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Harry Reports from the Front Lines


As Harry saw more and more of the devastation of war, his letters to Sadie became more descriptive. His sense of duty was as strong as ever, but Sadie could see the strain beginning to show.

"By this time you will have experienced some awful times & you will realize fully just what it means to be a soldier, a real soldier. You wanted so much to be one didn’t you & now you are in the thickest of battle are you sorry I know you are not no need to ask..."

Sadie, 12 Sept 1916


graphic of speaker

Click below to hear a portion of the letter above


Send more men - Won't you answer the call, [between 1914 and 1918]
Click to see a larger image

Send more men - Won't you answer the call, [between 1914 and 1918]
Colour print
Archives of Ontario poster collection
Reference Code: C 233-2-4-0-203
Archives of Ontario, I0016181

This waning enthusiasm spread quickly as the war went on longer than anyone had anticipated. Back in Canada, the posters used to encourage enlistment and to raise war funds became more realistic about the ongoing devastation at the front lines.

Why don't I go? The 148th Battalion needs me, [between 1914 and 1918]
Click to see a larger image

Why don't I go? The 148th Battalion needs me, [between 1914 and 1918]
Colour print
Archives of Ontario poster collection
Reference Code: C 233-2-4-0-195
Archives of Ontario, I0016175

You are no exception - join now, [between 1914 and 1918]
Click to see a larger image

You are no exception - join now,
[between 1914 and 1918]
Colour print
Archives of Ontario poster collection
Reference Code: C 233-2-4-0-199
Archives of Ontario, I0016179

Back him up! Buy Victory Bonds, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger image

Back him up! Buy Victory Bonds, [ca. 1918]
Colour print
Archives of Ontario poster collection
Reference Code: C 233-2-1-0-11
Archives of Ontario, I0016140

Elles servent la France—Tout le monde peut servir—Souscrivons à l'Emprunt de la Victoire [They serve France—How can I serve Canada? Buy Victory Bonds], [between 1914 and 1918]
Click to see a larger image

Elles servent la France—Tout le monde peut
servir—Souscrivons à l'Emprunt de la Victoire
[They serve France—How can I serve Canada? Buy Victory Bonds],
[between 1914 and 1918]
Colour print
Archives of Ontario poster collection
Reference Code: C 233-2-1-0-21b
Archives of Ontario, I0016166

During a particularly low point, Harry wrote a letter unlike any of the others. In it, he found himself unable to hold back for Sadie’s sake, and he described many terrible details. Before sending it, he read it again, and admitted that some of his account went too far.

"[W]hat were once trenches are now an indescribable ruin – the shell craters have left not a semblance of the former country – the shells still come over but there actually isn’t much of the ground which hasn’t been ploughed and blasted till now it’s a pulverized mass of heaped mud out of which appear some very sickening and terrible things which were once men – the whole dead have been buried when they lay free from the dirt but the pieces of human beings still lay scattered about – clothes containing the decaying pieces of men – boots with human feet still in them – broken rifles bayonets equipment, helmets shattered by shell fire and these are both British and German..."

Harry, 7 Oct 1916






"I finished this letter last night, but the rest of it was too awful to send so I tore it up..."

Harry, 8 Oct 1916


Click to see a larger image

Letter from Harry Mason to Sadie Arbuckle,
October 7, 1916
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0071133, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38

In the trenches at the front lines, Harry himself was not immune to enemy fire. He described several close calls, while trying to calm Sadie’s reactions.

"[A] shell burst right over me and the next I knew several minutes afterward was a cloudy recollection of having been hit on the head by a sledge hammer and a party of my men around me in the bottom of the trench, a piece of shell had hit me a glancing blow on the head and stunned me, the steel helmet probably having saved my life, another piece hit me on the arm breaking a perfectly good watch but saving me from further injury excepting a bruised fore arm..."

Harry, 22 Oct 1916


graphic of speaker

Click below to hear a portion of the letter above



"[S]o glad you weren’t more seriously hurt when you were knocked unconscious. Oh Harry if you had been – I try not to think of that though, but when you read of such terrible happenings one can hardly help it."

Sadie, 9 Nov 1916

Harry’s sense of duty, his experiences in the trenches, and his admiration of those soldiers flying over the battlefields soon led to his application to the Royal Flying Corps. His enthusiasm for this new challenge was not enough to convince Sadie of its wisdom, but she knew that Harry had made up his mind. Harry was accepted to the Corps on January 4, 1917, and began training as a gunner.

"Am wondering... if you have been accepted for that aviation course. You wonder if I approve of that – your latest move – would it matter very much if I did not Harry? ... I know a boy who went to this war as an aviator & now he is buried somewhere over there."

Sadie, 8 Oct 1916

"Haven’t heard any more about the Aviation course since the applications went forward but some how I feel sure of its’ being accepted because they do need men... Dear afterward after the war aeroplanes will be all the rage – they will be fashionable – then we shall fly Sadie..."

Harry, 7 Nov 1916





"This they tell me is Sunday and a very very happy one for us because it is our last day on this awful Somme... Have heard nothing more from the application to the Royal Flying Corps... I feel that I would love it, there we act on our own courage, skill and initiative and haven’t the responsibility of fifty or sixty men’s lives on our minds and the exhilaration of flying away up there in the pure air and sunshine away from the mud and filth of the trenches..."

Harry, 26 Nov 1916

Harry later told Sadie about his father’s reaction to the news:

"I am not going to say a word about this flying stunt, you have cut your eye teeth, so use your own judgement. They say the Almighty looks after fools and children, I don’t think you fit in either of these classes, you must be in a class by yourself. You know I’m a fatalist so if God wants you to fly, it’s not my place to object."

Harry, 5 Jan 1916



Portrait of Harry Mason in France, wearing his<br> 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


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 now belong to #1 Wing #10 Squadron “G” Flight in the Royal Flying Corps, British Expeditionary Force, France (Somewhere In)."

Harry, 25 Jan 1917



Ready for shipment, aeroplane factory no. 2, [between 1914 and 1919]
Click to see a larger image

Ready for shipment, aeroplane factory no. 2, [between 1914 and 1919]
Original drawing by Dorothy Stevens
Print
Canadian War Memorials Fund fonds
Reference Code: C 334-1-5-0-21
Archives of Ontario, I0013284

Aerial photograph of the defence of a road as viewed from a balloon, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger image

Aerial photograph of the defence of a road as viewed from a balloon, [ca. 1918]
Black and white print
Photograph albums of the First World War
Reference Code: C 224-8, Item C 224-0-0-10-21
Archives of Ontario, I0004831


Lieutenant Colonel Billy Bishop, Victoria Cross, the<br /> famous Canadian airman, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger image

Lieutenant Colonel Billy Bishop, Victoria Cross, the
famous Canadian airman, [ca. 1918]
Black and white print
Photograph albums of the First World War
Reference Code: C 224-8, Item C 224-0-0-10-8
Archives of Ontario, I0004818

The passion and sense of responsibility that made Harry an excellent soldier on the ground served him just as well in the air.