Leslie William Mattews was the first child of James David Matthews and Jane Reeves. He was born on 11 February 1888 at Maryborough in central Victoria, Australia.
Like many young men in their late teens and twenties Les applied to join the AIF at the outbreak of the First World War.
Les became part of the 22nd Battalion AIF which was formed on 26th March 1915 at Broadmeadows Camp in Victoria. The battalion in turn was part of the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Division. Most of the battalion left Melbourne for Egypt on 8th May 1915 and after some time training in Egypt was deployed to Gallipoli in the first week of September 1915.
Having made the decision to join the AIF and also to ask his girlfriend Edith Ellen Tucker, known to her friends as Nell, to marry him, Les Matthews decided to keep a diary. He began his four year diary on Tuesday 16th of March 1815. His last entry was on Monday 12th May 1919.
It makes fascinating reading. Selections from Les Matthews' Diaries are published here :
Col.Morton appointed C.O. 22nd
Application to join the AIF
Application to join A.I.F. taken to H.Q. by Col.Morton
Left Ballarat 11.10 AM to join 23rd Btn 6th Inf.Bde with Capt Brogenan & Lt Ahern. Going to No 5 O.T.S. Arrived Camp 5 P.M. after buying gear, boots, etc. in Melbne. Report to C.O. Introduced to Coy Off. ‘B’ Coy. French lessons under Lt. Howells. Ground in bad state after rain. Tented with Lt. Jacques.
Let Lt. Howells carry on. Sizing up Coy. Watched Coy at Platoon work. Excellent material in men. N.C.O.s weak on whole. Some of N.C.O.s in isolation prior to my taking over charge. Innoculated for Typhoid. Write N.
Coy working well. Brigadier compliments me on work. French
Coy drill. High wind. Voice felt strain.
Letter from N... Company drills and other routines continued daily.
Caught 5.40 a.m. Ballarat
Talk re Marriage
With N. In Perry Park. Lovely afternoon. Talk re marriage. Settle that night. Tea with N. In kitchen. Quiet, happy tea. Arranged that marriage to take place on 5th May. Darling N.
Bought engagement ring
Bought engagement ring at Jonses. Saw Mr Tucker. Gave ring to N. Tears in her eyes. Happiness & joy as well as sadness at my going to front. Bed fairly early - thoughts of N.
Left 10.25 arrive Melb. 12.30. Good bye Ivy, Dick, Jean, Bill & Effie.
N. Afternoon & evening. Good talk over wedding arrangements.
Insured life with A.M.P. Took cab to Nell’s. Came with me to station.
Camp by myself. Long letter to N. Capt. Black came in afternoon. Arranged matters re wedding.
Note to N.
Up 5 o’clock.
On go all day. Catch Geelong train at Newport 3.35 arrive Ballt. 7.30. Lodge. Toasts downstairs. Talk up with Mr Tucker. Good long yarn. Note from Nell. Thoughts of morrow.
Wedding day. Rush around to fix up matters. Fell off Joneses bike - cut face & eye blackened. Married about 1.30. Photo of wedding breakfast. Catch Geelong train. Parents & friends see us off. Everything passes off well. Arrive at Geelong. Stay at Sydney Hotel. Happy times. Dear Nell. Pleased with Hotel.
Breakfast 9.30. 1st day of honeymoon
Daily entries continue throughout the year. The troops are sent to Egypt where they continue their training.
Heard that Jack had been killed
Heard that Jack had been killed in assault during previous week. Rev.Bladin called for me to go into his tent – had been told by Q.M.S.Loveridge who saw 14th Bttn man in Heliopolis. Man said that Jack had been killed in the advance on Hill 971 on left of position. As rumours of men killed have been found to be without foundation I have hope that Jack is safe… Feel rumours about Jack. Hope everything alright.
Slept badly. Couldn’t help thinking of Jack. Capt Bladin could not hear any definite news of Jack. Hopes of Jack being alright. Btn drill in morning. Lieut Porter’s cousins Machine Gun Section 14th Btn heard rumours that all ‘C’ Coy Officers 1th Btn had been killed – Jack’s Coy. Could hardly carry out work with Coy at night. Still only rumours. Lt.Jacques reported for duty – had heard of Jack being killed while he was in Alexandria. Tossed and turned before I got to sleep. Poor old Jack.
