MICA long field
Related to the service of VX24597 Captain Lionel Colin Matthews, born Stepney, South Australia on 15 August 1912. Educated at East Adelaide Public School and later Norwood High School, Matthews became a keen Boy Scout, later joining the Sea Scouts where he became Assistant Scoutmaster at the First Kensington Sea Scouts at age 19. He was known as a lifesaver and an amateur boxer. After initially joining 10 Battalion, CMF for his military service, Matthews was persuaded to transfer to the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR) where he spent 4 ½ years as a signaller at the Birkenhead Depot. Matthews married 21 year old Lorna Lane on 26 December 1935, at Kensington, SA. He resigned from the RANR to follow work as a salesman with Brooks Robinson and Co of Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, and enlisted instead in 3 Division Signals, AMF on 11 April 1939. His previous associations with the Boy Scouts saw him acting as a social worker at Pentridge Gaol under the auspices of the Boy Scout Movement, in 1938-39, a position he was obliged to resign when war was declared. In the AMF Matthews rapidly rose in rank from provisional corporal to provisional lieutenant by February 1940.
He was seconded to the AIF on 28 July 1940 and was transferred to 8 Division Signals as a Lieutenant where he was personally selected by Lieutenant Colonel Thyer to command the Wireless Operating Section. After attending No 12 Course at the Army School of Signals (Liverpool) and training at Casula and Bathurst Camps, the Division embarked for Malaya from Sydney aboard the converted passenger liner, the 'Queen Mary', on 2 February 1941.
On arrival in Malaya, Matthews and the Wireless Operating Section was moved to Malacca where they provided communications back to Divisional Headquarters for 2/10 Field Regiment In December the Japanese invaded Malaya. As the Commonwealth Forces fought a retreat back to Singapore, Matthews served with distinction, earning a Military Cross for maintaining communications at Gemas 'under heavy artillery and mortar fire and aerial bombardment, displaying a high standard of courage, energy and ability. Later, during the operations on Singapore Island, Captain Matthews succeeded in laying cable over ground strongly patrolled by the enemy, thus restoring communications ... at a critical period.'
Promoted to Captain just before to the surrender to the Japanese in February 1942, he was imprisoned at Selarang Barracks, Changi. Captain J Haldane (also Signals) relates that initially, Matthews 'did not take kindly to prisoner of war life, becoming morose and lacking a lot of his boyish enthusiasm.' He learned Malay to help combat this malaise, which would later prove useful. Over the next few months, this large concentration of prisoners was dispersed to other regions in work parties, On 8 July Matthews became part of 'B' Force, comprising some 1,496 men, which was sent by ship (the Ube Maru) to Borneo; they were later joined by 'E' Force, of some 1,000 men. Their task, once they landed at Sandakan, was to build an airfield.
Over the following months, Matthews and his fellow captives noted that British-administered North Borneo remained loyally British, and that money was being secretly collected by Dr Jim Taylor (an Australian working as Chief Medical Officer at the Government Hospital) to aid escapes. Members of the British North Borneo Armed Constabulary were also known to be loyal, organised and in touch with local and Filipino guerrillas. It was in these circumstances that the prisoners started organising a clandestine resistance movement. Matthews was made Intelligence Officer for the Force and he managed and maintained regular contact with Taylor and others from August 1942 until his arrest on 22 July 1943, the result of a betrayal. He was one of 52 civilians and 20 prisoners arrested and tried. Most, including Matthews, were beaten and tortured for further information over the following seven months.
His George Cross citation gives further details of the work Matthews undertook before being betrayed:
"During this period, although in captivity he directed personally an underground intelligence organisation. By sheer determination and organisation he arranged through native contacts for the delivery of sorely needed medical supplies, food and money into the camp - factors which not only kept up the morale of the prisoners but which undoubtedly saved the lives of many.
'He was instrumental in arranging a radio link with the outside world and was able to send weekly news bulletins to the civil internees on Berhala Island. He was also responsible for arranging for the delivery of firearms to a secret rendezvous for future use.
'Captain Matthews gained the confidence of the Governor of British North Borneo - himself an internee in that area - and was appointed to command (although still a PW) the North British Armed Constabulary. At great danger he organised that body in readiness for a rising against the Japanese and also organised a movement amongst the loyal native population in Sandakan for a similar purpose. He gained contact with the Guerrilla Forces in the Philippines and successfully organised escape parties. His ultimate objective was to link up with outside forces and to stage eventually a resistance movement and insurrection at the first opportunity.
'These activities ...were carried out at the greatest peril to himself at all times. His contact with the natives was on a doubtful basis and he was in constant danger of betrayal and death. He accepted these risks fearlessly and showed the greatest courage and enterprise, although beaten and tortured by the Japanese.
'He was in a position where he could have escaped on numerous occasions by means of the help of an organisation set up by the Chinese but he declined, electing to remain where his efforts could alleviate the sufferings of his fellow prisoners. 'He displayed the greatest gallantry in circumstances of the gravest danger. His leadership conduct, unflagging optimism and impertability were an inspiration to all closely associated with him...
'After his arrest by the Kempei Tai, Capt Matthews showed courage of the highest order. He steadfastly refused to make admissions under brutal torture, beatings and starvation to implicate or endanger the lives of his associates. 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. He was executed by the Japanese at Kuching on 2 March 1944 and even at the time of his execution defied the Japanese. '
Unusually, the Japanese offered him a choice of execution means - firing squad or beheading - a possible sign of their begrudging respect for him.