John Ross Matheson was born in Arundel, Quebec on 14 November 1917, the month of Passchendaele, during the Great War. He grew up as the only son and eldest of four children to parents Reverend Dr. Dawson and Gertrude Matheson of Quebec City. He enlisted in May 1937 in 57th Field Battery RCA in Quebec City. He served in this unit as Gunner, Bombardier and Sergeant until September 1939 when he was transferred to the COTC at Queen’s University in Kingston where he received training by RMC and RCHA personnel. He was commissioned on 6 June 1940 in 1st Field Brigade RCA, posted to Camp Petawawa, then overseas to Camp Borden. Once in England he was assigned fire control duties on the south coast – December 1940 and 1941 were noted for massive bombing raids – the Blitzes.
Matheson is the only officer to have served during war in all three Batteries of 1 RCHA. Firstly, at the guns in B Bty in October 1941, then to 1st Div HQ as an Artillery Intelligence Staff Officer (IORA) in July 1942. When as IORA 1st Div, Captain Matheson found his name posted to return to Staff College in Canada. In February 1943 he paraded to Brigadier Bruce Matthews requesting to be returned to his Regiment. The war had not been going well and he wished to serve the Guns in battle.
Capt Matheson participated in the 1st Canadian Division’s landing during Operation HUSKY – the invasion of Sicily. At that time he was a FOO in A Battery, 1 RCHA landing at Pachino beaches. He served as a FOO throughout the Sicilian Campaign and was one of the first FOOs to land on the Italian mainland at Reggio di Calabria. He continued to control the fire of the guns of 1 RCHA in support of some of Canada’s greatest regiments as they moved north along Italy’s Adriatic coast. He worked with the R22eR, the PPCLI, the RCR, the 48th Highlanders, the West Nova Scotias, the Hastings and Prince Edwards and the Loyal Edmontons, the Seaforth Highlanders and the Carleton and Yorks. Indeed, Capt Matheson saw action with all of the nine battalions of the 1st Canadian Division and also with units of the British Malta Brigade. He experienced the vicious fighting of the Italian campaign until whilst preparing to cross the Moro River and move into battle with the West Nova Scotias, he was wounded by an airburst shell planned to harass and deny the obvious route to Ortona. With six pieces of shrapnel in his skull, Capt Matheson was initially triaged as dead. Nevertheless, he was hospitalized in Bari, Italy, in Algiers, and in numerous British and Canadian military hospitals. After several months of recuperation and then meeting his bride, Edith, at St Anne de Bellevue hospital, he was discharged in 1945. His next move was to embark on a legal and political career.
In four parliaments as MP for Leeds Riding, from 1961 to 1968, he chaired the then Standing committee on External Affairs, and served as Prime Minister L.B. Pearson’s Parliamentary Secretary, and as a member of the Special Defence Committee. He was particularly interested in defence and intelligence. He was sent as an observer to the United Nations in 1961, and later on several missions to Europe and Asia on behalf of the Prime Minister. During this period Prime Minister Pearson assigned him the task of being responsible for Canadian symbolism. John Matheson worked very hard with others to develop both the Maple Leaf flag and the Order of Canada.
In 1972 in Ottawa Judge Matheson was invited to rejoin the militia and serve in honorary capacities and to participate in many Conferences of defence Associations. He was awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration in 1977 and was retired from 30th Field Regiment of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in 1982 with the rank of Colonel. A life member of the Royal Canadian Artillery Association, the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade Association, the Royal Military College Club of Canada, the United Services Institute and the Royal Canadian Legion, and member of the Canadian Intelligence and Security Association and the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, he continues to be active as a public speaker.
John Matheson is perhaps best known for his contribution to Canada’s Flag and the development of the Order of Canada. He currently resides in Kingston.