Still no news of Jack. Went into Cairo with Q.M.S. to get Coy stationery etc for front. Bought mess tins, chemicals, etc. Had photos taken at Zolas. Dr.Will & I had lunch at Shephards. Visited Zoo…
Did not go to church parade. Went with Will to hospitals, Heliopolis Palace, Sporting Club. Could not hear anything definite about Jack but persistent rumours of his death. After 8 o’clock before I left hospitals. Was at hospitals for five hours during afternoon.
Wrote home. Felt that I couldn’t write as I feel certain that Jack has been killed. Wrote to Nell also at night. Dear Nell – it will cause her some anxiety when she hears about Jack…
It's the loved ones who have to suffer
Had bad time marching out to battle firing [practice] – continually thinking of happy times Jack & I had spent together. Dear Mother. It’s the loved ones who have to suffer.
Into Cairo… arranged for photos to be sent to Nell… got cable from Nell about Jack. Sent from Ararat. Must be up home. I was just going to cable and dreaded it. Dear Mum.
Last of Egypt - sand, dust and heat
Arrived Alexandria about 4.30pm and embarked on H.M.T.’Southland’ right away. Gen.Legge & staff on same boat also Brigade staff. 21st Btn and Divisional Units. My Coy. 5 off & 250 men Visited ‘Haverford’ where 23rd are. A much better ship. Went with Mjr Harris into Alexandria. At Base Records told Jack killed 8/8/15. Sailed about 5 pm. Hope last of Egypt & sand, dust & heat. Sea very smooth. Other transports ahead & astern. Bed early. Dead tired.
Up about 8.15. Best & longest sleep for months. Jolly warm though as I have lower cabin and away from port hole. Coy supplying submarine guard. Received cholera injection afternoon… Good meals for men & officers. Feel tired again. Get to bed early and read letters from home & Nell again. Dear Nell.
Dear old Nell
Got up after 8. Lovely to have a ‘lay in’… wrote to Nell after dinner. Read through her letters as I wrote. Dear old Nell. Am writing her a nice long letter. Got to bed about 11 o’clock
Torpedoed by Submarine
Torpedoed by submarine about 9.45 am right forward. Saw torpedo coming about 200 feet off on port-side… waiting for the explosion. Coy assembled & behaved splendidly. No.5 Platoon stuck to post as Submarine Guard magnificently. About 11 I sent them aft. Other platoons 7 & 5 I got away at intervals. No.6 was on Submarine Guard right aft. Some were sent away in first boats. Stayed till last boat launched and Hospital Ship ‘Neuralia’ came alongside. Went down gangway onto one of her boats about 12.15pm.
Saw Grieves & McLean of my Coy badly hit. Told off some men to look after them. Can hear nothing of Mr.Jacques or Mr.Main. Am afraid Jacques has been drowned as he was one of the first away & the boat capsized. Hope he is alright. Cannot hear anything definite about Mr. Main. Some of my men say they saw him helping one of the wounded into a boat. Mr Atkinson & Mr MacDonald worked like Britons in getting away the collapsible boats aft….
Chief officer, another officer and one of the crew were with us aft launching the boats. Some of the crew I’m sorry to say did not show to advantage. Saw one shot. I had a roll call of my Coy – 86 all ranks – on the Neuralia… Am comfortable now in a cabin with Majors Bateman & Forbes of 23rd. Men are all supplied with blankets and are asleep. We have been looked after splendidly. Most of men have no uniform or very little. Some have been in the water when their boat capsized….
I tried to get a box of bullion off the ‘Southland’ but was too heavy to get down the gangway. Ship’s officer said it had better be left – there were two boxes in our boat…. When I went into my cabin just before leaving I took Nell’s letters, letter or part of one I had written to her yesterday, letters to Cis, Aunt Jessie… made sure I had Nell’s photo with me, got Coy roll and took haversack, books and pack also rug – only have rug and haversack now. Last I saw of other things were floating about in water in hospital boat. Took my boots off earlier and put sand shoes on…
As soon as I saw the torpedo strike – or rather heard the explosion – I watched the track of the torpedo until it was right up to the ship. I rushed to my cabin – put on the lifebelts and although I didn’t waste any time I found 7 & 5 Platoons had fallen in on their parade ground. It was an act of providence that we were not struck in a more vital spot otherwise we would have had an awful casualty list. The ‘Neuralia’ was the first boat alongside and it was 12 o’clock when she arrived.
