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33rd BATTALION A.I.F.

Private: 1983 Alan James MATHER.


Born: 25th October 1879. Inverell, New South Wales, Australia. Birth Cert:15725/1879.

Died: 8th June 1917 Killed in Action Messines, Belgium.


Father: Thomas Mather. (1843-1917)

Mother: Mary Ann Mather. nee: Selby. (18..-1889)


INFORMATION

1983 Private Alan James Mather 33rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force Killed in Action on 8th June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, Belgium • Alan James Mather was born in Inverell, NSW on 25th October 1879 to Thomas and Mary Ann Mather. He had older twin sisters, Flora and Marion, as a younger sister, Elsie. Alan also had a half-brother, Doug, and a half-sister, Jessie. • Alan attended New England Grammar School (NEGS), now known as The Armidale School, and later studied at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. Alan won an upper school prize in history, being presented with a book ‘Prize Writings of Heine’ at NEGS in 1894.

• He was an excellent horseman, interested in all things military, becoming a Lieutenant in the local New England Light horse Squadron in his teenage years. During this period, Alan made a welcome home speech to returning Boer War veterans. • It was reported in the local paper that Alan was well known and liked in the district, being involved in various sporting and cultural activities, including athletics, officiating at meetings, the Masonic Lodge and his beloved Light Horse Squadron. • After studying viticulture at Hawkesbury College, Alan managed his father’s Inverell property ‘Roslyn’. He proved to be an excellent winemaker, winning many medals and prizes in wine-shows throughout Europe. Alan purchased his own property ‘Flaggy’ on the Severn River in the Ashford district of NSW and listed his occupation at the time of enlistment as ‘Grazier’.

• Alan did not marry, and his oldest living relative is his niece Kath Mitchell (daughter of Alan’s sister Marion), who was born on 16th June 1913. Kath is the family member who provided the DNA sample that helped identify his remains. • In March 2010 John Mather was contacted by the Army History Unit asking for a possible DNA donor to help with the identification of ‘the Messines Soldier’. Subsequent discussions with family members established that Kath was the best donor for this purpose. The Mather family has always maintained an interest in Alan Mather, and John and his wife Doreen have spent many years researching Alan’s military service history in an effort to find out what had happened to him. • The identification of the Messines Soldier as Private Alan James Mather has brought a satisfying closure to that endeavour.

Australian Army History Unit


Alan James Mather enlisted with the 2nd Reinforcements, 33rd Battalion AIF on the 12th of January 1916 and embarked from Sydney on board HMAT A15 "Port Sydney" on the 4th of September 1916 after traveling from Farley Station.

Alan disembarked at Plymouth England with the Reinforcements and they were marched to the Durrington army Camp at Lark Hill to commence training with the 9th Training Battalion for the next two months and proceeded overeses for France on the 20th December 1916 onboard the "Princess Victoria".

Alan was marched out from Estaples to the Front Line the next day and was taken on in strength with D Company 33rd Battalion and was Killed in Action Messines Ridge, Belgium on the 8th June 1917.

THE BATTLE OF MESSINES

7th June 1917

The 3rd Australian Divisions first major offencive was at Messines Ridge on the 7th June 1917. The Australian 3rd Division was a part of the II Anzac Corps which was allotted to the first assault. The 25th New Zealand, 3rd Australian Division with the 4th Australian Division in reserve. The 4th Division were battle hardened troops who had fought many major battles.The 3rd Australian Division were having problems getting to the "jump off" point. The day before the 9th and 10th Infantry Brigades were bombarded by German Gas-Shells around Hill 63 and Plugstreet Wood. Many of the Aussies were not wearing gas masks, but dispite this they pressed on even though they received 500 casulties.

They made it to the "jump off" point but only just with some of the men from the 9th and 10th going straight over the top without stopping. The mines went up and the attack commenced behind a protective barrage. The II Anzac Corps were attacking on the right with their objective being the southern shoulder of the ridge which included Messines, the Dover and St Yves areas as far south to the east of Plugstreet Wood.

Major General Sir John MONASH's 3rd Division had to contend with a tricky 3 mile approach out of Plugstreet Wood and after the German gas attack, but they were not detered. The 9th Infantry Brigade under Brigadier General: Alexander JOBSON and the 10th Infantry Brigade under Brigadier General W R NICHOLL had just made the jumping off point but some of the men did not stop, going straight into the assault from the approach march.

