Robert Hilton MATHESON

MATHESON, Robert Hilton

Service Number: 3456
Enlisted: 21 September 1915, Perth, WA
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd Machine Gun Company
Born: Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia, June 1892
Home Town: Victoria Park, Victoria Park, Western Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Shop Assistant
Died: Killed in Action, France, 23 May 1918
Cemetery: Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme
IV A 3, Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Ribemont, Picardie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Victoria Park State School Honour Board, Victoria Park War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

21 Sep 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 3456, 28th Infantry Battalion, Perth, WA
21 Sep 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 3456, 28th Infantry Battalion, VO Sergeant
17 Jan 1916: Involvement 3456, 28th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '16' embarkation_place: Fremantle embarkation_ship: HMAT Borda embarkation_ship_number: A30 public_note: ''
17 Jan 1916: Embarked 3456, 28th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Borda, Fremantle
18 Nov 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 7th Machine Gun Company
30 Mar 1918: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 2nd Machine Gun Company, Operating with the 28th Bn

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From François Berthout

Pte 3456 Robert Hilton Matheson
2nd Machine Gun Battalion,
7th Machine Gun Company
22nd Company of the Australian Machine Gun Corps, attached to the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion,
7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division
In the poppy fields of the Somme in which flowed so much blood and tears in what was hell on earth, stand today in light and silence, thousands of young men who on these sacred grounds gave their today in the darkness of the trenches and who, together, for their country and for France, through the barbed wire and in the mud of the battlefields, gave their youth and their lives in the name of peace and freedom. in camaraderie they did their duty with extreme bravery without regard for their own lives and under fire, under bullets, without fear charged against machine guns alongside their brothers in arms until their last breath of their young lives who were taken too early but found here, after so much fury and suffering, the peace of their last resting places and tell us behind the sacred epitaphs, the stories of their lives, the memory of a whole generation of heroes that I will always keep strong and alive so that their names live forever and that their deeds, their courage and their sacrifices are never forgotten.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and eternal gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these young men, one of my boys of the Somme who gave his today for our tomorrow.I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Serjeant number 3456 Robert Hilton Matheson who fought in the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, 7th Machine Gun Company then in the 22nd Company of the Australian Machine Gun Corps, attached to the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division and who was killed in action 104 years ago, on May 23, 1918 at the age of 25 on the Somme front.

Robert Hilton Matheson was born in 1892 in Bathurst, New South Wales, and was the son of Robert Matheson (1853-1952) and Edith Matheson (née Ford, 1856-1934), of 9, Duncan Street, Victoria Park, Western Australia. Before the outbreak of the war, he worked as a shop assistant, married Irene Myrtle Gander (1890-1970), had a daughter, Vida Irene Matheson (1912-2005) then a son, Mervyn Matheson (1914-1929) and lived at 7, Cavendish Street, Victoria Park.

Robert enlisted on September 28, 1915 in Perth, Western Australia, as a Private in the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion, 8th Reinforcement, battalion whose motto was "Urgens" (Urgent) and under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Collett. On November 1 Robert was promoted to the rank of Serjeant and after a training period of just over two months at Blackboy Hill Camp, near Perth, he embarked with his unit from Fremantle, Western Australia, on board HMAT A30 Borda on January 17, 1916 and sailed for Egypt.
On March 5, 1916 Robert arrived in Egypt and was disembarked in Heliopolis where on March 8 he was admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital suffering from Influenza then was discharged to duty on March 12 and proceeded overseas from Alexandria for France on board "Orina" on March 21.

On March 27, 1916, after a one-week trip on the Mediterranean Sea, Robert arrived in France and was disembarked in Marseilles then was taken on strength on June 9 with the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion in the trenches of Bois-Grenier, Hauts- De-France, and reverted to the rank of Private the same day. The 28th Battalion fought in the Bois-Grenier sector until June 30 and lost 129 men in two weeks.

On July 1, 1916, the 28th Battalion was sent to the Ypres salient and entered the trenches of Messines where they fought for less than a week then on July 6 they moved into Billets at Neuve Eglise and marched for Wizernes on July 12 where they embarked by train for the Somme and arrived at Saleux station, near Amiens on July 14 then marched through Herissart, Warloy-Baillon, Albert, entered the trenches of "Sausage Valley" on July 27. for the month of July, the battalion lost 523 men.

On August 4, 1916, the 28th Battalion faced its first major action on the Somme front and joined the trenches of Pozieres,where the AIF Divisions engaged (1st 2nd and 4th) formed the right flank of the British front.

The 1st Division had cleared the pulverised remnants of the village all the while under relentless shelling. Casualties mounted at a horrifying rate.The 2nd Division’s job was to extend the line beyond the ruins of a windmill on a hill to the west of the town.

