There is some mystery about what happened to Archie, as he was known. He died in Germany but is commemorated in Egypt and Invercargill. What lies behind that?
Archie was a Private in the 26th Battalion, New Zealand Infantry, and was fighting in the same battle in the North African desert that claimed the lives of Myles Matheson and Alex Mathieson in November 1941. Archie went missing in battle, and though we don’t know exactly what happened to him, contemporary accounts give us clues. In fighting at Sidi Rezegh around 30 November 1941, the 26th battalion lost nine officers and 217 other ranks as prisoners of war. Archie was one of them.
In mid-December 1941 newspapers in New Zealand reported him missing, believed taken prisoner, and in February 1942 he was confirmed as being a prisoner of war. His family endured almost two and a half years with Archie as a POW, and with the end of the war in sight in early 1945 they would have been looking forward to his return. But that was not to be.
Archie was killed in Germany on 9 February 1945. We don’t know what happened to him but it seems he was killed in the chaos of the latter days of the war. The official history of New Zealand POWs in that war describes the time:
“The speed of the Russian advance in January 1945 did not allow the Germans time to move all the prisoners from camps on their eastern borders or in Poland. A good number of sick men remained in hospitals, together with the medical personnel attending them, and some of the smaller outlying working camps were overtaken by the Russian spearhead. One such camp came under Russian fire while being evacuated. Of its 40 men five were killed, including two New Zealanders, and 19 were released by the Russians. Men who had escaped either from camps or from marching columns were also able to make their way back to the Russian lines.”
There are accounts of New Zealand POWs being liberated by Soviet troops but then shot by them, dying in a train accident while being repatriated, or even being shot by British aircraft while walking along a road.
Archie was the son of Archibald McArthur Matheson and Catherine Elizabeth Matheson (née Cockroft). When he enlisted he was single and living at home in Invercargill, and working as a warehouseman. He is remembered on the Alamein Memorial in Egypt and a family grave in Invercargill’s east cemetery.