No. 6984277, 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Killed in action on Sunday 8 August 1943 (aged 23)
Catania War Cemetery, Sicily, Italy (Grave I. D. 18)
Denvir family grave headstone in Ballymanish Cemetery, Portaferry
Matthews family grave headstone in Second Dromara Presbyterian Church Graveyard
Second Dromara Presbyterian Church
John Matthews was born in Portaferry on 15 April 1920 and he was the eldest son of James and Matilda Boyd (Tillie) Matthews (nee Denvir) who lived at The Rock and later in Church Street, Portaferry. James Matthews came from Dromara, Co. Down and in the early 1900s he moved to the United States where he was employed in the steel works at Gary, Indiana. James Matthews subsequently returned to Dromara where he worked as a foreman in a flax mill. In connection with this work he travelled to Portaferry and it was there that he met Matilda Denvir. Matilda was a daughter of James and Mary Denvir (nee Coulter) and she worked as an embroiderer. James Matthews and Matilda Denvir were married on 26 November 1919 in Portaferry Presbyterian Church and while they were living in Portaferry they had three children, all of whom were baptised in Portaferry Presbyterian Church:
John (born 15 April 1920)
Mary Elizabeth (Lily, born 9 August 1921)
James (born 14 September 1922)
James and Matilda Matthews and their three children moved from Portaferry to the townland of Drumadoney, Dromara where James’s parents, John, and Isabella Matthews, were farmers. James and Matilda also farmed there, and four more children were born:
Isabella (born in 1924; died in 1925)
Harry (born in 1925; died in 1971)
Maud (born in 1928; died in 1994)
Isobel (born in 1932)
John Matthews attended Portaferry No. 2 National School and then Dromara Public Elementary School until he was 13 years old, by which time he was proficient in all the jobs that needed done on the home farm. When he was 13, John moved to Portaferry where he lived with Mary Denvir, his maternal grandmother, at 11 High Street. His grandfather James Denvir had died of influenza. John Matthews worked in Portaferry for his uncle, Jamie Denvir, who operated a milk delivery business. Another of his uncles, John Denvir, worked as a bus driver on the Portaferry to Belfast route. In addition to his work on the milk run, the teenage John Matthews travelled regularly from Portaferry to Dromara by ferry and bicycle to help his father on the home farm.
John Matthews was 20 when he joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in July 1940 and he cited his grandmother as his next of kin. He did his initial training in Omagh and, when he had leave, he cycled home from there to visit his parents in Drumadoney and help with work on the farm. In the summer of 1941, he helped with the flax pulling.
During the Second World War his brother, Harry Matthews, served with the Home Guard. Aged 14 (he said that he was 17) Harry had tried to enlist for active service but was turned down when it was discovered that he was underage. John’s brother, James Matthews, served with the Admiralty Constabulary and then the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Police at Sydenham.
Fusilier John Matthews (No. 6984277) served initially with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then as a driver with the Tank Corps. One of the tanks used by the North Irish Horse was named Lily from Portaferry after John’s sister, Lily Matthews. Lily married Alfie Nichol from Aberdeen who served with the RAF.
Fusilier John Matthews (No. 6984277) served in Madagascar (Operation Ironclad), India, Iraq, Persia (now Iran) and Egypt. He was killed in action in Sicily on 8 August 1943 during the Battle for the Monte Hills (the Battle of the Pimples). Because he had cited his grandmother as his next of kin the telegram bringing news of his death was sent to Portaferry and it was Lily and James who brought it to Drumadoney to tell their parents. On the day they brought the telegram Isobel Smyth (nee Matthews), then aged 11, remembers having had a strong premonition of ‘something awful about to happen’. She remembers her mother’s terrible sobbing when she heard the news of John’s death and her father’s utter silence when he came in from working in the fields. Isobel remembers running into Dromara to find her sister Maud.
Fusilier John Matthews (No. 6984277) was buried in Catania War Cemetery, Sicily and there is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:
I HAVE FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT
I HAVE FINISHED MY COURSE
I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH
2 TIM. 4-7
John Matthews was an accomplished accordion player and a founder member of First Portaferry Accordion Band. In the 24 July 1948 edition of The Leader it was reported that a set of drums for the band had been dedicated to John’s memory. Mr E.H. Brown JP presided at the dedication ceremony; E.H. Brown’s own son, Flight Lieutenant Ephraim Hugh Brown had been killed on active service on 25 July 1942.
Fusilier John Matthews (No. 6984277) is commemorated on the Denvir family grave headstone in Ballymanish Cemetery, Portaferry. His maternal grandmother, Mary Denvir, died on 22 October 1946 (aged 81). He is also commemorated on the family grave headstone in Second Dromara Presbyterian Church Graveyard. His father James died on 14 February 1954 (aged 67) and his mother Matilda died on 1 February 1976. He is also commemorated in Second Dromara Presbyterian Church – as is his great-uncle James Matthews (his grandfather John’s brother) who fought in the South African War and in the 36th Ulster Division during the First World War.