Sunday, 28 August 2011
Frederick Mason Matthews was one of the first Great War veterans I interviewed, and I see from my notes that I met him at his home in Great Dunmow in Essex on the 7th October 1981 when he was 90 years old. Frederick was born in the nearby village of Good Easter on the 27th March 1891 and had been a farmer before the outbreak of war.
The 1911 census shows Frederick living at home with his family at Falconer's Hall, Good Easter. The family comprised his father, mother, brother Reginald and two servants. Frederick and Reginald are noted as assistant farmers.
Falconer's Hall was a significant property and the family was almost certainly well-off. This modern-day photo from geograph.org gives a glimpse of the property viewed from Souther Cross Road:
Whilst this aerial shot courtesy of Google suggests that the immediate area appears to be little changed since Frederick and his family lived there:
My notes state Frederick's number with the Essex Yeomanry as 1818 but his MIC (top) shows that this number was in fact a Hertfordshire Yeomanry number. I had known that he was later an Acting Captain and the MIC confirms this. I presume a service record also survives but I have yet to investigate this.
I do know from my own research into regimental numbers that 1818 for the Hertfordshire Yeomanry dates to around the 3rd September 1914 and that, according to Frederick Matthews, he arrived at Southampton in October or November 1914. The MIC indicates that he arrived in Egypt on the 8th November and so he'd been in khaki for little over two months. Frederick remembers that,
"We arrived at Alexandria after twenty-four days' travel and from there we entrained for Cairo. On arrival there we marched to Abassia Barracks which were being occupied by regulars of the 3rd Dragoon Guards. We took over their horses and they went out to France."
Frederick Matthews served in Gallipoli, reaching Suvla Bay in August 1915:
"There were no landing places and the ship was brought as near to the shore as possible and we were told to wade in. The Turks were up in the hills and they could see our every movement. We hadn't been landed more than five minutes when we lost our colonel, shot through the head."
Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Gurney Sheppard DSO (above) died of wounds on the 21st August 1915 aged 50. He was educated at Eton and had been a member of the London Stock Exchange since 1887. He had won his DSO whilst serving with the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second South African War. He is buried in Green Hill Cemetery on Gallipoli.
"After the initial landing we went to a rest camp and then we were told at night to get ready to go up to the front line trenches and that someone would guide us up there. A chap turned up and we later discovered that he must have been a Turkish officer in disguise. He told our C.O. to follow him and we all landed up in Turkish trenches. Of course, when we discovered where we were we all got our as quick as possible and made our way back to our own lines.
"Later on we were sent up to the front line at Chocolate Hill and the troops who we relieved had been there for three weeks without a break. They were absolutely dead asleep at their posts and our first duty was to bury the dead bodies which lay in front of our wire and which had been there for some while. The heat was unbearable and of course the flies were terrible. It was not a nice job. There were some wells which had been sunk by the Turks long ago but they'd all been poisoned. There was no end of illness with people going sick with dysentry and enteric fever. I cam away with eneteric fever and dysentry in October 1915. I was a stretcher case and was sent to Aberdeen for convalescence for three months, followed by two months' sick leave. I then applied for and was given a commission [with the 2/1st Essex Yeomanry] in England."
Frederick Mason Matthews, who was immensely proud of the fact that he was the first person in Good Easter to volunteer during WW1, died in Chelmsford in December 1983 aged 92.