Myles Matheson was killed in action in the North African desert on 27 November 1941, near Sidi Rezegh in Libya. This was the same battle as claimed the life of Alex Mathieson, and later the life of Archie Matheson.
New Zealand troops were part of the Allied effort to retake the eastern region of Libya, and ultimately drive the Italians and Germans out of North Africa. The campaign was partially successful, and did achieve the badly needed relief of Tobruk where Australian and other Allied troops had been trapped. The New Zealand Division played a major role this campaign, which was important in achieving British victory in North Africa.
On 27 November, the day Myles Matheson was killed, his unit (the 20th Battalion) had been ordered to attack a German position to the south in the depression between Bel Hamed and Sidi Rezegh, despite New Zealand officers on the ground protesting that their forces were too weak and the German forces too strong and well-established. The New Zealanders were told that the Germans were anxious to surrender, and “there will be no fighting but we have to put up a bit of a show and go out and bring them in”. It was soon apparent that this was not the case. As one New Zealand soldier reported: “After about 1,000 yards I realised that something was wrong. It seemed plain that we could never hope to take the position over open country without very considerable support. In view of our orders before the attack the enemy certainly seemed to be overdoing his ‘gesture’ before surrendering. Finally the uncomfortable realisation came that there was no intention of the enemy to surrender.”
The wounded could be evacuated only after dark. The official account describes how “the day’s fighting cost the battalion 35 killed and died of wounds and 62 wounded. The wounded had had no choice but to lie out in the open on that barren, fire-swept field waiting for darkness to give them cover and bring relief. Many were hit again as they lay, some once, some twice and more, and were in a bad way when at last they were brought in to the [regimental aid post]”.
Myles Gibbons Matheson is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Knightsbridge War Cemetery at Acroma in Libya, 25 km west of Tobruk. He is commemorated on the war memorials in Otautau and Invercargill in Southland, and in the roll of honour of Southland district railway employees in the Kiwi Rail offices in Invercargill.
He was the son of Ewan Matheson and Mary Lyon Matheson (née Merrilees) of Otautau in Southland. When he enlisted he was working for the New Zealand Railways in Invercargill as a ‘surfaceman’; working on track building and maintenance.
Glue, W A; Pringle, D J C (1957) 20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment. Part of The official history of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945
Photo of headstone: New Zealand War Graves Project
Photo of Otautau war memorial: Otautau blogspot
Photo of Invercargill cenotaph: New Zealand History