Eulogy for Captain Matt Moore

Colonel William Shuttlewood, Chairman of the Sirmoor Rifles Association and Sirmoor Club, represented the Regiment at the funeral of Captain Matt Moore at Portchester on 3 August 2023.  Captain Moore was a wartime Emergency Commissioned Officer.  He spent most of his 3 years’ service from 1945-48 with the 5th Battalion on the North West Frontier but latterly, for most of 1947, was Motor Transport Officer of the 1st Battalion at Santa Cruz, near Bombay, before being demobbed in early 1948.  At the time of his death he was the oldest surviving British Officer and would have been 100 years old on 16 September 2023.

The following eulogy was given by a member of his family:

The Tribute to Mathias – Matt

For Kate, Ross and Leon and the family, they in a way inherited Great Uncle Matt as he stepped into the role as the patriarch of the family and became more involved with them. Matt was once described to me as the ‘glue holding the family together’ and whose support was outstanding, making endless visits to Noel and Sheila and just being there for the family.

At funerals, members of the family and friends of the person who has died often discover things about them that they never knew. Fortunately for Matt’s family, in the year 2000, he sat down to write, what he put in his own words was “ a few disconnected jottings of some of the things that have happened to me.” And “It does not pretend to be an autobiography. I wouldn’t dare saddle members of my family with such.” Matt refers to the title of the document: “Me by Me – So it has to be right – Right”. Matt wrote – “I bet that grabbed your attention.” And it did, and yes Matt, I was daft enough to read it!

The document contains many anecdotes of Matt’s long and interesting life and one of the first items you come across is his Curriculum Vitae, which makes impressive reading. I will touch upon it later.

Mathias Edward was born in Manchester to Edward Joseph and Mary (known as Molly); and he was educated in the city. Sadly, Matt’s father died in 1935 aged forty-three, on the day Matt took his scholarship exams, aged eleven. Matt had an older sister, Joan who was born in 1917.

Joan died on the 5th of March 1988 and his Mum died the following day.

Matt’s Dad was a very clever Electrical Engineer who went back to school in his 20s to study. So, was this in Matt’s genes?

Matt’s first job was with the Manchester Evening News as a Copy Boy – a ‘go for.’ He stayed there for a year and then embarked on an apprenticeship as an electrician. As an apprentice, Matt would leave home at 6.30am, work until 6pm and then attend night school three times a week from 7pm to 10pm.

Matt wrote about the early days of the war and the time when he installed an air raid shelter in the garden of the family home, which had to be covered in earth. Matt did this by digging a rather large hole in order to extract the earth. Once completed, Matt eventually got weary of sleeping in the shelter every night and so he took to sleeping in his bedroom. After one bombing raid there was a report of an unexploded bomb, but luckily the authorities found it – in the garden of Matt’s family home. They subsequently discovered the alleged bomb crater was the hole dug by Matt, so he was told off for that and then for sleeping in his bedroom during an air raid. There was another occasion when Matt was shot at by a German bomber and he found refuge by diving into a manhole.

World Wat Two interrupted Matt’s apprenticeship and after failed attempts to join the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy, he enlisted in the RAF, but his dreams of being a fighter pilot were interrupted by a call up to the Army. As his Army career started Matt attended a talk given by a Brigadier in the Indian Army who was seeking recruits. It appealed to Matt as he had Indian connections – his Mum had Indian Students boarding with her – and after an aborted attempt to serve in the Indian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Matt served from 1941 to 1947 with the 2nd King Edward VII Own Goorkhas Rifles; with the rank of Captain.
Matt wrote: “Joining the Goorkhas was one of the best things that ever happened to me.” And “I don’t intend to write about actual warfare, as there is nothing anybody who has been through it would want to remember”.

Many of Matt’s tales are straight out of Boys Own and he was a part of living history. Here are some examples.

A local tribal leader in Northwest India had managed to obtain a piece of artillery and started bombarding the town where Matt was stationed. Luckily the leader ran out of ammunition. Also, in the area there was a tribe of Pathans who were very warlike. There was a local arrangement to keep roads open on certain days. But Matt wrote: “Very often as you were coming down one side of the mountain, the Pathans would be running up the other side, hoping to fire on you before you got away.”

While having a shave, using a truck’s wing mirror, Matt was shot at. Unfortunately, a donkey was killed. Matt wrote: “It’s surprising how quickly one can get a rush of adrenaline under such circumstances, causing one to move somewhat quicker than usual. The bigger the coward, the bigger the rush and the quicker the reaction. Nobody has ever seen anybody dive under truck as quickly as I did that day. So, you appreciate how innately brave I am.”

Matt celebrated VE Day in India, with the odd drink or two. Matt recalls ordering sixty double gins for himself and a Canadian colleague. Matt awoke in the early hours of the following day, feeling slightly unwell. For the next two weeks, every time he had a drink of water Matt would be drunk again. The men in Matt’s company who put him to bed claim Matt kept turning somersaults in mid-air, something he was never able to repeat. The Canadian ended up in hospital. This salutary lesson taught Matt to moderate his drinking in future.

When Matt was demobbed he flew in a Dakota from Bombay, sorry Mumbai, to Karachi and then by Sunderland Flying Boat to Basra and then onto Cairo, landing on the Nile, then to Sicily. On the way there was a fire in one engine and while flying the flight engineer crawled along the wing to put it out. It was then on to Marseilles and finally to Poole.

