William James (Bill) MATTHEWS

Poppy

MATTHEWS, William James

Service Number: 722
Enlisted: 9 February 1916, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Lance Corporal
Last Unit: 43rd Infantry Battalion
Born: Cornwall, England, 12 July 1889
Home Town: Waikerie, Loxton Waikerie, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Orchardist/Gardener
Died: Died of wounds, Armentières, France, 16 March 1917, aged 27 years
Cemetery: Wimereux Communal Cemetery
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Waikerie War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

9 Feb 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 722, 43rd Infantry Battalion, Adelaide, South Australia
9 Jun 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 722, 43rd Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
9 Jun 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 722, 43rd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Afric, Adelaide
16 Mar 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, SN 722, 43rd Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages

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Biography

William James MATTHEWS was born in Corwall, ENGLAND, on 12th July 1889. He was the son of James Thomas and Sarah MATTHEWS. The family, consisting of James, Sarah, William and a brother and sister, emigrated to Australia and moved to Waikerie, where James and Sarah MATTHEWS had an orchard. William stated he was working as a gardener in WAIKERIE when he enlisted on February 8th, 1916 in ADELAIDE. He went immediately into camp, originally allocated to the 2nd Depot Battalion, but then was very soon changed to the newly formed 43rd Battalion. There were a number of other soldiers from WAIKERIE also serving with the 43rd. 

The 43rd sailed from South Australia on June 9, 1916 aboard “HMAT AFRIC”. After further training on Salisbury Plain, the 43rd left for France, arriving in Marseilles on 20-7-1916. The battalion moved to the dreaded Western Front in an exceptionally wet winter. William moved into the trenches for the first time in late December, just in time for the onset of the terrible winter of 1916-17. On the 31st of December 1916, William sprained his ankle badly during an action and was moved to a dressing station.  He was admitted to hospital care but returned to his post in the front lines on the 7th January 1917. On 21st January, 1917, William was promoted to Lance Corporal after L/Cpl MANNING was promoted to Corporal in his section.

By the first of March 1917, the 43rd were in the front line at Armentieres, France. The lines were well entrenched and the fighting in this area had already been extremely costly to all involved. William was proceeding through the trenches when he was wounded either by shrapnel from shelling or machine gun fire. He suffered a serious wound to the hip and was taken to the dressing station. There it was listed that William had a gunshot wound to his right hip that had also fractured and broken his right leg. His injuries were very serious and he was moved to the 8th Stationary Hospital at Wimereaux. A telegram from the A.I.F. was delivered to Williams parents, sent on the 9th March 1917 advising that he had been wounded in action and was in hospital.

William MATTHEWS conditioned deteriorated and at 2.20am on the 16th March 1917 he died of the terrible injuries he had sustained.  William was buried at the Wimeraux Communal Cemetery in a section that had been reserved for soldiers who had died at the hospital. He was buried on the day he died in a service presided over by an Australian Chaplin. 

On May 3rd,1915 at a dressing station at the front in Ypres about 15 kilometres away from Armentieres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Colonel John McRAE, devastated by the wholesale destruction of life and limb he was witnessing and the death of a close friend the day before, sat down and wrote a poem to express his feelings. The poem, entitled “In Flanders Fields” was kept by McRAE until it was published in London on December 8th 1915.  The poem and the red poppies that McCrae referred to, have become a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers across the Commonwealth and the world. Sadly on January 28th 1918, a war weary Colonel McRAE died of illness at the Wimereaux Hospital and was buried with full military honours in the same Wimeraux Communal Cemetery as William.

Williams parents were advised of his death by telegram on the 28th of May 1917. His property was later returned to his parents in WAIKERIE in November 1917. His family also received his Victory and British War Medals in 1923, and Memorial Plaque and Scroll in 1922.

William James MATTHEWS is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial on the Roll of Honour and with a tree and plaque here in the WAIKERIE War Memorial Gardens.

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