Their objective lay between St Yves and the Douve. The mines at Trench 127 and Trench 12 at Factory Farm were laid to aid this task. The explosions erupted a few seconds before zero hour and created craters of 200 feet in diameter, completely obliterating the German defence line as the 9th and 10th Infantry Brigades went over the top. The mine crates forced the 9th and 10th Brigades to veer to the left and right which caused some confusion with the main assault. It is testimony to the quality of training that every man knew the ground, tasks and objectives so well.

Private: 1804 John CARROLL 33rd Battalion, rushed the enemy's trench and bayoneted four of the German occupants. He then noticed a comrade in difficulties and went to his assistance, killing another German. He then attacked single handed a German Machine Gun Team, killing all three of them and capturing the gun. He later rescued two of his comraded who had been buried alive by German Shell Fire, and in spite of heavy shelling and machine gun fire he dug them out alive and saved them from certain death. John was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The German foward zone was completely engulfed and taken by the main assault. The two supporting battalions of each brigade then passed the leading battalion to continue the advance. The men were constantly re-supplied and the ridge was taken. There were many German prisoners taken during the offencive. The 3rd Division was well ahead with the 9th Infantry Brigade pushing on beyond Grey Farm, and on the right the 10th Infantry Brigade were veering left towards Septieme Barn north of Douve.

The German resistance was heavy but was generally brushed aside by tanks and artillery before the infantry had to become too involved.The 4th Bavarian Divisions Artillery had made little impact, but as the day wore on the 3rd Division and later the 4th Australian Division received many casulties from German artillery. (70% of all casulties during WW1 were from artillery).

By 9:00am nearly 6 hours after the assault began the Germans were in dissaray, but there was a major problem as the Australians received less casulties as anticipated and when ordered to dig into the ridge they had so many men, that some could not find shelter. the 35th battalion were dug in around Seaforth Farm.

The second phase of the operation was to take the Oosttaverne Line. The 3rd Australian Division would now be in reserve with the 4th Division attacking. The 9th Infantry Brigade (33-34-35-36Bn) were near Thatched Cottage facing Warneton. The river Lys was to their right and the Plugstreet Wood was now behind them.

Once their objectives were taken the troops consolidated. A barrarge to stop and counter attack was shortnened and caught three battalions which had to retire. By 9:00pm this part of the Oosttaverne Line was abandonded. At 10:45pm General Godley ordered the 3rd and 4th Divisions to retake it. This they did by the early hours of the 8th of June.

The Battle for Messines Ridge during May-June 1917 saw 35 officers and 1,631 other ranks loose their lives.

9th Infantry Brigade Casulties.
33rd Battalion. AIF 8 Officers 382 Other ranks
34th Battalion. AIF 10 Officers 378 Other ranks
35th Battalion. AIF 5 Officers 431 Other ranks
36th Battalion. AIF 9 Officers 421 Other ranks
9th Machine Gun Company. AIF 2 Officer 17 Other ranks
9th Light Trench Mortor Battery. 1 Officer 2 Other ranks

MENIN GATE WAR MEMORIAL

Alan is remembered with honour and is commemerated in perpetuity by the Commonweath War Graves Commission at the MENIN GATE MEMORIAL, Ypres.


28/08/1917

Informant; Private: 1227 Alfred Henry PITKIN.  Private: 1983 Alan James MATHER D Company 33rd Battalion. "AT Messines he was blown to pieces by a shell when in the trenches. I was right alongside of him when knocked. He was a mate of mine, nuggerty, fair age, about 43 came from Inverell, N.S.W. I think his father was Mayor if Inverell."

Ward 38 Harefield Hospital.

02/09/1917.

Informant; Private: 1924 Herbert Leslie TAYLOR. I saw Private: 1985 Alan James MATHER killed at MESSINES. He was caught by a shell which hit him in the head, killing him instantly. I do not know place of burial as I was wounded the same morning and I cannot refer to anyone. I knew him well, we left Australia together and there was no other that name in the company.

3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, England.

24/09/1917.

Informant; Lance Corporal: 1098 Ralph Fry CLARENCE.   Private: 1985 Alan James MATHER was killed during a charge at Plug Street Wood on June 8th 1917. We were near each other and crossing No Mans Land when a shell exploded near MATHER, killing him instantly. He was carried back and should be buried in one of the cemeteries just behind the line. I left the line wounded during the same day. We were in the same company and knew each other well.