It was a sight never to be forgotten – to see warships, destroyers and transports hurrying to the scene. It was pitiful to see some of the men in the water crying out for help, some on pieces of grating, others clinging to wreckage, etc. Then to see the boat loads being picked up by our ships. Destroyers cruised around for several hours picking up men. I think our casualties will be small…. Dear Nell.
A babel of tongues
Transferred to H.M.T.Transylvania from S.S.Neuralia about 10 am. Babel of tongues as we drew alongside & inquiries as to friends. Lt.Jacques and 50 men on board – picked up by French destroyer and British aeroplane boat…. Heard that Col.Linton had been drowned – boat capsized. Was in the water for some time – probably over an hour – was not quite dead when picked up. Buried him on shore during the morning without letting his son Lt.Linton know – he was on the ‘Neuralia’.
Up about 5 am. Equipment sorted out Sergeant Harton found dead. 22nd, 23rd & 24th Bn moved off to the front. 23rd about 3pm first. Hard to see them going out. Withers, Chisholm and Halman killed by torpedo. Poor Chisholm – knew him at Learmonth…. Good night Nell.
Service on front deck of Transylvania. Got boat at 9.15am to attend service at Col.Linton’s grave… back on board about 11 am… Letters written home. Censoring letters until 12 o’clock at night. Did not get Nell’s letter finished. Bed very tired. Queer Sunday. Different to Ballarat Sunday.
Still at Lemnos. Awaiting arrival of equipment from shore. General Legge and Divisional staff, also Brigade staff left for front… Wrote to Nell in morning – mail left boat before time expected but will give letter to Capt.Kennedy to post when he gets on shore. He is going into hospital. Clothing and equipment came on board. Off tomorrow. Wrote Ivy & Dick. Had hot sea bath and got to bed about 11. Thoughts of Nell.
Embarked on ‘Prince Abbas… left out transport about 2pm picked up A.M.C. and steamed out about 5 pm. Fine sight to pass all the shipping. Warships, transports, etc. Passed poor old Southland. Men rather nervy about submarines. Had meal on board. Weird to steam in… warships opened fire on both sides of us as we were disembarking - spent bullets falling around us. Crashing of rifles reminds one of ‘Guy Fawkes’ at home.
Arrived Anzac - Live like animals here.
Arrived Anzac about midnight in barge. Guide led to Rest Valley. Bivouac in open and dugouts. Atkinson & I slept together. Cold in mornings. Some used to firing… Went over positions with J.Scholes during afternoon. Around our position ‘Lone Pine’ with Co.Thomas. My Coy moved up to 1st Btn lines. Slept in Btn dugout… Had tea with Dr.Green. My Coy resting in trenches. Had a bit of a wash in Dr’s dugout. No shame. Live like animals here.
Jolly cold in morning
Went down to beach with Capt.Smith & Will for bathe. Arranged Coy H Qrs where old 1st Btn dugout was. ‘C’ Coy coming in also so will be with Will again. Went around trenches during afternoon. No 5 & 6 Platoons in Fire Trenches. Lunch with Will. Tea in our dugouts. Quite comfortable under circumstances. Had look around at night with Lt.Ramsay. Demonstration about 9.15. Two rounds fired. Turks did fire some for a while. Weird in fire trenches with bullets whistling around. Will Main & I slept in dugout. Jolly cold early in morning. Ground jolly hard. Wash, shower and clean teeth in a few spoonfuls of water. Flies pretty bad.
What whould they think if they saw us now
Turks shelled British ship pretty close to our Btn Hd Qtrs. Went over No.3 position of Pine Position… spent afternoon there with Capt Manning who will take over from me…went over our section during night. Drew plans and discussed arrangements. Got into dugout about 11 pm. Had better arrangements made for washing etc. Will make ourselves comfortable if we stop for any length of time. Will & I had a yarn. Wondered what out [families?] would think of us if they saw us.
