After serving eight years in the army Ken Matheson transferred to the RNZAF in 1942, and trained as an ‘air observer’ — a position requiring both navigation and bomb aiming skills. He trained in Canada before embarking for England in March 1943, where he was further trained on Wellington, Halifax and Lancaster bombers. He was awarded the Pathfinder badge in January 1944 and commissioned as an officer the following month.
He was the only New Zealand crew member of a Lancaster bomber of 7 Squadron that took off from RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire on 30 March 1944. This was part of a huge raid of nearly 800 bombers, mostly Lancasters, that was one of the most costly of the war. In this one operation 105 aircraft were lost and more than 500 aircrew killed. The raid, on Nuremberg, was a failure with many bombers dropping their loads away from the target area.
Ken’s aircraft was shot down on approach to the target by Leutnant Kurt Gabler of 9 Squadron, Fighter Wing 300 (9/Jagdgeschwader 300), flying a Messerschmitt 109 single-engine night fighter. Gabler later escaped with his life by bailing out of his aircraft. Ken had flown 25 operational missions, including 12 to Berlin.
The seven crew were buried in the Fürth Cemetery on the outskirts of Nuremberg, but later reinterred at Durnbach, 16 km east of Bad Tölz.
Ken Matheson was the son of Donald William Matheson and Blanche Gertrude Matheson (née Wilton), husband of Edna May Matheson (née Coulson) of Lower Hutt, and father of one son and one daughter. He was the brother of Stewart Wilton Matheson, who served overseas in the New Zealand Army in WW2 and was a prisoner of war for more than three years, and Jean Matheson.
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Photo of headstone: New Zealand War Graves Project