This is the first in a series of posts based on interviews done in the 1970’s by William G. McKenzie with some surviving members of the 1st. Battalion. The tapes (cassettes) of the interviews are at the London Room, London Public Library, London, Ontario. The following are excerpts from an interview with Frederic Mason, December 9, 1974.
Lance Corporal Frederic (Fred) Mason #403004 was born on 30th. April, 1893 in Chester, England, and died in London, Ontario, 27 July, 1979. He came to Canada as a Bernardo boy. He enlisted in the 34th. Battalion, and was sent overseas as a replacement. He joined the 1st. Battalion in the summer of 1915. He was wounded twice in 1916.
On being a bomb thrower:
“The English blew up a German sap about 35 yards in front of our trench at Flaegsteert. They asked for volunteers for bomb throwers so I volunteered for a bomb thrower - I didn’t know a bomb from an egg, but I soon learned. We had to go out into No Man’s Land with one rifleman - one rifleman and one bomb thrower. This was at night. That was the only time we could go out.”
On Christmas 1915:
“That was the day! When a fellow by the name of Lt. O’Grady. He took us out on a working party - he was pretty well lit. One of the fellows warned him, “There’s a hole Mister O’Grady” just as he stepped into it. ”I found it” was the reply.
(Christmas dinner) was anything but dinner. He made his rounds - he (Lt. O’Grady) wasn’t that far gone- I’ll say that about him. The soup was more like rainwater and we had a Christmas pudding about an inch and a half thick with about half an inch of carbon on top. The tea was no good. We may have had beef - I don’t remember ever seeing any turkey over there. We were right in the trenches. We were on a working party.”
On Sir Sam Hughes:
“Another time, when we were up at Ploegsteert Woods, Sir Sam Hughes came up through the trenches there. A fellow by the name of Cossin (I’m not sure of the spelling) got up on the firing step. Hughes pulls him down and says’ “Get off the firing step you bloody fool. Do you want your brains blown out?” By gosh, inside of a month he had his brains blown out. He was badly wounded - hit in the head- and died in London about 1920.”
On Captain Nelles:
Captain Nelles was orderly officer and I was a lance jack in charge of the listening post. The officer wouldn’t give us any rum. We got an issue of rum every two hours; about a thimble full, maybe an ounce, we called it a thimble full. He wouldn’t give us our rum so I went back to Nelles’s dugout. This was about one or two o’clock in the morning. “Who’s there?” Corporal Mason. “What the hell do you want?” Lt. Gurney won’t give us any rum for the men. “You go back there and tell Lt. Gurney to give you the rum and if he doesn’t, come back and tell me.” He was one swell guy.
Photo: Attestation paper, Library and Archives Canada,