Lt. Harold Matthews

Harold Stratton Matthews served during World War One as an officer in the First Brigade of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery. Harold was born January 31st, 1894 to Thomas Francis Matthews and Ella Martha Stratton.  The eldest of four children, his siblings included his brother Gordon, sister Jessie, and youngest brother James. In his early life Harold was known to be a very active, outdoorsy, athletic, and intelligent individual. These traits helped propel Harold into a successful academic career at the Royal Military College in Kingston. Harold graduated in 1914, and shortly after was called to service to fight in the Great War.
Harold was raised in a luxurious home on the west side of the Otonabee River to a family that was prominent in Peterborough during the turn of the twentieth century. The Matthews’ family prestige in the community stemmed from their thriving meat-packing company. Harold’s grandfather George started the company in 1868 while he was living in Lindsay. He later moved the company to Peterborough in 1882. The location of the new George Matthews Co. factory was on the banks of Little Lake in downtown Peterborough.

Lieutenant Harold Matthews in his military uniform. Archive Reference: TVA F425-1/2/38. Used with permission from Trent Valley Archives.

Over the years Harold’s father eventually took the company over and continued to run the flourishing business. The company’s industrial influence played an important role in both the Peterborough community as well as in Canada as a whole. It was distinguished as one of the
largest meat-packing businesses in the nation. The company eventually merged with another business in 1912 becoming the Matthews-Blackwell Co., until it was bought out in 1919 by Allied Packers. After changing hands several more times, the company started by the Matthews family became a part of Maple Leaf Foods.

Following a childhood that was full of both academic and athletic success, Harold began a new chapter of his life at the Royal Military College in Kingston. While there, Harold became involved with multiple sports teams, playing on the second and first teams for hockey and rugby-football as well as participating in relay and sprinting races. Harold’s outstanding efforts in athletics did not impede on his academic success. Harold was known to be one of the brightest students in his class excelling in both traditional school work as well as his military specific training such as combat exercises and artillery direction. Harold was also known to be a social individual, with his friends giving him the nicknames ‘Fat’, ‘Mat’, and ‘Pontius’. Perhaps most importantly though was Harold’s ability to inspire and lead. In his Royal Military College yearbook, it was noted that if the men were told that Harold Matthews was leading, then there would be no doubt that the followers would be led and the work would be completed to the highest of standards. Harold graduated top of his class and as a result was awarded the Governor General’s silver medal.
After his graduation from the Royal Military College in 1914, Harold was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Field Artillery and was sent overseas with the First Brigade. Harold’s main role on the battlefield was that of a forward observer. This meant that he was positioned near the front of the battle lines, and his job was to direct artillery fire to protect retreating troops, to provide cover for allied attacks, and to slow the enemy’s progress across the field of battle. Lieutenant Matthews saw heavy action during the war, even suffering and surviving a gas attack at Saint Julien in France. Harold returned to the trenches shortly after recovering from the attack, and continued to serve until 1916.

Harold amongst his classmates loading artillery at RMC. Harold is pictured here holding the shell about to be loaded. Archive Reference: TVA F425-1/9/3/32. Photo used with permission from Trent Valley Archives.

It was in 1916 that disaster fell upon Lieutenant Matthews on the battlefield near Mount Sorrell in Belgium. On June 2nd, there was a German counter-offensive which led to German troops storming into British occupied trenches. Lieutenant Matthews was serving at the front lines during that time, and was reported to have been continuing to give firing orders well after the trenches were overrun. Initially it was assumed that Harold Matthews was simply missing in action or was a prisoner of war, as his body was never recovered by Allied troops.  The Matthews family held out hope that their son would turn up alive for many months, but after over a year of uncertainty about the fate of Harold, he was finally declared to have been killed in action. Harold gave his own life to save the lives of his brothers-in-arms in a display of selflessness and battlefield heroism. As a result of such heroic action, Lieutenant Matthews was posthumously awarded the Memorial Cross for giving his life on the battlefield. Furthermore, Matthews was posthumously awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal, and the Allied Victory Medal. These medals signified the role he played overseas in Europe during the war, but the aforementioned Memorial Cross is the most important award, signifying the bravery of this young man.

Left: The Matthews’ family home at 570 Water Street in the early 1900s. Archive Reference: TVA F425-1/2/50. Photo used with permission from Trent Valley Archives
Right: The Matthews’ family home today. Photo Credits: Curtis Murray and Sean Hammond 

After the death of Harold, the Matthews family moved to the Toronto area so that Thomas could act as president for the Allied Packers plant located there. On the tenth anniversary of Harold’s death, Thomas and Ella came back to Peterborough and donated a set of exquisite organ chimes to their old church, the Murray Street Baptist Church. A special remembrance service was held for Harold exemplifying his bravery in the face of danger and laying down his life for the good of his country. In addition to the presentation of the chimes, Thomas and Ella presented the church with a bronze plaque commemorating his life and service. This plaque is mounted on the wall at the front of the church and can still be viewed today.
Although he gave his life over a century ago in 1916, the memory of Lieutenant Harold Stratton Matthews still lives on today in several ways. Matthews’ name is inscribed in Belgium at the Menin Gate, which is a memorial to the soldiers of Britain and its Commonwealth who lie in unknown graves near Ypres. Secondly, Matthews is memorialized at RMC in both the Memorial Arch as well as in a memorial stained glass window which is dedicated to fallen students. Harold Matthews is also remembered in Peterborough in a few ways. At Little Lake Cemetery Lieutenant Matthews is featured on the Matthews’ family gravestone. Above his name lies the Latin motto of the Royal Artillery, which in English means “Everywhere The Right and Glory Lead”. This motto implies the sacred duty of the regiment and the sacred duty which Matthews undertook. Lieutenant Matthews’ is also recognized for his sacrifice by having his name dedicated on the Peterborough war memorial amongst the names of those who lost their lives. The war memorial is located in front of the Peterborough Armoury and across from City Hall. No more than one hundred meters away from the war memorial, Harold is memorialized again at the aforementioned Murray Street Baptist Church on the bronze plaque.
Lieutenant Harold Stratton Matthews was a young man who deserves to be remembered for his many admirable qualities. A top scholar, a stellar athlete, and a proud Canadian, Harold Matthews was a natural-born leader who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield. Defending friend, freedom, and country, Lieutenant Matthews sacrifice should never be forgotten.

Research by Curtis Murray and Sean Hammond

“Chimes in Honour of Memory of Lieut. Harold S. Matthews”. Newspaper Article, June 21, 1926. TVA F425-1
Elliot, Andrew. “Meat of a Family Success Story”. Newspaper Article, The Peterborough Examiner, July 29, 2013.

“Harold Stratton Matthews”. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Veteran Affairs Canada, Government of Canada.

Jones, Elwood. “Organ Chimes at Murray Street Baptist Church Memorialize WWI Soldier Harold S. Matthews”.
Newspaper Article, The Peterborough Examiner, January 2, 2015.

“Lieut. Matthews Killed”. Newspaper Article, Toronto Star, May 30, 1917. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Veteran Affairs Canada, Government of Canada.

“Matthews’ Family Fonds”, Trent Valley Archives. Archive Reference: TVA F425-1

The Electric City Peterborough. Trent Valley Archives, TVA Peterborough Pamphlet Collection, II.