Rex was the son of Thomas Berge Mathieson and Aroaro (aka Laura Nora) Mathieson (née Ruakere). Thomas served on the Western Front during the First World War as a driver in the New Zealand Field Artillery. Rex’s brother William Thomas Ruakere Mathieson served in Europe as a pilot in the RNZAF in WW2.
Rex was working as a builder’s labourer in Wellington when he joined up in 1942 as an aircraft hand. He was sent for training as an Air Observer in New Zealand and in Canada, qualifying as a navigator and being promoted to Sergeant. He returned to New Zealand in late 1943, joining 31 Squadron RNZAF as a navigator on the Grumman Avenger dive bomber. In May 1944 the squadron went into action in the Pacific.
On 1 July 1944 Rex’s aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire while part of a group of 12 aircraft attacking Japanese anti-aircraft positions at Tobera airfield in New Britain, Papua New Guinea. The damaged aircraft went into a slow spin and the pilot ordered the crew to bail out, only to be thrown out of the aircraft himself seconds later when it was hit again. The pilot parachuted to earth, and managed to evade capture until he was found a few days later by a US patrol boat. The bodies of Rex Mathieson and the wireless operator/air gunner, Flight Sergeant Albert Frederick Walker, were recovered from the wreckage over four years later and transferred to Bomana War Cemetery in Papua New Guinea, where they were buried in a joint grave.
Rex is commemorated on the roll of honour at New Plymouth Boys’ High School.
Errol Martyn: For your tomorrow trilogy
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph database
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Photos of PNG headstone and training group: Wings Over New Zealand forum
Photo of headstone at Hawera: findagrave.com