The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (VX24597) Captain Lionel Colin Matthews GC MC, 8th Division Signals, Second AIF, Second World War.

Place Asia: Borneo, Sarawak, Kuching
Accession Number PAFU2015/457.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 7 November 2015
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Charis May, the story for this day was on (VX24597) Captain Lionel Colin Matthews GC MC, 8th Division Signals, Second AIF, Second World War.

Speech transcript

VX24597 Captain Lionel Colin Matthews GC MC, 8th Division Signals, Second AIF
Executed 2 March 1944
Photograph: AWM 059358

Story delivered 7 November 2015

Today we remember and pay tribute to Captain Lionel Colin Matthews.

Lionel Matthews was born on 15 August 1902 to Edgar and Ann Matthews of Stepney in Adelaide. He attended the East Adelaide public school and Norwood High School. An enthusiastic member of the Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts, Matthews went on to become a scoutmaster. He was also a keen swimmer and lifesaver. He worked as a salesman and clerk in a department store in both Adelaide and Melbourne, and in 1935 he married Lorna Myrtle Lane, known as Myrtle, in Kensington, South Australia. They went on to have a son, Lionel David.

Matthews had trained as a signalman in the Citizen Naval Forces, and later enlisted in the militia and was posted to the 3rd Division Signals. Following the outbreak of war, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and was later posted to the 8th Division Signals. In February 1941 he left Australia for Singapore.

That December the Japanese invaded Malaya, and the following month Matthews was with the 27th Brigade at Gemas when it came under heavy artillery and mortar fire. He maintained cable communications while under heavy shell-fire and an aerial bombardment, displaying a “high standard of courage, energy and ability in doing so”. Shortly afterwards he was formally promoted to captain.

On Singapore Island Captain Matthews again demonstrated his courage in restoring communications between brigade and divisional headquarters by running a cable over ground “strongly patrolled by the enemy”. For these actions he was awarded the Military Cross.

On 15 February 1942 Matthews was one of the thousands of Australians taken prisoner by the Japanese in the fall of Singapore. At first he was interned at the Changi prisoner-of-war camp, but in July 1942 he became a member of “B Force” and was transported with some 1,500 other prisoners to Sandakan in Borneo.

Soon after his arrival Matthews was instrumental in setting up an elaborate underground intelligence network. He established contacts with locals to get medical supplies, food, and money into the camp, and smuggled out news reports and messages. He collected firearms and other weapons for use in a potential future uprising against the Japanese, and successfully organised a number of escape parties. An eyewitness later considered that “the copying of news bulletins in the camp where a search was likely at any moment, and organising the delivery of firearms to a secret rendezvous, required a courage that few would challenge”.

In July 1943 Matthews was among a number of men arrested for smuggling radio parts into the camp. They were interrogated and tortured. Captain Matthews “steadfastly refused to make admissions under brutal torture, beatings and starvation”, and would not implicate any of his associates. After months held in Kuching, he was sentenced to death by his captors, apparently for “divulging false rumours [and] for contravening the Penal Laws of prisoners of war for attempted espionage and preparation of enemy aggression”. He was executed by firing squad on 2 March 1944.

Captain Lionel Matthews was nominated for the George Cross, the highest award for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”. His citation read:

His leadership, conduct, unflagging optimism and imperturbability were an inspiration to all closely associated with him in the resistance organisation and to his fellow prisoners … his conduct at all times was that of a very brave and courageous gentleman and he worthily upheld the highest tradition of an Australian Officer.

Matthews was posthumously awarded the George Cross by the Governor of South Australia at Government House, Adelaide, on 4 October 1949. The medal was accepted by his son, Lionel David Matthews, who earlier this year donated his father’s George Cross and other campaign medals to the Australian War Memorial, where they will eventually be displayed in the Hall of Valour.

Captain Matthews was buried in the Labuan War Cemetery in Malaysia. He was 41 years old. His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died during the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Captain Lionel Colin Matthews, and all those Australians who gave their lives in the hope for a better world.

Dr Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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