Herbie Matthew's story

Herbie was born in the mid-1930s and never knew his father. ‘I discovered that I am illegitimate. I don't know if my father ever saw me, as despite my efforts to find him over many years he has never been known to me. It's a horrible feeling and terrible burden to know that the male side of my family starts with me.’

By the time Herbie was three years old, he and his siblings were placed in care as their mother was unable to look after them. Herbie was sent to a Melbourne Salvation Army boys’ home where, for the most part, he was happy.

‘We were well fed with plain but wholesome food and there was plenty of room to play, we were adequately clothed although I will never forget the thin cotton shorts we wore summer and winter. I enjoyed my early schooling at the home, the teachers were kindly and very helpful.’

When he was nine, Herbie was sexually abused multiple times by Captain Archer, who worked at the home. The officer took Herbie from bed and into his own quarters at night.

‘He removed my pyjamas and put me in his bed and rubbed himself against my back while fondling my genitals. I was very confused and didn’t know what was happening as his actions – which was very confusing to me – became quicker and more frantic. I was crying and more confused. After a while he stopped, he wiped me down with a towel and then told me to be quiet and go back to bed. I cried a lot that night.

‘There were two other times over the next number of days where he again took me to his room and repeated the same act on me as before.’

Herbie knew at the time that Archer was also abusing other boys. He could tell who had been the latest victim because this boy would be crying in his bed – and there was a boy crying almost every night for a month.

The next time Archer tried to abuse Herbie he stiffened himself up like a ‘lump of wood’ and became totally unresponsive. Archer sent him back to bed and did not abuse him again. ‘I thought that was a good tactic. I told a couple of the other kids about that.’

Herbie did not disclose the abuse to anyone, and Archer seemed to disappear from the home not long afterwards.

After the abuse, Herbie tried to stay away from the officers as much as he could. When he was 11 he was released from the home and returned to his mother as she had since married. He lived with her for a few years before she ran away interstate with another man, and he moved to a boarding house, then went to stay with a friend’s family.

The family ‘didn’t have much’ but were happy to share what they had. ‘It’s only when you look back, you think how extraordinary that was to be so generous and welcoming to me ... There was never ever any feeling that I was an outsider.’

Despite the abuse, Herbie does not hold any hard feelings towards the Salvation Army. ‘I have always held the 'Salvos' in high regard. I support the great work of the Salvation Army. I have heard stories from returned servicemen of the enormous comfort provided by the Army to soldiers on the front line of many wars that Australia has fought in. I know of the wonderful work the Army does for those in our society who are in need of help. I have collected for the Army in our local area for the annual Red Shield Appeal. I have not allowed my bad experience at the hands of Captain Archer to tarnish my respect for the Salvation Army and what it stands for and I will always continue to support them.’

Herbie married in the 1950s and his wife accompanied him to the Royal Commission. They had children, and are now grandparents.

‘My life is good, but always in the back of my mind is the horrible disgusting abuse of me by Captain Archer when I was in the care of the Salvation Army ...

‘Throughout my life I have lacked the confidence to push myself to do better. I have always been held back because of what happened to me at the home. The abuse I suffered has always been in my mind and at times I have been very depressed and suffered bouts of anxiety about what happened.’

‘Over time, I have been able to put the experience in its own box in my mind but every now and again I would find myself reliving what happened to me, causing a setback in whatever I was doing until I was able to put it away again.

‘With the support of my wife and close friends I have been able to control negative feelings and thoughts for it not to take over my life.’

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