Turks might let us have tea in peace
Resting from trenches. Slept till 5 am. Steak for breakfast. Had a good appetite. Biscuits hard though… Had a look at positions again in afternoon… Turks very busy with shells – might let us have tea in peace. Mail to hand. Nothing for me. Going to spend night in Fire Trench before going in Sunday. Nell.
Bombing keeps one awake
Went into firing line at 10 am – relieved past 7th & 4th Pltn. Went round position with Capt Simpson. 4th Ptn had little sleep last night Bombing & rifle fire keeps one awake. Rather uncomfortable squeezing into dugouts in side of trenches. Got a bit of a hold though. My section No.3 of Lone Pine. Divided into three portions. Lt.Atkinson, Jacques & me.
Turks shelled Lone Pine. Will lost some men. 75s are deadly. Went to Bth Hd Qrs. Shells struck overhead cover. Smothered in dust. Not nice sight seeing men cut up being carried out on stretchers. Took over. Practically no reserve of bombs & amm. Had to arr age for supply. Turks got rather cheeky until we bombed back. The supply of Egyptian bombs in my Sec. were practically useless – not 25% bursting. Men behaving splendidly. Cherry & Weedon both hit. Cherry while bombing. Weedon in hand while firing over parapet. Gagino killed in Sap.B while asleep. Mystery how he was hit. Died while stretcher bearers getting him out – terrible job. Took an hour to get him out a few yards.
Bully Beef gets very monotonous
Everything quiet. Sniping & bombing continued. Men making themselves dugouts along the communication trenches. Turks shelled position about mid-day. Continued sniping & bombing. One soon gets used to bullets & shells whistling around…. Feel like pigs. Biscuits very hard. Bully beef gets very monotonous. Wonder what Nell would think if she could see me now. Puts one in mind of a rabbit warren.
Jolly cold moving around. Bombing and sniping as bad… Relieved at 9 am. Quite good to get out of the trenches again. Had a shave… Shelled heavily just before dusk bursting around dugout.
Didn’t get up till after 5 am. Went down to beach and had a look round old 4th Bgd position – 14th Btn had gone… Will came with me. Stiff climbing but want some exercise. Did some censoring of letters in afternoon. Men seem very cheerful. Will and I had a talk over some letters which just came after tea. Read extracts from them. Nell’s No 11 31/7/15. Letter from Mum & Dad 1/7/15 also note from Ruth. It was good to get our mail before we went into the trenches.
No one hit this day. Hope it continues...
Went into trenches at 10 am… men soon settled down… everything very quiet. Usual bombing and sniping. No one hit this day. Hope it continues….
Trench warfare is rotten
In trenches…Spent some time listening to Turks working… Artillery fire from enemy about mid-day… Bruce slightly hit in leg. Clone & Broadhurst smothered – both suffered from shock. Broadhurst especially. 75s are deadly. Trench warfare is rotten. No comfort. Strain rather severe on men especially in bomb pits but men work splendidly. They’re fine.
The daily entries continue...
A never to be forgotten day.
A never to be forgotten day. Lone Pine very heavily shelled by Turks – started about 9.30 am. Heavy fort guns firing shells up to 2cwt, 9.2 inch, also 8.2s, 75s. heavy howitzers, Hotchkiss, broomstick bombs and a heavy iron bomb. Place just an inferno – ground continually rocking with the explosions of the shells – great lumps of earth weighing sometimes over 1cwt thrown into the air, sandbags tossed about like feathers, trenches levelled and men being buried in all directions. Saps A & B blown in. L.P.14 both entrances blown in. Latrines levelled. Communication trenches filled in. My Headquarters blown in. Ammunition and bombs covered up. Phone smashed – no communication with Bth Hd Qrs possible. ‘A’Coys phone & Hd Qrs wrecked. Shell came in while I was going down into the tunnel to inspect the bombs. Covered me with earth. Got through the end of the tunnel into dressing station where I rested. Another shell almost blew dressing station up – landed a few feet away and buried men in the tunnel. Some were wounded. Shelling lasted three hours. Fully expected Turks to attack. They certainly missed an opportunity as the trenches were battered beyond recognition, but men would have fought like tigers. The awful waiting for the shell as it whistles towards one is nerve breaking. Our Dr Capt Green was killed by a shrapnel bullet at the 6th Field Ambulance – while at operating table – Major Johnston killed at Lone Pine also Lieuts Fogarty & Findlay 24th Bn. Lt Ross & Lt Macdonald were buried… My Coy – Four men killed – thirteen wounded or buried and evacuated. Several bad through shock and burial but not sent away. Did not have more than 25 men in Lone Pine at time fortunately for my Coy. Experience something awful. Everyone would prefer to go over the parapets
Up early. Court Martial in 18th Btn. Re Keack of ‘C’ Coy – Adjourned owing difficulties of forming court. Certain we evacuate. Preparations made – mines, barricades, etc. Had to get urgent letters away to Nell F.IS –home & Ivy. Cable to Nell…. Nothing definite known re evacuation but will be soon. Cards with ‘C’ Coy. Bed 10.30. Nell. Home.
