Captain Ernest George Matthews




Ernest George Matthews was born on 8 February 1893 at Ava Terrace, Bangor, County Down, the last of four children of bank clerk William Matthews and his London-born wife Mary Ann Priscilla (Katie) (nee Hawkins). His father died just before Ernest's tenth birthday. From 1908 to 1913 Ernest served a five year apprenticeship as mill manager at William Ewart & Sons, Belfast.

Matthews enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Belfast on 20 August 1914 (No.1021). At the time he was living with his mother at 3 Cyrene Villas, Clifton Park Avenue, Belfast. He trained in the regiment's machine-gun detachment. On 24 November he applied for a commission and six days later was appointed 2nd lieutenant in the newly-formed 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron.

On 6 October 1915 he embarked for France with his squadron, which was then serving as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division. The squadron's war diary mentions him twice over the following months:

[15 October 1915] Weather fine. 2/Lt Matthews left in charge of details at Bordon reported his arrival at Olincourt.

[26 January 1916] Parade mounted for Divisional Scheme as per secret instructions. 2/Lieuts Matthews & McWilliam, Sergt Quinn & Lce Sergt Reid proceeded to the Div. School of Instruction at Le Meillard.

In June 1916 Matthews' squadron, together with F and C Squadrons of the North Irish Horse, were combined to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment.

On the opening days of the Battle of the Somme Matthews was twice buried in a dugout by German shelling. On 5 July he was wounded in the knee during an artillery bombardment on Aveluy Wood. According to the regimental diary:

Orders were received from Assistant Provost Marshall 36th Division at 9am for the two troops dismounted to report to Captain O'Neill at Lancashire Dump for salvage duty. They carried out this duty, bringing in equipment, rifles etc till 1pm. The men had dinner and were just turning out again when Lieutenant Seymour received orders from 36th Division to return to Regimental Headquarters. The men had just started to saddle up when a heavy bombardment of both high explosive, shrapnel and machine guns was concentrated on the Wood. The intensity of the fire necessitated Lieutenant Seymour giving orders for the men to take shelter in some old dugouts and trenches close by. The bombardment lasted for three-quarters of an hour and then slackened but did not entirely stop. Up to now one horse was killed and four wounded. The men were then ordered to saddle up and lead their horses through Wood out on to the road and were waiting for the others to join up when the bombardment opened much heavier than previously, especially on that part of the road where the men were waiting. Lieutenant Seymour moved off up the road leaving 2nd Lieutenant Matthews and Sergeant McIlvoy to round up the stragglers in the wood, as by this time horses were very restive and almost unmanageable. Lieutenant Seymour with his party had reached about one mile along the road and turned down a lane leaving the horses in charge of Sergeant Quinn. Almost immediately a heavy fire was brought to bear on the horses and Sergeant Quinn was wounded. The horses stampeded in every direction, some back to Aveluy Wood. Eventually Lieutenant Seymour was able to round up most of this party and got to Senlis. [2nd] Lieutenant Matthews and Sergeant McIlroy remained behind. Our losses numbered sixteen horses killed or wounded and two missing. 2nd Lieutenant Matthews was wounded severely in the knee from high explosives and Privates Downes, Nicholl, Gourley wounded (hospital) and Privates Buchanan, 195 Campbell, Potton, 105 Craig, Corporal Dickson, 209 Robinson slightly wounded.

Matthews was evacuated to England for treatment. He was found unfit for duty and granted leave until 28 August, when a medical board reported:

... this officer was struck by a fragment of H.E. shell on the outer side of the rt knee. The actual wound was slight but the knee became extremely stiff & painful. He limps with a stick. His general condition is shakey. Previous to the injury he was twice buried in his dugout during the German bombardment. He sleeps badly & is in need of rest.

After further leave he was found fit for light duty and on 3 October 1916 reported for duty at the Inniskilling's reserve depot at Enniskillen. By 11 December he was once again fit for general service.

Matthews was appointed lieutenant on 30 October 1916.

It appears that he returned to France to rejoin his squadron in the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment. The regiment's war diary reported:

[25 January 1917] Frosty. Routine work. Trench party under 2 Lt Matthews were shelled but had no casualties.

[8 February 1917] Frosty. Routine work. 2 Lt Matthews reports a quiet day with the working party.

However it appears that the impact of Matthews' earlier injuries were more long-lasting than first thought. On 23 April 1917 he was assessed at Rouen as unfit for frontline service due to DAH (disordered action of the heart). He was classed as PB (Permanent Base). On 2 July another assessment at Rouen classed him as PU (Permanently Unfit). On 20 August Matthews was transferred to the General List of Officers and put in command of No.104 Prisoner of War Company, Labour Corps, with the rank of acting captain. The promotion was confirmed on 20 April 1918.

He relinquished his commission on 1 September 1921.

After the war Matthews moved to England – his address given as The Cottage, Mill Road, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire.

He applied for enrolment in the Army Officers' Emergency Reserve on 3 November 1939, but this was declined.


Captain Matthews' older brother, Sidney William Matthews, also served in the war, as a 2nd lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers. According to a report in the Northern Whig of 23 August 1916, he suffered a severe face wound, "the bullet which injured him came out below the ear and severed two arteries."


The colourised images above show Matthews as a private in the North Irish Horse, and as a 2nd lieutenant in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons (Service Squadron).  They were kindly provided by Shaun Matthews, grandson of Captain Matthews. Another version of the second image can be found here.