Born in 1891 in Canton, Sergeant John Henry Matthews joined the military as a motorcycle dispatch rider in his late teens and he eventually enrolled as a squadron pilot in the Royal Flying Corps around the time when the average life expectancy for a pilot was a mere 11 days. Matthews completed 72 night bombing missions, sometimes doing several attacks in a single night, with his worst injury being a broken nose after a crash landing on a French airfield. He ultimately become a Second Lieutenant, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal at Cardiff City Hall in 1917, married in 1922 and died of cancer in 1968 at aged 77.
Son Ralph Matthews (aged 90) and Glyn Matthews (aged 85) decided it was best to share their father’s medal with others “rather than letting it gather dust” as “It seems a shame to hide it away.” The brothers also donated a fragment from their father’s FE2B plane, nicknamed “Cheerio,” along with a book of memoirs that record his experiences during the war.
The medal and other mementos will now be displayed at St Fagans National Museum as part of an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the First World War. In case you aren’t familiar with St Fagans, its considered one of Europe’s leading open-air museums that stands in the grounds of St Fagans Castle – a late 16th-century manor house donated by the Earl of Plymouth to the people of Wales. The Museum has been voted as one of the UK’s top ten free attractions by users of TripAdvisor.