Matt got home to Manchester at 6am in snow and saw his Mum through the window, in front of a coal fire, waiting up for him. Matt’s Mum had used up the last of her coal to provide a warm welcome for her son. Unfortunately, Matt was recalled to India after three weeks at home.

Matt was eventually demobbed, completed his apprenticeship and embarked upon his travels. Matt wrote: “There were many things I gave up, but there were things in return. Had I remained working in the UK, I would never have met and argued with presidents, nor negotiated on behalf of countries. Whatever I have done in my life, or whatever I have not done, I certainly cannot complain that my life has been dull.”

As an Electrical Engineer, Matt worked in Iraq, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong, East Pakistan, Thailand, Iran, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt and Sri Lanka. Matt’s working life was the only part of his story to be in chronological order and it makes impressive reading. His service overseas often coincided with regime changes.

Here are some of Matt’s recollections of his working life.

At one point Matt directed a staff of over 4,000; and he had ultimate responsibility for the largest fleet of taxis in Hong Kong.

In the early 50s in Pakistan Matt’s role meant he became ‘the expert’ – often an expert in fields he had no knowledge of, so he would visit the local bookshop – there was no Google in those days.

The multi-millionaire owner of some factories cooked dinner for Matt and Matt wrote: ”It is very doubtful there are many of us who have had a meal cooked for them personally by one of the wealthiest men in the sub-continent and it must be said that for a meal cooked by a multi-millionaire with his own hands – it was truly awful.”

Matt once refused a large bribe in order to sweeten a contract.

Matt nearly burnt down a famous hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan. Matt wrote: “I the Chief Inspector for all the international insurance companies operating in Pakistan; the ‘expert’, advising most of the country how to avoid fire, nearly burned down part of one of history’s most famous hotels.”

In Punjab Matt woke up the Prime Minister in order to ask if he could sleep in the empty state palace as the local ruler was away.

Matt was a good speaker. In the Army Matt talked for forty-five minutes on a subject he knew nothing about but so convinced his fellow cadets he did. Much later, in West Bengal, Matt stopped a riot by 2,500 men with a stirring speech.

It must be said that many of Matt’s attitudes, that would make his family cringe, were of their time and of his generation – this was someone who was used to being called Sahib and had, when living in India, a staff of nine and witnessed a few tribal massacres including an occasion when a group of Sikhs indiscriminately killed Muslims on the train he was on.

I’ve talked about some of Matt’s close shaves and he clearly had the proverbial nine lives as these events from his working life prove.

Matt was once threatened on an airfield in Iran when the sentry, who had been told not to let anyone pass, loaded his rifle despite Matt’s valid pass. (The sentry was apparently illiterate.) At the same time a secret service officer nearly shot Matt; and there was a close shave at Karachi airport when the planes brakes failed. Matt knew how much runway was left as he had worked on its construction.

In the jungle in Sri Lanka Matt came across two Tamil Tiger terrorists. They raised their machetes; went left and so Matt went right – quickly!

Matt was once arrested in Thailand and bent his bail restrictions in order to keep working on projects!

There was clearly an edge to Matt’s character – he was not afraid to stand up for any injustice, especially when friends and family were involved – from assaulting a coal merchant during the war who shortchanged his Mum; to a passport official in Pakistan causing problems for his fiancée; to threatening to have the captain of a ship shot in Indonesia for failing to obey Matt’s orders.

Completely innocent encounters with red light districts and brothels feature in Matt’s jottings and having to be rescued by colleagues.

During his working life, Matt met heads of state. He knew the leaders of the burgeoning Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Matt met Pandit Nehru – the future Prime Minister of India. Matt was an usher to Queen Elizabeth in India and he lent her his light from his bathroom mirror for her dressing table.
For that he was awarded the ‘Order of the Bathroom Electrics’. Matt prepared for the visit of the Indian President to a steel furnace plant and in Sri Lanka he negotiated with the President of the country.

Some more anecdotes caught my attention:

In Calcutta Matt was asked by a Scotsman if he was gay and he said ‘yes’, innocently unaware of what that meant.

In Hong Kong, when asked by an immigration official what he would do in the case of an emergency Matt replied: “Lead out the evacuees”.

Matt eventually retired in 1989. Matt never married. He was engaged to a Corinne Grey in Karachi but she decided not to marry him. Matt wrote: “So now you know why I have always been single. So near and yet….”

Matt clearly made many friends during his working life and in 1996 he embarked on a world tour of nostalgia to meet up with various friends and relatives, and to revisit the places where he had worked.

Matt wrote: “I’m humbly very proud. To have so many truly good friends.”

Matt ended his jottings with:

“If you have been bored to death reading this, it’s entirely your own fault, as I warned you at the beginning that you would be daft to do so. In conclusion, I hope I haven’t offended anybody, but should I have done so, please accept my apologies also, except my assurance that it was completely unintentional. I would have left you in no doubt had it been intentional.”

Matt was described to me as stubborn. He had a ‘can do’ attitude which could be irritating at times but was possibly one of the reasons why he reached the age of ninety-nine. Matt had a wicked sense of humour; and was kind, loving and modest.

I have come to the end of the tribute to Matt and I am aware that I have not done true justice to him. I hope my observations have encapsulated the Matt you all knew far better than me and who you all loved.

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