Lance Corporal George Samuel Joshua Matthews DCM, 3rd Battalion

Posted on 27 July 2021

When two platoons came under fire from hostile machine-guns at Chuignes on 23 August 1918, George Matthews sprang into action.

The 24-year-old lance corporal worked along a trench under heavy fire and bombed two machine-guns, capturing one and inflicting casualties on the crew of another.

The following day, he was badly wounded in his chest, neck and left knee, and reportedly lost the power of speech.

For his actions, Matthews was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Today, his name is listed on the Australian War Memorial’s Indigenous Service list, one of the thousands of Indigenous Australians who volunteered during the First World War, despite not being legally allowed to do so.

The son of George and Mary Ann Matthews, he was born on the 17th of November 1893, in Quirindi, New South Wales.

The name Quirindi comes from the Gamilaraay language; Quirindi was part of the traditional lands of the Gamilaroi.

The first squatters settled in the area a few years before Quirindi Station was established in 1830.

About 35km west of Quirindi, the town of Caroona was the site of Walhallow Aboriginal mission station, established about 1895. Young George was educated at Caroona.

His grandfather Thomas Mather, aka Matthews, was a convict from Derbyshire. Arrested for housebreaking, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was transported to Australia, arriving at Sydney Cove in 1832, and was assigned to John Eales, of Berry Park, who also owned the huge Walhallow Estate in its earliest days.

After gaining his Ticket of Freedom, he was given permission to continue working for John Eales at Walhallow Estate and Piallaway, and this is how the family came to be established at Walhallow. Thomas settled in the Quirindi area, and died in Gunnedah in 1886.

Matthews' paternal grandmother was Eliza Guess (later Gilham/Gillon), a Gomeroi woman who is listed as one of the apical ancestors on the Gomeroi Native Title Claim.

When the First World War broke out, George enlisted in February 1915 at the age of 21.

He left Sydney aboard the troopship Makarini on 1 April with reinforcements to the 3rd Battalion. The battalion took part in its first major action in Europe – the Battle of Pozières – in July 1916, and was involved in the fighting around Ypres in Belgium, before returning to the Somme to man the line during the horrific winter of 1916.

Matthews was wounded on Christmas Eve 1916, but returned to duty shortly afterwards. Throughout 1917, he and his battalion were involved in operations against the Hindenburg Line, spending a majority of the year in the line near Ypres.

In March and April 1918, the battalion was used to help stop the German Spring Offensive, before taking part in the final allied offensive near Amiens on 8 August 1918.

Matthews was repatriated to Australia in 1919 and married his wife, Catherine Sooby, at Quirindi the following year. He died on 17 June 1966, and was buried in Tamworth.

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