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.

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

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes