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The King of No Man's Land

Sgt Richard Travis VC, the King of No Man's Land.

Less than a month after the outbreak of the First World War, Richard Travis joined the 7th (Southland) Mounted Rifles.

Travis was not scheduled to proceed with the rest of his unit to Gallipoli. So he went AWOL and stowed away on the squadron's transport and joined them on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

In late 1916 Travis, by then a sergeant, was put in charge of a Sniper and Observation unit. The exploits of "Travis's Gang" became legendary. On September 15, 1916, Travis eliminated German snipers who had slowed the battalion's advance in the Somme. His actions were recognised with a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

He cared little for the spit-and-polish demanded by the top brass. He carried two revolvers, strapped cowboy fashion to his waist. He preferred a balaclava to a helmet, and his uniform seemed, at least to a visiting group of British officers on one occasion, to break every rule. His commanders sprung to his defence: "That's Travis; he pleases himself."

In July 1918 the 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, was committed to operations around Rossignol Wood, where a salient had developed in the German lines. The Germans withdrew from their positions and Travis, with the reconnaissance section "Travis's Gang", set out to discover their new location. On 24 July the battalion was scheduled to launch its attack. Prior to stepping off, Travis crossed "no man's land" in daylight and destroyed wire obstacle that threatened to block the path of the battalion's advance. Later, after the attack had been checked by heavy fire from a number of machine gun positions, seeing the danger, Travis approached two weapons pits alone and killed their occupants.

He was killed the following day in a German artillery barrage laid down in preparation for a counter-attack. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in September 1918.


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