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Mathias, Louis John (1886–1965)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Louis John Mathias (1886-1965), by unknown photographer

Louis John Mathias (1886-1965), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P00331.001 [detail]

Louis John Mathias (1886-1965), labourer and soldier, was born on 10 February 1886 at Boorooma station, Walgett, New South Wales, fifth child of James Mathias, farmer and contractor, and his wife Susanah, née Denewal. He attended Gunnedah Public School, and worked as a farm labourer and blade shearer around Gunnedah and Coolah. On 1 January 1912, at Gungal, he married Harriet Fanning of Coolah with Anglican rites.

Tall and well-built, Jack Mathias had won local fame as a bare-fisted boxer. On 2 February 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Narrabri and embarked from Sydney in May with the 33rd Battalion ('C' Company) for training in England. He was promoted corporal on 14 November before proceeding to France with his battalion.

A 'capable and courageous leader and a fearless fighter', Mathias was promoted lance sergeant on 26 January 1917, sergeant on 26 June, and temporary company sergeant major on 20 December. He was known for his strong personality and energy and was highly regarded by his comrades. Said to be the champion heavyweight boxer of the battalion, he instructed in physical training and bayonet fighting. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the 'exceptional courage, initiative, skill and able leadership' he displayed between 22 September 1917 and 24 February 1918.

On 17 April Mathias was gassed at Villers-Bretonneux and was out of the line until 24 July. On 8 August with four men he captured three enemy strong-points in the advance through Accroche Wood, killing three and taking eighteen prisoners. Although cut off from the company by dense fog, Mathias continued to Long Valley and captured a field-gun, killing two gunners and taking two more prisoners. After the company reached its objective he assisted in the reorganization. He was awarded a Bar to his D.C.M., the citation praising his leadership, initiative and inspiring influence on all ranks.

Mathias was awarded the Military Medal for his part in operations near Bouchavesnes on 31 August, in the struggle for Mont St Quentin. Organizing a small party of the 33rd's left assaulting company, he brought heavy reverse fire from a Lewis-gun to bear on the enemy, leading to mass surrenders, and enabling the advance to continue. With his company commander Walter Duncan he was prominent in capturing a strongly defended quarry and in establishing defensive posts. His judgement and leadership were again apparent in his company's second advance.

On 20 September 1918 Mathias joined an officers' training battalion and before rejoining the 33rd was commissioned second lieutenant on 5 January 1919. He was promoted lieutenant on 5 April, shortly before returning to Australia. His A.I.F. appointment ended in July.

Mathias obtained a soldier-settler farm at Oban, Coolah. From the mid-1920s, however, he worked in Sydney as a wharf labourer, for some years returning to the country for seasonal work as a shearer. A modest man, he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences, and devoted himself to his family. In his final years, when suffering from arterial disease and hemiplegia, he received a pension. Survived by his daughter, he died at Kensington on 21 June 1965 and was cremated. His medals are held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1937, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 31 May 1918, 3 June supplement, 3, 5 Dec supplement, 13 May 1919, 14 May supplement
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1965
  • war diary, 33rd Battalion, A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Mathias, Louis John (1886–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mathias-louis-john-7520/text13117, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 10 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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