Allisdair Matheson went from being a sheep farmer in the Wairarapa to being a highly-skilled navigator in the Royal Air Force Pathfinder and light bomber squadrons. He was shot down over the North Sea when he was nearly at the end of his operational career, aged 29, leaving a widow in New Zealand.
He hailed from Carterton in the Wairarapa, and was the son of Duncan Matheson and Beatrice Ann Matheson (née McPhee). Allisdair started his air force training when he reported to RNZAF Levin in May 1941. His path saw him undergo further training as a navigator in Canada and then the UK, before beginning operational service. He was a keen rugby player, and a member of the RNZAF rugby team in the UK.
In November 1942 he joined 218 Squadron of the RAF and flew in Stirling four-engine bombers on 25 missions over Germany and France. He also flew mine-laying sorties to the Frisian and Terschelling Islands off the Netherlands. On his ‘rest’ tour he instructed with 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit of the RAF, during which time he also flew two air-sea rescue sorties.
In June 1943 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. The citation read:
“A highly skilled navigator, Sergeant Matheson has completed many sorties. In December 1942, while on an operational flight to Germany, the wireless equipment in his aircraft failed. Despite this, Sergeant Matheson guided the bomber successfully to the target and back. On all occasions this airman has displayed great devotion to duty and contributed in no small way to the successes attained.”
Allisdair was later commissioned as an officer. In February 1944 he joined 692 Squadron of the RAF, flying in two-engine Mosquito light bombers in Pathfinder and Light Night Striking Force roles, and carried out a further 42 sorties over Germany. This was a very high number of missions to have survived. On a 23 February 1944 raid on Dusseldorf his aircraft carried the first 4,000-lb bomb to be dropped on Germany from a Mosquito.
On the night of 10/11 July 1944 he went on his final mission, to Berlin, and his Mosquito was shot down in the North Sea about 20 km from Terschelling Island off the Dutch coast. The downing of the Mosquito was credited to the Luftwaffe pilot Major Hans Karlewski, flying a Heinkel 219 twin-engine night fighter of 3 Squadron, No. 1 night fighter wing (Nachtjagdgeschwader), based at Venlo in the Netherlands.
Allisdair had needed just a few more operations to complete his tour. On this night he flew with the commanding officer of the squadron, Wing Commander Stephen Watts, who had already completed his tour of duty so didn’t need to fly that night but was staying on the job while waiting for the new CO’s arrival.
At the time of his death Allisdair was married but had no children. His widow Ethel Matheson (née Smith, later Donald) later remarried and had two children. One daughter, Jane, has donated his war medals to the Carterton RSA. He is commemorated on the Carterton war memorial, and the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in England.
Errol Martyn: For your tomorrow trilogy
PapersPast, National Library of New Zealand
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Auckland War Memorial Museum online Cenotaph database
Colin Hanson: By such deeds — honours and awards in the Royal New Zealand Air Force 1923–1999
Correspondence with Peter Wheeler, New Zealand Bomber Command Association; Dik Bruins, Dutch Air War Research Group (SGLO); Douwe Drijver, Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, Netherlands
H L Thompson: New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force, volume II
Photo of A A Matheson from the Weekly News
Photo of memorial inscription at Runnymede by Wyrdlight
Photo of Carterton war memorial from New Zealand History