Roderick Matheson lived on the other side of the world from his family, who he seems to have lost contact with. He died a lonely and somewhat mysterious death as a soldier in Egypt, and left his few worldly possessions to a friend in New Zealand. There remains mystery about his age, and whether he had served in the Royal Navy in the First World War.
According to records Roderick was born in Scotland in 1904, at some stage migrated to New Zealand. When he joined the army in October 1939, soon after war broke out, he gave his age as 35 and was single, and working as a linesman for the Central Otago power board in Cromwell. He joined the 27th Machine Gun Battalion as a private and embarked for Egypt in January 1940. While at the New Zealand camp near Cairo, Maadi Camp, he transferred to the New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, the part of the army dealing with supplies and equipment maintenance, where he worked as an electrician. In March 1941 he went to fight in Greece with the machine gun battalion, but after the Allies were pushed out of that theatre by German forces he made it back to Egypt by May of that year.
On Friday 30 May 1941 Roderick had some leave so went into Cairo with his tent-mate, a Private D J McInnes, but they became separated on their way back from the city that night. Roderick failed to return to camp that night, and was then absent without leave. The military police made some efforts to find him but nothing more was known until Egyptian police found a body early in the morning of 2 June at the base of a 10-metre-high cliff near the camp . Though the body was unidentifiable, Roderick’s identity disks and pay book were found on it. An inquest concluded that he had died after fracturing his skull when falling over the cliff, while taking a short cut back to the camp.
Roderick’s next of kin was listed as his brother, John Matheson, who lived at Cleish in Scotland with his wife and children. John had died just a few weeks before Roderick, and another brother was a prisoner of war. There was also a sister in Scotland.
Roderick’s will appointed Edward O’Reilly as executor and sole beneficiary. According to O’Reilly they had been friends for around a decade, having met in Dunedin at the beginning of the depression and worked together at mining near Cromwell. O’Reilly says he helped Roderick financially when needed, and was named executor and beneficiary as a consequence of that long-standing mateship. Roderick’s estate consisted solely of his army back pay and gratuity.
He was buried on 3 June 1941 in the War Memorial Cemetery, Old Cairo, Egypt. The gravestone gives his age as 47, not 36 (nearly 37) that he was according to the date of birth given when he enlisted. The higher age is based on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records for him, which also state that he served in the First World War in the Royal Navy. Is this a mistake? Or did Roderick falsify his age in order to enlist in the army in New Zealand? So far that remains a mystery.
Roderick is commemorated on the memorial gates at the Bannockburn domain, near Cromwell.