Took over No.3 Section Lone Pine from Mj Baird at 10.30. Will & Capt Kennedy my sub-section commanders. Everything quiet. Our artillery active. Enemy sent over some 75s and Hotchkiss in afternoon. C.O.Lone Pine Col Watson – partly “silent” warfare during night. Broomsticks, 75s & Hotchkiss over occasionally at night. Inspected lines at ‘Stand To’ at 5.15pm. bed about midnight.
It is a strain here.
In trenches at Lone Pine… abnormally quiet in front during day. Conference with C.O. during afternoon. Evacuation fixed for nights of 18th & 19th. Went into details but awaiting order from Brigade. Cold snap set in during night. Had a yarn to Will. Be a relief to get away from shells, bombs etc for a while. Good to walk in the open feeling safe. It is a strain here.
Quiet day – few shells over during afternoon… no definite orders received yet… Nello.
Out of trenches. In bed till 9.30. Breakfast with Will. Went with Will & Capt Kennedy around Purple & No.1. Will got his periscope smashed on one of his old posts. Some pieces went into his head & face. Bled a bit. Conference at 2 pm… details of evacuation read and discussed. In charge of ‘B’ Party – roughly 200 men. Some shelling today. Conditions appear to be normal on Turkish side. Bed about 11.30. Tired.
Our sacrifice has been so great.
Evacuation of ANZAC began. In charge of 2nd Party. 9 Off[icers] 259 other ranks. Assembled in Mortigan’s Lane and moved off 2 am… steamed out to H.M.S.Reindeer, under way by 4.15 am Felt rather a pang at leaving – our sacrifice has been so great, Just felt like deserting dear old Jack. Everything worked smoothly. Beaches very quiet. Arrived Mudros 9.50am.
[More entries from Les Matthews' Diaries will be published soon.
In March 1916, the 22nd battalion embarked for France and joined the Western Front in the trenches near Fleurbaix at the beginning of April 1916. They then saw action at Pozières during the British offensive on the Somme. In September they moved to Ypres and back to the Somme for the winter. Most of 1917 was spent in trench warfare from Bullecourt to Broodseinde in Flanders, and in 1918 they returned to the Somme.
Les Matthews served at Gallipoli and France achieving the rank of Major, then went to England where the King presented him with the Distinguished Service Order medal. The citation published in the London Gazette of 16 September 1918 read:
Maj.Leslie William Matthews, Aust.Infy.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This officer commanded his battalion in an attack, previous to which he had reconnoitred the jumping-off ground, and thought out all the arrangements and dispositions. During the attack he moved about under heavy fire, keeping in touch with the situation, directing and controlling the men, and by prompt action in altering the dispositions, minimised the losses from shell fire.
After the war as part of a Soldier Settlement Scheme Les purchased a large property called "Merribogie" at Bygalorie near West Wyalong in New South Wales.
Ellen died there in 1953. Les died in 1980. Both are buried at Tullibigeal in central New South Wales not far from where they lived narly all of their married lives.
1. Leslie William Matthews, Diaries kept during his service overseas; Henderson, H.B.,Ed., The All-Australian War Memorial - A Historical Record of National Effort during the Great War, British Australasian Publishing Service, Melbourne, 1917