties numbered three killed and ten wounded."  It would seem that one of the three was Thomas.

      The entire German position was evacuated the next month as part of a general withdrawal.

    Oamaru Old Cemetery