A childhood interest in aviation led to Duncan (as he was known, to differentiate him from his father Farquhar) joining the RNZAF soon after war broke out. He had been a member of the model aircraft club at New Plymouth Boys’ High School, and went farming after four years of high school. He was working for a timber company in the remote Taranaki town of Ongarue when he enlisted in December 1939.
After two years in the RNZAF Duncan was selected for pilot training, which began in New Zealand and continued in Canada. In October 1942 he crossed the Atlantic and began training in the UK on Wellington twin-engine bombers before converting to the four-engine Halifax bomber. He was attached to 77 Squadron RAF, based at Elvington in Yorkshire.
On the night of 9/10 July 1943 Duncan’s Halifax was damaged by anti-aircraft fire while on a bombing mission, but returned to base safely. A fortnight later he took off on only his fourth operational mission, and was shot down over the Netherlands by a Messerschmitt 110 night fighter flown by Captain (later Major) Paul Förster of 2 Squadron, 1 Night Fighter Wing (2/Nachtjagdegeschwarder 1). The aircraft crashed in the early hours of 26 July 1943 on the island of Schouwen. The seven crew were buried the next day at Haamstede, but in 1946 reinterred at the Bergen-op-Zoom cemetery. He is commemorated at St Mary’s Peace Memorial Hall in New Plymouth, the roll of honour in the New Plymouth Boys’ High School memorial hall, and on the Ongarue war memorial.
Duncan was the son of Farqhuar Matheson and Norah Matheson (née McAllum).
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph database
Errol Martyn: For your tomorrow trilogy
Stichting Air War Museum, Netherlands
Air crew remembered
Photos taken at Bell Block and in Canada: collection of Betty L Prentice (née Marks, aka Duff), 1922–2006
Photo of headstone: New Zealand War Graves Project
Photos of memorials: New Zealand History
Portrait: Taranakian, New Plymouth Boys’ High School