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06 November 2019
By LOTTE REITER
Like many people who have lost loved ones to war, Horsham’s Barry McCourt’s strongest living memory of his uncle Corporal John Matthews is the image of a man in uniform.
The memory is one tainted by the knowledge of his uncle’s ‘brutal’ death in the Second World War, but a memory nonetheless that Mr McCourt will fight to remember.
Without commemorative dates such as Remembrance Day, Mr McCourt believes that our heroes’ legacies will turn to dust.
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“We forget things too easily now,” he said.
“Most soldiers from World War One are gone and not alive to tell their story, and many others from World War Two are disappearing too.
“It’s threatening our memory of our heroes. So, these stories must be told by other people.
“It was brutal, but we can’t forget what happened. Especially the way the world is today, you never know when it’s going to happen again.”
Mr McCourt’s uncle, John Arthur Matthews, was born in Goroke in 1917 and known to many as Jack.
He was the son of Horsham’s Arthur John Thomas Matthews and Elizabeth Ann Matthews, a sibling to eight and a butcher and horse breaker by trade. At age 22, Jack Matthews took an oath and enlisted in Horsham, becoming part of the 2/29 Australian Infantry Battalion and deployed to Singapore.
He died before his 25th birthday.
Corporal Matthews’ death formed part of the mass murders in Malaya in 1942, an event that author and investigative historian Lynette Ramsay Silver in her book The Bridge at Parit Sulong described as ‘one of the most desperate fighting retreats’ of the Second World War.
Mr McCourt said most of what he knew about his uncle came from Silver’s book, in combination with the Matthews’ family history book.
He said these books described how the Allied Army was unable to push through Japanese forces in January 1942, but was unwilling to surrender.
“So, Australian Commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson authorised for it to become a situation of every man for himself,” he said.
Mr McCourt said his uncle, a member of C Company, had suffered a neck wound during fighting at Bakri on about January 18, but took leadership of eight other men in an attempt to lead them to safety among the carnage.
He said the group of nine was last seen at Kangka Village on January 22, before eventually being captured by Japanese, bound together and taken to a village deeper in enemy territory.
“They were put into a pit with all their equipment, petrol was poured over them and they were shot,” he said.
“They butchered those poor soldiers. They were so brutal. That’s why the story has stuck so much.
“Jack was wounded in the neck, but he carried on with his duties and took on leadership of those eight blokes to try to escape and save them. He’s one of many who should be remembered as one of our great heroes.”
Mr McCourt is an RSL member, former enlisted National Service member and has also spent five years in the Reserves.
He said the realities and atrocities of war were embedded into his family and generation.
“When you know what these people went through, you know that you would never want anyone or their families to go through that again,” he said.
“The young ones today study Remembrance Day and Anzac Day and they follow it through to a tee all the time. And because of that I daresay they wouldn’t want their children to go through what we did.”
Mr McCourt said reflecting on the men and women who sacrificed their lives for their country was at the heart of Remembrance Day, as opposed to the misconception that it was about glorifying war.
And it is that reason he will stand in silence for another year come Monday morning at 11am. “If you don’t make an issue out of it, people are inclined to forget. And nobody should ever forget,” he said.
After the Second World War the bodies of the nine men, including Corporal Matthews, were recovered and seven were successfully identified.
All nine are buried at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
The entire November 6, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!