Canada in the Second World War


Major-General A.B. Matthews

Albert Bruce Matthews, born in Ottawa on August 12th, 1909; died in 1991. Canadian Army officer and businessman

Major-General A.B. Matthews in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, on November 15th, 1944

Major-General A.B. Matthews in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, on November 15th, 1944
Photograph by Ken Bell. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-138399

Unlike most other senior officers of the Canadian Army, Bruce Matthews did not follow a military career but rose from the Militia.

Matthews was educated at Upper Canada College in Toronto and joined his father’s business as an investment broker. In1928, he enlisted in the Non-Permanent Active Militia, with the 30th Field Battery, 3rd Field Brigade, Royal Canadian Artillery. Enjoying militia life, he followed Militia staff courses and was appointed as Warrant Officer, 7th Toronto Regiment in 1936. Promoted to Major in 1938, he was put in charge of the 15th Field Battery.

Matthews was among the very first to answer the call of the Canadian government when the state of war was declared and, in December 1939, he sailed for England with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. In March 1940, he was commander of the 1st Medium Regiment, and in September, of a newly created unit, the 5th Medium Regiment; at that time he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. In September 1942, he joined I Canadian Corps as Counter-Battery Officer. On January 15th, 1943, Matthews was promoted to Brigadier and Commander Royal Artillery, 1st Canadian Division.
The invasion of Sicily and the Campaign of Italy provided Matthews with innumerable opportunities to demonstrate his skills. Always taking time to reconnoitre the grounds in order to carefully prepare firing plans and ensure the best possible placement of his guns, Matthews gained the confidence of 1st Division commanding officers, Major-General Guy Simonds, and his successor Major-General Christopher Vokes. On several occasions, Matthews demonstrated he was a courageous and determined officer: in Agira he conducted reconnaissance operations under enemy fire, an action for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. When Simonds was appointed Commanding Officer of II Canadian Corps in January 1944, he immediately asked that Matthews become his artillery commander. Matthews took up his post on March 14th, 1944, thus becoming the second higher-ranking artillery officer of the Canadian Army, quite a feat for a militia man…

On July 11th, 1944, II Canadian Corps became operational in Normandy. Matthews was in charge of the firing plan for Operations Atlantic, Spring, Totalize and Tractable, sophisticated manoeuvres aimed at breaking German defences around Caen, and advancing towards Falaise to prevent the enemy from retreating. On November 10th, 1944, after the Battle of the Scheldt, Matthews was promoted to Major-General and put at the head of the 2nd Infantry Division, which he commanded successfully through the Rhineland Campaign and until Germany surrendered.

Recognized as an outstanding officer, Matthews could have pursued a brilliant military career; he chose instead civilian life and resumed with success his activities in the world of finance and insurance.

Suggested Reading:

  • J.L. Granatstein,The Generals, The Canadian Army’s Senior Commanders in the Second World War, 1993.