"The Windmill", or rather what was left of it, was captured by the 2nd Division on 4th August and later consolidated by the 4th Division.Then, the direction of the Australian assault switched to Mouquet Farm, with the 1st Division leading once again. The aim was to outflank Thiepval, the main impediment and key objective of the British advance. Bean’s quote, now inscribed on a plinth near the ruins of the Windmill, states:

"The ruin of Pozières Windmill which lies here was the centre of the struggle in this part of the Somme battlefield in July and August 1916. It was captured on August 4 by Australian troops who fell more thickly on this ridge than on any other battlefield of the war."

After terrible fighting at Pozieres, the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion spent the month of September resting at Victoria Camp, near Reninghelst, Belgium, then at Steenvoorde, Hauts-De-France where they remained until October 4 and then embarked by train from Godewaersvelde for Ypres and fought in that sector until 15 October. The next day they were relieved by the 12th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and marched to Toronto Camp at Poperinge where they remained between 17 and 18 October and then marched into billets at Watou on October 20, Arneke on October 21, Gandspette on October 22 and moved back to the Somme on October 26 at Buigny-l'Abbe and were then transported to Dernancourt where they were billeted until November 1.

On November 2, 1916, the 28th Battalion moved to camp at Montauban and the next day relieved the 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion in the Gueudecourt trenches and on November 5 with the 25th and 26th Australian Infantry Battalions on their left and the British on their right, launched an attack in the direction of Flers towards the German trench system called "The Maze".The 28th Battalion and the Australians at first successfully captured several of their objectives but due to lack of support and a powerful German counterattack, had to fall back to their original lines.

On November 13, 1916, Robert was transferred and taken on strength in the 7th Machine Gun Company, attached to the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion which, on November 17, was involved in a second attack against the Maze which was also a success at first but Could not hold the captured positions following strong enemy counterattacks. The following day, the 28th Battalion was relieved by the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion and marched to Fricourt Camp then on November 30, marched to Vignacourt.

On December 1, 1916, the 28th Battalion marched to Saint-Vaast-En-Chaussée where they underwent a period of training until December 17, then marched through St Gratien, Vignacourt, Buire and arrived at Sydney Camp located in Fricourt on December 22 which they left the next day for the Melbourne Camp at Mametz where they were billeted until January 4, 1917.

On January 8, 1917, the 28th Battalion moved for Delville Wood and the following day in the trenches of Gueudecourt including the "Switch Trench" and the "Needle Trench" from which they were relieved on January 15 and marched for Meaulte and Buire then moved back to the Fricourt Camp on January 30 for two well-deserved days of rest.

On February 2, 1917, Robert and the men of the 28th Battalion relieved the Cameron Highlanders of the "Scotland Trench" at Warlencourt and fought in this sector under very active enemy artillery until February 26, then launched a successful attack on March 1 to take and hold the Malt Trench in front of Warlencourt despite dense lines of barbed wire and captured 14 prisoners of the German 67th Regiment.

On March 5, 1917, the 28th Battalion was relieved by the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion and on March 26, marched for Lagnicourt, Pas-De-Calais.

Lagnicourt was the scene of fierce fighting in March and April 1917. When the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line in March and the British and dominion forces advanced rapidly in their wake but as they neared the Hindenburg Line they were confronted by well-prepared rearguard forces, which were only removed after difficult fights. One such action took place at Lagnicourt between 26 and 27 March. Closing with the Hindenburg Line, the British lost no time in launching a major offensive around Arras. This left their line weak in several places, including Lagnicourt. Aware of this weakness, the Germans launched a counter-stroke in the Lagnicourt area at dawn on 15 April, utilising 23 battalions. Their aim was not to permanently recapture the territory, but merely to hold it for a day and capture or destroy all the equipment and supplies they found there. They rapidly occupied Lagnicourt and captured several batteries of the 1st Australian Division's artillery. A vigourous counter-attack by four Australian battalions just after 7 am recaptured the village and most of the guns, and forced a premature German withdrawal.

From 1 to 14 April 1917 the 28th Battalion rested at Shelter Wood Camp near Lagnicourt and the next day marched to Sunken Road near Vaulx-Vraucourt to counter a German attack on the Lagnicourt-Noreuil line and on 17 April marched to a camp at Beugnatre then moved back into the trenches of the Lagnicourt-Noreuil line where they relieved the 8th Australian Infantry Battalion on 23 April and on April 30 marched to a camp at Bapaume where they remained until May 1.

On May 3, 1917 Robert and the 28th Battalion fought in the Second Battle of Bullecourt alongside the 1st and 5th Australian Divisions, the 2nd Division leading on 3-5 May.Tactically it was very similar to First Bullecourt with a break-in being achieved, the tanks failing,again,and inadequate artillery support because of difficulties getting the guns far enough forward. From a casualty perspective, it was Pozieres all over again.

After Bullecourt, the 28th Battalion was relieved and marched to a camp near Favreuil, moved back to Shelter Wood Camp on May 9 and then to Senlis on May 14 where they underwent a further period of training until June 15 and then marched for Bapaume on June 16.

