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Harry Hears the Call to Battle



"We must not forget that our first duty is to our country, no matter how much our desires try to lead us elsewhere."

Harry, 3 Feb 1916

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia and France. Britain and France responded by jointly declaring war on Germany on August 4, 1914. As members of the British Empire, Canada and Australia were automatically at war with Germany at the same time.

During the next four years more than 628,000 Canadians would serve in the armed forces.

In July 1915, Harry Mason enlisted as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and joining the war effort brought him back to Ontario for training. Harry’s first letter as a soldier is dated December 16, 1915, with a return address of “80th Bn. CEF, ‘C’ Company, Napanee Ont.” and is written on the 80th Battalion’s letterhead. In it, he enthuses about the life of a soldier in training, and explains that he expects to be promoted to the rank of Captain soon.

Harry was able to visit Toronto on his first leave, and spent a day with Sadie, probably for the first time, and described it as “the most satisfying and pleasant I have ever spent.”

Young people at the tower, Queen's Park, Toronto, July 19, 1925

Click to see a larger image
Young people at the tower, Queen's Park, Toronto, July 19, 1925
M. O. Hammond
Black and white negative
Reference Code: F 1075
Archives of Ontario, I0001412


On his return to the training camp, he arranged to send Sadie a gift: a dog he had named Lord Roberts II, or “Bobs.”

Letter from Sadie Arbuckle to Harry Mason, December 29, 1915
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Letter from Sadie Arbuckle to Harry Mason, December 29, 1915
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0070108

"Dear Harry, Must write to you now to tell you little “Bobs” has just arrived & everyone here has fallen in love with him already. Mamma has just cooked him a dinner but he won’t eat it Harry. Poor little fellow is pining… Tonight is the first time I have ever wished I hadn’t started to Business, so I could be with “Bobs” all the time"

29 December 1915

Harry Mason’s father, William E. Mason, with dog Don outside the Masons' house, [ca. 1915-1920]
Click to see a larger image

Harry Mason’s father, William E. Mason, with dog Don
outside the Masons' house, [ca. 1915-1920]
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050260


Bobs would feature heavily in the rest of their correspondence, as Sadie provided updates regarding his behaviour and Harry offered training advice. And from time to time, Bobs participated in the letter writing himself: (“[N]ow look at my nice clean paper. “Bobs” just took this in his mouth and ran out in the hall with it – I managed to get it from him before he did any harm.”)

Once back at camp in January 1916, Harry provides Sadie with more information about the training regimen and the disposition of his fellow soldiers. He describes the plight of those men who are growing less enthusiastic as the battle gets closer.

"We get up by bugle call, in fact almost everything in that line, such as meals, lights out, reveille, first and last post, retreat, fall in and that sort of thing is done by our bugler."

letter dated 13 Jan 1916


From left to right: Lieutenants [G.S.] Coward, Bertrand, and Harry Mason of  the “C” Company, 80th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.), in Napanee, Ontario,<br /> January 23, 1916

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From left to right: Lieutenants [G.S.] Coward, Bertrand, and Harry Mason of the “C” Company, 80th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.), in Napanee, Ontario,
January 23, 1916
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050210

Soldiers of the “C” Company, 80th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) training in front of the town hall in Napanee, Ontario, [ca. 1914-1917]
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Soldiers of the “C” Company, 80th Overseas Battalion,
Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) training in front
of the town hall in Napanee, Ontario, [ca. 1914-1917]
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050195

"We are having a little trouble with a few of our men, they are getting cold feet at the prospect of going overseas soon and some (just a few I’m glad to say) have tried to desert and they are the older and tougher men in the Company too, it must be awful for them though to think of going when they are afraid to face what 1916 holds for them…"

Harry, 2 Jan 1916

"Too bad about your men deserting isn’t it. Poor chaps, sometimes one can hardly blame them for thinking that way, but when they join, they should stay with it I suppose. I shouldn’t say that should I. I know I wouldn’t like to see them back out but one hates awfully to see them go too. There I’ve said a whole lot & yet it doesn’t amount to much does it?"

Sadie, Tuesday eve [4 Jan 1916]



"Well, about the men deserting, Sadie we only had to send an escort for one man all of the others returned voluntarily with two exceptions, I guess they just wanted to make sure of some leave before we go over. And 99% of them now seem more than anxious to be away…"

Harry, 6 Jan 1916



Military parade during World War I, [ca. 1918]
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Military parade during World War I, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-11-11
Archives of Ontario, I0004863

Throughout their correspondence, Harry is clear about his feelings that all able men must enlist, and Sadie reflects on his ideals frequently.


"Have just been to one of the rehearsals of our play.Weren’t many there tonight. Six of the boys who were going in it have enlisted. I can hear you say ‘Good.’"

Sadie, 8 Jan 1916



"I believe now more than ever that every Canadian who hopes to remain a British Subject and hopes for the lasting freedom of his loved ones should enlist and take his chance along with other Britons, people in Canada cannot realize how very grave the situation is, why the war will last longer and be much more bitter than it ever has so far and Canada will yet have to resort to conscription to render England the help she needs. We cannot lose this war…"

Harry, [1916]

graphic of speaker

Click below to hear a portion of the letter above



In February 1916, the 80th Battalion received word that they would be deployed to England. Harry and his comrades greeted the news enthusiastically, but Sadie was concerned.

Your King and country need you, enlist now [United Kingdom], [between 1914 and 1918]
Click to see larger image

Your King and country need you, enlist now
[United Kingdom], [between 1914 and 1918]
Archives of Ontario poster collection
Reference Code: C 233-2-8-0-148
Archives of Ontario, I0016896
Lieutenant G.S. Coward and Lieutenant Harry D. Mason [right], “C” Company, 80th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.), [ca. 1916]
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Lieutenant G.S. Coward and Lieutenant Harry D. Mason [right], “C” Company, 80th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.), [ca. 1916]
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050213

"[W]e have received official communication from Ottawa that we are one of the twenty battalions chosen for overseas and we go soon after the first fourteen, so my dear it looks like we will see the trenches sometime early in the summer… [T]he men are cheering yet after learning the good news…"

Harry, 18 Feb 1916


graphic of speaker

Click below to hear a portion of the letter above

"Does it seem dreadful to you when you know that you are to go so very soon? I know just what your answer to that will be – that is what we are in it for. I thought probably it would be over before you arrived there, but not so, if you are going now. It may be though – who knows. But that wouldn’t satisfy you would it when you are so very anxious to be a real soldier."

Sadie, Sunday aft. [20 Feb 1916]


graphic of speaker

Click below to hear a portion of the letter above



Following the announcement, Harry is sent to Belleville and Montreal for further training. During this time, he is able to meet Sadie in Toronto a few times. He visited her for the last time in April 1916. Although she still had not declared her love for Harry, seeing each other again made the upcoming separation seem more immediate for both of them.

"Harry I don’t understand myself since you left - yesterday & today I cannot keep the tears back – is it loneliness – I think it must be…"

Sadie, 12 Apr 1916

"Sweetheart I wonder if I shall ever see your dear dear face again if I will ever hold you very close to me and kiss you oh I cannot hardly bear to go… please Dear don’t love me, don’t please Sadie, not now – "

Harry, 24 Apr 1916



"I don’t know just how I feel Harry, but I do know this – I want you to come back..."

Sadie, 26 Apr 1916



On May 16, 1916, Harry left for England aboard the S.S. Baltic. One month later, he celebrated his 24th birthday.