Other than Leon Gellert, Harley Matthews remains possibly the best-known of the Australian war poets from the Middle East. He also has the distinction of being the model for the bust Spirit of Anzac by Jacob Epstein, depicting the steel-helmeted head of a warrior, on display at the Imperial War Museum in London [From Gallipoli to Gaza, p.12]
Matthews was born in Sydney, Australia and educated at Sydney Boys’ High School. After working as an articled clerk he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force’s 4th Battalion on 13 September 1914. He took part in the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915, was mentioned in dispatches and wounded in early August 1915. He went on to serve in France: in August 1916 he was posted to the Australian Army Pay Corps in London before being repatriated at the end of 1917. He was discharged from the army on 29 December 1917.
On his return to Australia he pursued a career as a journalist before founding his own vineyard. Nearly all his war poems were written after the war: only one of the fifteen poems in his 1916 Under the Open Sky was written during his military service (‘The Sleep of Death’). He wrote two epic Gallipoli poems, ‘Two Brothers’ (1931) and ‘True Patriot’ (1938).
Photograph of Harley Matthews © National Library of Australia
Harley Matthew’s Poems