Dear Sadie – Love, Lives & Remembrance from Ontario’s First World War - Page Banner

Harry and Sadie, The Photographs: A Resource Page for Students


Background

Harry Mason was a soldier who left Canada to fight in World War I in 1915 when he was only 23. He left behind his sweetheart, Sadie Arbuckle, who lived in Toronto. They wrote to each other frequently for four years and shared their thoughts and feelings about the war.

In 1917, Harry became a member of the Royal Flying Corps, as a gunner in an airplane. He died in April 1917 when his plane was shot down. Since the war was happening in Europe, Sadie did not even hear about his death until a week later.

Photographs to Help You Remember


Included in their letters, Harry and Sadie exchanged lots of photographs. In one of his letters, Harry included two portraits of himself that were taken at the same time.

" Oh yes, Sadie I got the photos… I must say I am disappointed with the one with the cap on, it looks like my left eye is bad… "

Harry, 10 Jan 1916

" I want to thank you for the photos and I think I like the one without the hat. The other one, oh you look so sad, as though every friend had deserted you. But you really didn’t feel that way, did you? "

Sadie, “Tuesday Eve” [11 Jan 1916]

Portrait of Harry Mason in military uniform, [ca. 1914-1917]
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of Harry Mason in military uniform, [ca. 1914-1917]
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050214

Portrait of Harry Mason in military uniform, [ca. 1914-1917]
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of Harry Mason in military uniform, [ca. 1914-1917]
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050215

" I am glad you like the photo, I don’t like the one with the cap either, do you know that when that one was taken I remember now about thinking of something else because after he had finished he called my attention and I was surprised that it “was all over” usually they go through the formality of saying “look pleasant.” "

Harry, 13 Jan 1916

" I have your picture in the frame, the one with the cap on – it is looking straight at me now with rather a lonely expression, but the more you look at it the more cheerful it becomes – seems to be a smile somewhere. "

Sadie, 26 Apr 1916

Notice that one of the photographs is cut into an oval. Why do you think that is?

  • Which one of the two photographs do you think looks better? Why?

  • Harry describes being unhappy with one of these photographs. What happened? Has that ever happened to you?

Photographs to Make You Smile


Records such as photographs remind us that Harry and Sadie’s relationship had a lighter side separate from the horrors of war.

Maybe Sadie had never seen a bullfrog before. What do you think Harry looks like in his uniform? Why did Harry’s flying uniform look so strange? How many pieces of equipment do you see? What do you think each piece of equipment was for?

" Your pictures arrived last night & they are funny aren’t they – you look like one of these diving men. And the one with the hood and goggles on looks like a big bull frog. Now that is complimentary, but really other people wouldn’t know who it was (Only me) I could pick you out of thousands... "

Sadie, 22 Mar 1917

Portrait of Harry Mason in France, wearing his pilot uniform, February 1917
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of Harry Mason in France, wearing his
pilot uniform, February 1917
Black and white print on postcard
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050208

Portrait of Harry Mason in France, wearing his pilot uniform, February 1917
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of Harry Mason in France, wearing his
pilot uniform, February 1917
Black and white print on postcard
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050209

" I always carry… your pictures in a case in my tunic, if they shoot me in the left breast they will have to go through them. "

Harry, 13 Jul 1916

" [I]t was good to hear from you and the snaps too were lovely and they too shall be carried with the others right through everything. "

Harry, 23 Aug 1916



" [D]o you know that I wouldn’t even think of going to the trenches without your pictures in my pocket... to me they are the charm which saves me from all danger... if such a thing should happen that I am wounded I have engraved on the back of my identity disk to advise you also Dad who will receive word by cable and will wire you... "

Harry, 8 Sep 1916



Sadie wrote to a soldier who was a friend of Harry’s to ask about how he died, and this is part of his response:

" [H]e flew over our dug out one afternoon and dropped me a message… there were several machines up, & while looking I saw one get hit… I went up a trench & eventually reached it, but pilot & observor [sic] were dead, the pilot had lost his head one shoulder & a leg, so the shell had exploded by his side, the observor [sic]in the front seat, had a large jagged wound in the breast & was not recognizable… "

Harry Towson, 8 Aug 1917



Harry kept Sadie’s photographs with him in his pocket all the time, so when he was killed by a chest wound the photographs would have been destroyed.

Where is Sadie?


The Archives of Ontario doesn’t have any photographs of Sadie Arbuckle. Using the evidence below, can you figure out why the photographs of her didn’t survive with the rest of the letters?

Sadie worked in an office, played the piano, went to the movies, and spent time with her dog. Even though we don’t know what she looked like, she may have been a lot like one of these young women. What do you think?

Unidentified woman looking at sheet music, posed beside a piano, [between 1898 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Unidentified woman looking at sheet music, posed beside a piano, [between 1898 and 1920]
Marsden Kemp
Glass plate negative
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-192
Archives of Ontario, I0013524

Unidentified young woman seated at a piano in a parlour, [between 1898 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Unidentified young woman seated at a piano in a parlour, [between 1898 and 1920]
Marsden Kemp
Black and white print
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-130
Archives of Ontario, I0013454

Unidentified women at an Eaton's Company mail order office picnic, [ca. 1910]
Click to see a larger image

Unidentified women at an Eaton's Company mail
order office picnic, [ca. 1910]
Marion Owsten
Black and white print
Archives of Ontario photograph collection
Reference Code: F 2170-0-0-0-22
Archives of Ontario, I0014279

Portrait of an unidentified woman and her dog, [between 1898 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of an unidentified woman and her dog, [between 1898 and 1920]
Marsden Kemp
Glass plate negative
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-172
Archives of Ontario, I0013508

Two unidentified young women, [between 1898 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Two unidentified young women, [between 1898 and 1920]
Marsden Kemp
Black and white print
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-155
Archives of Ontario, I0013480
Portrait of an unidentified woman seated in a chair, [between 1900 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of an unidentified woman seated in
a chair, [between 1900 and 1920]
Black and white print
Nell Maciborka fonds
Reference Code: C 163
Archives of Ontario, I0014215

Portrait of an unidentified young woman posing beside a chair, [between 1900 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Portrait of an unidentified young woman
posing beside a chair, [between 1900 and 1920]
Nell Maciborka fonds
Reference Code: C 163
Archives of Ontario, I0014216

Portrait of an unidentified young woman posing beside a chair, [between 1900 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image

Lola M holding a photograph album, [between 1898 and 1910]
Glass plate negative
Marsden Kemp
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-52
Archives of Ontario, I0013391

Things to Consider


  • If you were going to war today, how would you send photos back home to your friends and family?

  • What kind of photographs do you think you would want to send?

  • How did letters go back and forth between Harry in Europe and Sadie in Canada?

  • What impact did that have on their ability to communicate with each other?

  • How else can our loved ones in different countries keep in touch with us?