Obituary: The Rev Kenneth Mathews

Arthur Kenneth Mathews, priest, born 11 May 1906, ordained deacon 1932, priest 1933, Vicar of Forest Row 1938-44, Temporary Chaplain RNVR 1939-44 (Chaplain HMS Norfolk 1940-44), OBE 1942, DSC 1944, staff Christian Frontier Council 1944-46, Vicar of Rogate and Sequestrator of Terwick 1946-54, Rural Dean of Midhurst 1950-54, Dean and Rector of St Albans 1955- 63, Rector St Peter's Peebles 1963- 68, Vicar of Thursley 1968-76, Rural Dean of Godalming 1969-74, married 1936 Elisabeth Butler (died 1981), 1987 Diana Goschen, died 18 December 1992.

KENNETH MATHEWS was a sailor's parson. He had served in tankers for a spell in the 1930s before coming ashore to be Vicar of Forest Row, East Sussex, in 1935. When war broke out he immediately volunteered for service at sea as a Temporary Chaplain, RNVR. He joined the eight-inch gun cruiser HMS Norfolk early in 1940 and it was in this ship that he built a parish of sailors whose respect, devotion and friendship he was to hold for the next 50 years.

The ship's commander was to write of him: 'It would be impossible to exaggerate Ken Mathews's influence in the Norfolk. His value in the ship was certainly greater than that of any other officer. He made her the happiest ship I have ever known. He was loved by every man on board, and it is largely his influence that has kept the Norfolk spirit alive ever since . . .'

Only once did he run into trouble, when a new captain joined who knew nothing of him or the ship and her ways, and told him he wanted compulsory church and none of this meek and mild stuff in lessons and hymns. Mathews smiled sweetly and begged him to wait a little while before making it an order. A month later the captain decided to make no changes. 'There's something about this ship I don't quite understand,' he said. 'Everyone seems so happy and things go so well. Better go on as you are.'

Things did go so well until one bitterly cold dark Arctic day, 26 December 1943, when two 11-inch shells from the Scharnhorst killed nine of the ship's company, wounded many more and wrecked a large part of the ship. Later in the torpedo parting shop, rigged as a chapel, Mathews read their funeral service.

'I suppose,' he said, 'there are many feelings in our heart today; pride in duty done, in selfless giving, and in steady fortitude . . . .' Afterwards, led by the choir, that great body of bareheaded men sang as I have never heard it sung the sturdy words of 'Eternal Father'.

Few naval padres have been awarded a DSC and an OBE for their conduct in separate actions at sea. Fewer still have remained a godfather figure to their shipmates for 50 years thereafter.

After the war Ken Mathews returned to his vocation ashore. I once visited his parish at Rogate, in West Sussex. The village youths had all the church pews out in the cemetery for a quick 'scrub out' - it had to be Ken's church. Of his time as Dean of St Albans and Rector of Peebles, I can say little since I was away abroad, but as always he made countless friends. Many of these will speak of his wonderful service as parish priest in terms as enthusiastic as those of his naval counterparts.

Ken Mathews's long and happy marriage to his beloved first wife Betsy ended in her death in 1981. In 1987 he married again, and for five years he and his wife Diana lived at Westwell, Oxfordshire, in peaceful and blissful retirement. As best man at that wedding I had a problem explaining to Ken on which side of the bride he should stand. He was confused by the fact that, as a parson, he normally saw the happy couple the other way around. Eventually, I got it across to him - 'Starboard side, Ken'.

A sailor's padre to the end.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor