52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 21: Military
The week 21 challenge for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is Military. I could not believe it when I saw the dates for this challenge. I had already intended to write a post for this week to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the death of my great-great-uncle Hilton in World War I. What a stroke of luck that the challenge would be Military for this very week.
Week 21 – Military
Robert Hilton Matheson
Hilton was born in 21 July 1892 in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia to Robert Matheson and Edith Ford.1,2 He was the second youngest child of ten children and the youngest son. Sometime after his younger sister Gladys’ (my great-grandma) birth in 1894 but prior to 1903 the family had moved to Margaret Street, Victoria Park, Western Australia.3,4 From all accounts the Matheson’s were a very close family and given the older adult children moved from the east with their family it would attest to this.
Military Service – Beginning
On the 28 September 1915, when he enlisted in the army, he was 23 years 3 months, single, and working as a shop assistant.5 I assume, but have not yet proven, that he was working in his older brother, Charles Jardine Matheson’s shop, CJ Matheson’s, a well-known grocery store in Perth.6 Hilton stood 5 foot 7 inches, weighed 150 pounds, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes, and fair hair.5 The family was living at 7 Cavendish Street, Victoria Park, Western Australia with his father Robert listed as next of kin.5
He presented to Blackboy Hill to commence his training and was appointed to the 8th Reinforcements, 28th Battalion as a Private.5 The 28th Battalion was formed as part of the Australian Imperial Force on 16 April 1915 at Blackboy Camp, Western Australia.7,8 They were part of the 7th Brigade which drew battalions from Queensland, Tasmania, and South Australia and were attached to the 2nd Division.8
On the 1 November 1915 he became a Provisional Sergeant, a position he held until 8 June 1916.5 He embarked from Fremantle aboard the HMAT A30 ‘Borda’ on 17 January 1916.5 On 5 March 1916 he was admitted to No.1 A.G.H. in Heliopolis, Egypt with influenza – a letter dispatched by the Melbourne Base Record Office on 14 March 1916 advised same.5 On the 12 March 1916 he was deemed fit to return to normal duties.5
Military Service – Active Duty
The 28th Battalion was sent to Gallipoli in June 1915 but they were transferred to France as part of the 2nd Australian Division in mid-March 1916.7,8 They entered the front line near Armentieres and would fight in trenches on the Western Front in Belgium and France for the remainder of the war.7,8 On the 21 March 1916 Hilton embarked the ‘Orina’ from Alexandria, disembarking in Marseilles on 27 March 1916.5 On the 10 June 1916 he was taken on strength by the 28th Battalion in France, reverting to a Private at this time.5
On the 12 November 1916 he was transferred to the 7th Machine Gun Company.5 From 28 July until 6 August 1916 they were heavily involved in the Battle of Pozières, a small village in the Somme Valley, France.7,8,9 The 2nd Division suffered heavily in the first attack on 29 July 1916, however, their second attack on 2 August 1916 was successful, however, suffered 6,848 casualties.7,8,9 They moved onto Ypres before their return to the Somme in October 1916 fighting in Flers.7,8 They went on to provide reinforcements in the second battle of Bullecourt and the third phase of Menin Road, securing their objective in seven minutes.7,8
Hilton’s records show his Army Will that he signed on 11 June 1917 in which he advises that his formal Will is lodged with his mother, Edith Matheson of 7 Cavendish Street, Victoria Park.5 This document was witnessed by two of his comrades, both Queenslanders.5
From the 18 August 1917 to 25 August 1917 Hilton was on leave to the United Kingdom.5 The unit was in reserve in the Broodseinde Ridge capture, and for the battle of Poelcappelle on 9 October 1917.7,8 They spent the winter of 1917 in Belgium before returning to the Somme with Hilton going on leave again to the UK from 16 March 1918 to 30 March 1918, transferring to the 2nd Machine Gun Corps on his return to active duty.5,7,8 In April 1918 the Battalion fought in the German Spring Offensive.7,8
Killed in Action
On 23 May 1918, Hilton was killed instantly by a gas shell in Somme, France, between Maricourt Village and Merrit Wood.5 It is sad that he was a mere six months from making it to the end of the war. It was noted by his comrades that he was buried in an Isolated Grave, Mericourt L’Abbe Sailly-le-Sec Road, 1/2 Mile South South East of mericourt L’Abbe and 3 1/2 miles North East of Corbie.5. I have noted some discrepancy as to whether he was a Private or Sergeant at his death due to differences in various documents. The below quotes are the burial affidavits from his comrades.
