Honouring an exceptional military man
Beaconsfield historian Donald Stanley turns the spotlight on ‘VG’ Matthews who enjoyed a distinguished career in the Army through two world wars
FOR many years, Major Vernon George Matthews’ unmistakeable military bearing made VG a familiar sight in Beaconsfield. The son of a cavalry colonel, VG was born in the early 1890s. At 18 he left home to join a Dragoon regiment as a private.
At the commencement of the First World War, his regiment was moved to France thus ranking it amongst the ‘Old Contemptibles’ who thwarted the German advance on Paris.
He saw action at Mons, for which he received the Mons Star, and other major engagements.
At Ypres, he survived being shot in the chest and after a year back in ‘Blighty’, as home was called, rejoined the regiment to take part in the battles of the Somme, Arras and Cambrai.
He enjoyed rapid promotion and, because of the heavy casualties, was promoted to Squadron Sergeant Major and, in 1918, was awarded a battlefield commission.
As he lacked the means to remain in the cavalry, he became an infantry officer in the Leicestershire Regiment and was wounded again in the final German offensive.
After the war, VG was involved in two operations of which he spoke little. In August 1919, a strike by police left Liverpool unprotected against widespread looting and rioting which was ended by the army.
The other was being sent to Ireland that September of which he commented ‘sad case – no comments’.
There followed postings to Egypt and India where, accompanied by 40 beaters, he spent his leave in the jungle.
VG left the army but as a reservist, he was recalled upon the outbreak of the Second World War and promoted to the rank of major. He was a military adviser to the Auxiliary Territorial Service or ATS which was the women’s ranch of the army and ater fulfilled the role as a ommandant of two German prisoner-of-War amps.
After his army career oncluded in 1948, VG moved to Beaconsfield but maintained links with his old cavalry regiment, to which he felt closer than his infantry one.
When, in 1985, it celebrated its 300th anniversary he was fêted as one of its oldest survivors and presented to Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief.
At other military events he was presented to the Queen Mother and to the Duke of Kent.
He recorded his memoirs for the National Army Museum before he died in 1989, aged 97.
portrait of Major Vernon George Matthews – a well-known gure around Beaconsfield before his death and left, meeting er Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, during a visit o the county