Two months later, on August 12, 1917, Robert was granted a leave in England and joined his unit on August 24 then after the 2nd Australian Division was reconstituted and reinforced, the 28th Battalion was committed to the Third Ypres campaign. This was an offensive aimed at clearing the high ground surrounding the city of Ypres to deny the enemy observation and the capacity to direct artillery fire on the town. It began well. The 2nd Division was committed to fighting at Menin Road in late September 1917 and at Broodseinde Ridge on 4th October, both of which were resounding successes complemented by Polygon Wood, involving primarily the 4th and 5th Divisions on 24-25 September.

After the Battle of Polygon Wood, the 28th Battalion and the 2nd Australian Division were engaged in the Battle of Poelcapelle on 9th October, which was really a preliminary operation to capture the Passchendaele ridge. Tragically, the Third Ypres campaign bogged down in the misery of the 1st and 2nd Battles for Passchendaele in late October and November. The 2nd Division played a minor role in the former and none in the latter.

From 1 to 15 December 1917 Robert and the 28th Battalion were billeted at Aldershot Camp near Ypres and marched to the trenches at Ploegsteert the following day where they fought until 2 January 1918.
On January 3, 1918 the 28th Battalion marched for Romarin Camp but a few days later, on January 8, returned to the front line between Warneton and Ploegsteert then were sent to Kortepyp Camp on January 13, Kemmel Huts on January 26, joined Bailleul on 29 January and embarked by train for Calais where they were billeted until the end of February.

A month later, on March 9, 1918, Robert was granted a second leave in England and returned to his unit on March 27 at Ingersoll Camp, near Romarin, then was transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, attached to the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion. A week earlier, on March 21, 1918, in a desperate attempt to break through the Franco-British lines, the Germans launched the spring offensive and the 28th was sent to the Somme on April 6 to stop them.
On April 6, 1918, Robert and the 28th Battalion arrived at Corbie, Somme then marched through Bresle, Dernancourt, Lahoussoye, Bavelincourt, Baizieux, and joined the front line near Villers-Bretonneux on April 9. During their stay in the trenches of this sector, an interesting note dated April 22 in the battalion's war diary wrote as follows:
"News received that Baron Richtofen,the hun flying champion had been brought down by australian machine guns,our snipers did some successfull work."
Unfortunately, less than a month later, on May 23, 1918, Robert met his fate and was killed in action by the concussion of a gas shell in Mericourt, he was 25 years old.

Today, Serjeant Robert Hilton Matheson rests in peace with his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "God hath led our dear one on and he can do no wrong."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicates that at the death of Robert, his rank was that of Private and not Serjeant and no mention is written in his military file that he was promoted to the rank of Serjeant after having been reverted to the rank of Private on June 9, 1916.

Robert, it is with the greatest determination and bravery that, alongside your comrades, you answered the call of duty to serve your country with loyalty and dedication to do your bit in the name of the greatest causes that united and guided a whole generation of young boys under the colors and who, together, on the battlefields of Belgium and northern France fought with conviction in the mud and who, in the trenches and the barbed wire, shed their tears and their blood on the poppies who were witnesses to the bravery and sacrifices of young boys who did more than what was asked of them in the quagmires of the Somme which robbed them of their childhood and their innocence, of their hopes of a great adventure but in darkness , under the mournful symphony of artillery, they discovered the death and the despair of a world gone mad and among the rats, their faces blackened by dirt, gunpowder and blood these men sank into the chaos and the fury that was the great war.In this endless nightmare, they were the helpless witnesses of a world on the verge of destruction and ravaged by flames and, to the sound of the whistles that resounded in the valley of the Somme, their legs paralyzed by fear and their hearts Beating to the rhythms of trapped animals with nowhere to hide from the bullets, it was with extreme courage that they emerged from the trenches behind their officers in close lines alongside their brothers and faced their destinies under the fire of the machine guns and shells praying to God to survive this hell that fell like an implacable hail on their young shoulders already crushed under the weight of the rifles and fought meter by meter to move in an ocean of mud and death which were before landscapes peaceful and green which became execution fields, open-air cemeteries through the relentless violence of these slaughterhouses that were the fields of Pozieres, Flers, Villers-Bretonneux and which are today eternal symbols of the bravery of the Diggers and the Australian nation that did so much for our old country.For peace and freedom, in spite of their fears they moved forward through hurricanes of fire and steel, under a sky torn by the engines of fragile machines and behind the mechanical clatter of the first tanks they charged through no man's land, rifles and bayonets in hand they rode into apocalyptic bloodbaths in which friends and foes killed each other in howls and fury and who in their courage and heroic actions made their country proud but behind every gun sight,there was a human being, a man, a son, a husband with hopes and who fought shoulder to shoulder for this war to put an end to all wars but among them, there were thousands who never returned from the battlefields and found after a last breath the peace and silence of sacred grounds on which they still stand together young and proud, united for eternity in remembrance behind the rows of their white tombs on which their stories are written and remembered with honor and whose memory I will keep strong and alive so that these young men, my boys of the Somme may live forever. Thank you so much Robert, for all you did for us who will be forever grateful to you.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,we will remember him,we will remember them.