He was in the 22nd. Co. and was killed by a gas shell instantaneously. We did not see the casualty happen but got details from men who did. The casualty happened between Maricourt Village and Merrit Wood, towards evening. We have seen his grave on the side of the road that leads up from the village to the wood, not in a cemetery. A wooden cross marks the grave. The casualty occurred in May. – – Affidavit of Sgt. D.G. Martin and Sgt. H.R. Bishop, 3.10.1810
I knew Matheson. He was in the 22nd Company of which I was Sergeant Major at the time he was killed. We were at Merricourt towards the end of May. He was cut on a working party and was killed by a shell splinter. He was buried on the left of the road from Merricourt to Morlancourt about 2000 yards from Merricourt. I myself saw his grave and superintended the placing of a cross over it. He had been 7 Company and only joined us in May. The ground was held. – – Affidavit of G. Williams, 2nd Battn. M.G.C., 15.10.1810
He came from No.7 Co. to No.22 in which I am. He was killed by a shell on the Mericourt front on the Somme on this date. I helped to bury him. We buried him alongside the road where he fell and we marked the grave with a cross bearing his name. – – Sgt. Jones, 18.11.1810
I knew Private R. Matheson, he had been in the 7th Company, but was transferred to the 22nd Company before he was killed. I saw his grave in the open about 1/2 mile from Merricourt to the left of the road leading to Marlancourt. There is a cross on the grave. – – Q.M.S. M.H. Gasmier, 30.11.1810
On 10 June 1918 the Army Will was “Certified to be a true copy of Location of Will of No. 3456. Pte MATHESON Robert Hilton. 2nd Machine Gun Battalion. A.I.F. (Decd).”5 On 14 June 1918 several Killed in Action Notices were placed in the Western Mail by friends and family (see Image e).11 From this I discovered he had the nickname of Snowy to his siblings.11
On the 17 June 1918 a note was made that his effects were to be sent to his mother, Mrs. E. Matheson that included a “Compass in Metal Case, Photos, Letters, Card, Wallet, Metal Watch, Testament, Disc.” On 20 December 1918 a request was sent to Edith to forward the particulars of Probate to Base Records for Sgt RH Matheson No.3456 2nd Machine Gun Battalion.5 She responded on the 5 January 1919 to say that she had immediately advised the Military Paymaster, Perth when Probate had been granted.5
On the 22 May 1919, a day before the first anniversary of Hilton’s death, Edith wrote to the Army stating that she was still awaiting his effects.5 On the 10 June 1919 Robert sent a letter to advise their street name had been changed to Duncan Street and that they had moved next door to number 9.5 On the 16 June 1919 the address was changed on the records to “Hiltona” 9 Duncan Street, Victoria Park, Western Australia.5 The house being named “Hiltona” was clearly a memorial to their son. On the 17 June 1919 Edith confirmed they had received his effects.5
Hilton’s body was exhumed and reburied as part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to ensure the war dead received proper recognition.12 This started as an idea from Sir Fabian Ware, who headed a British Red Cross Unit, as he was too old to fight.13 He wanted to ensure that the war dead buried in unmarked graves were not forgotten.13
On the 21 August 1919 a Concentration of Graves (Exhumation and Reburials) Burial Return was created advising that the 119th Labour Company had exhumed the remains of 3456 Pte RH Matheson, 22/MCG. A.I.F. 23-5-18.12 His remains were removed from his roadside burial and reburied at Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension.12 The Grave Registration Report Form confirms the information confirms the information on the burial dated 21 August 1919.14 Hilton was buried in Plot 4, Row A, Grave 3, Stone No.332 with his father approving the inscription:15
God Hath Led Our Dear One On and He Can Do No Wrong15
Hilton is also remembered at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra and in King’s Park, Perth, Western Australia.