No: 7 Command Depot, Hurdcott, England.

28/09/1917.

Informant; Private: 2371 Oscar Leslie OBERG I saw Private: 1983 Alan James MATHER lying dead in No Mans Land at Plug Street Wood on June 7th. He had been hit in the head with a shell. i examined him and made quite sure he was dead. Cannot say if he was buried as I left the Battalion myself the same day having being wounded. MATHER came from Inverell, N.S.W. and I knew him quite well.

No: 3 Command Depot, Hurdcott, England.

05/11/1917

Informant; Private: 1965 John Joseph ROSS. I was told by Private: 1852 Walter Frederick GINGER that he had buried Private: 1983 Alan James MATHER after the advance at Messines on the field and that he had been killed instantantaneously by a piece of shell.

Military Hospital, Devonport, England.

17/12/1917.

Informant; Private: 1234 Arthur ROURKE. I saw Private: 1983 Alan James MATHER killed outright in Fritz 3rd Line at Messines just off Ploegsteert Wood. He was in same company as myself. I was wounded about the same time and cannot say if he was buried. The ground was take and held.

D Company, Hut 19 Westham, England.


Family Information

Alan was a single 36 year old Grazier from "Roslyn" Inverell, N.S.W. upon enlistment. He served with the Mounted riffles for 3 years. His parents Thomas and Mary Ann Mather married 25/10/1877 at Bundarra via Armidale, N.S.W. Marriage Cert:1999/1877 and had at least 4 children. (Twins) Marion H Mather born 1878 at Inverell, N.S.W. Birth Cert:14639/1878 Flora A Mather born 1878 at Inverell, N.S.W. Birth Cert:14640/1878. Alan James Mather born 1897 at Inverell, N.S.W. Birth Cert: 15725/ 1879 and died on the 8th June 1917 Messines, Belgium. Elsie Christina Mather born 1884 at Inverell, N.S.W. Birth Cert:23089/1884 and died in 1954 at Inverell, N.S.W. Death Cert:32916/1954.

Nephew, Alan Mather, July 2010. Inverell Times.

1983 Private Alan James Mather

33rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force

Killed in Action on 8th June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, Belgium.

• Alan James Mather was born in Inverell, NSW on 25th October 1879 to Thomas and Mary Ann Mather. He had older twin sisters, Flora and Marion, as a younger sister, Elsie. Alan also had a half-brother, Doug, and a half-sister, Jessie.

• Alan attended New England Preparatory School, now known as The Armidale School, and later studied at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. Alan won an upper school prize in history, being presented with a book ‘Prize Writings of Heine’ at NEGS in 1894.

• He was an excellent horseman, interested in all things military, becoming a Lieutenant in the local New England Light horse Squadron in his teenage years. During this period, Alan made a welcome home speech to returning Boer War veterans.

• It was reported in the local paper that Alan was well known and liked in the district, being involved in various sporting and cultural activities, including athletics, officiating at meetings, the Masonic Lodge and his beloved Light Horse Squadron.

• After studying viticulture at Hawkesbury College, Alan managed his father’s Inverell property ‘Roslyn’. He proved to be an excellent winemaker, winning many medals and prizes in wine-shows throughout Europe. Alan purchased his own property ‘Flaggy’ on the Severn River in the Ashford district of NSW and listed his occupation at the time of enlistment as ‘Grazier’.

• Alan did not marry, and his oldest living relative is his niece Kath Mitchell (daughter of Alan’s sister Marion), who was born on 16th June 1913. Kath is the family member who provided the DNA sample that helped identify his remains.

• In March 2010 John Mather was contacted by the Army History Unit asking for a possible DNA donor to help with the identification of ‘the Messines Soldier’. Subsequent discussions with family members established that Kath was the best donor for this purpose. The Mather family has always maintained an interest in Alan Mather, and John and his wife Doreen have spent many years researching Alan’s military service history in an effort to find out what had happened to him.

• The identification of the Messines Soldier as Private Alan James Mather has brought a satisfying closure to that endeavour.

(Australian Army History Unit)


Military Records

Australian National Archives

Under Construction; 20/06/2010-09/03/2014.


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