On 4 November 1921 Hilton was posthumously awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, and the Victory Medal, colloquially known as Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.5,16 The 1914-15 Star was awarded to all who served in the first year of the war, The British War Medal was awarded to those who served overseas in a theatre of war, and The Victory Medal for those who saw active fighting.16
On the 5 December 1921 Robert Matheson signed to say he was in receipt of the Memorial Scroll and King’s Message.5 On 19 December 1922 Robert Matheson singed to say he had received Memorial Plaque #34604.5 The Memorial Scrolls were issued to the next of kin of those killed whilst serving in the A.I.F., and bore the Royal Coat of Arms and the inscription “their own lives that others might live in freedom.”17 The Memorial plaque was bronze with Britannia and a lion on the front, the inscription “He died for freedom and honour“, with the soldiers full name.17
Do you have any ancestors who served in WWI or WWII? Click the image below to search for them today at Findmypast. I would also love to hear about them – please comment below.
- 1. Ancestry.com. Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, Robert H Matheson, 1892 Reg. No. 6475, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia.
- 2. Marjorey June Brand, The Friendship Birthday Book, original in author’s possession.
- 3. Findmypast, Birth Index Gladys Gwendoline Matheson, 5859/1894, Bathurst, New South Wales Births, Accessed 10 May 2014.
- 4. Electoral Roll, Robert, Edith, Marion Matheson, 1903 Division: Fremantle, Subdivision: Victoria Park, p.6, Western Australia Electoral Rolls.
- 5. National Archives of Australia, ‘Service Record of Robert Hilton Matheson’, NAA: B2455, Matheson R H, Accessed 2 September 2016.
- 6. Vincent Library Western Australia, ‘Our Town’, https://library.vincent.wa.gov.au/Profiles/library/Assets/ClientData/Documents/Library/OurTownBook.pdf.
- 7. Australia War Memorial, ‘28th Battalion’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51468, Accessed 8 May 2018.
- 8. Wikipedia, ‘28th Battalion (Australia)’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/28th_Battalion_(Australia), Accessed 8 May 2018.
- 9. Australian War Memorial, ‘7th Australian Machine Gun Company’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51551, Accessed 8 May 2018.
- 10. Australian War Memorial, ‘Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Files, Robert Hilton Matheson, 1DRL/0428, https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/RCDIG1051323/document/5638994.PDF, Accessed 14 April 2015.
- 11. 1918 ‘Family Notices’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 14 June, p. 19. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37451046, Accessed 14 April 2015.
- 12. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Concentration of Graves Burial Return’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/MATHESON,%20ROBERT%20HILTON#&gid=null&pid=1, Accessed 25 February 2018.
- 13. Commonwealth War Graves Commision, ‘History of the CWGC’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/history-of-the-cwgc, Accessed 25 February 2018.
- 14. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Grave Registration Report’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/MATHESON,%20ROBERT%20HILTON#&gid=null&pid=1, Accessed 25 February 2018.
- 15. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Report of Headstone Inscriptions’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/MATHESON,%20ROBERT%20HILTON#&gid=null&pid=1, Accessed 25 February 2018.
- 16. The Great War, ‘A Guide to British Campaign Medals of WW1’, http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/ww1-campaign-medals.htm, Accessed 28 April 2017.
- 17. Australian War Memorial, ‘1914–1918 Memorial Scroll and plaque’, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/memorial_scroll, Accessed 11 May 2018.
- a. C.1906 Matheson Family, Perth, Western Australia, Original in author’s possession.
- b. Australian War Memorial, ‘Tent lines at Blackboy Hill Camp at Midland Junction’, https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/A02874/screen/6057827.JPG, Accessed 11 May 2018.
- c. Australian War Memorial, ‘Australian machine gunners returning from the front line trenches to their billets, in France’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C46382, Accessed 17 May 2018.
- d. State Library of Western Australian, ‘In Loving Memory of Sergt. Robert Hilton Matheson, http://purl.slwa.wa.gov.au/slwa_b3108903_1.jpg?agree, Accessed 6 November 2017.
- e. 1918 ‘Family Notices’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 14 June, p. 19. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37451046, Accessed 14 April 2015.
- f. Canberra Australian War Memorial – Robert Hilton Matheson
- g. Kings Park, Perth, Western Australia – Photo of Robert H Matheson Memorial, Original in author’s possession.
- h. The Great War, ‘A Guide to British Campaign Medals of WW1’, http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/ww1-campaign-medals.htm, Accessed 28/4/17.