James Oliver MASON (2236)
46 Battalion DoW 11/2/17
James Oliver Mason was born at Won Wron in 1898. His family was then living in the Shire of Alberton and it appears the father had been farming in the local area for at least 10 years. The father – William Wallace Mason – had held land at Devon, Bulga, Calignee and Won Wron. He had also worked as a contractor (roadworks) for the local council. However, it appears that there were financial difficulties round the time James was born. There was a mortagee auction of land – 183 acres at Bulga – held by the father in 1896.
By the time James Mason enlisted in 1916, the parents and at least some of the children had moved to Gobur. An older brother – Christopher Mason – was still in Yarram. It appears he ran the local dealership for Dodge cars. Also, another older brother – William Mason – had remained farming in the district at least up until 1915. The children had attended the local state schools. James and another brother who enlisted – Richard – had their names recorded on the honor roll for Tarraville State School. On the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, the mother recorded that James had also attended the state schools at Yarram and Stradbroke. Significantly, she also gave Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. An ‘in memoriam’ published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 28/2/17 remarked how the brother – Mr. Chris Mason – lived in Yarram. It also praised the enlistment of both James and Richard, and noted of James,
The young hero who has made the supreme sacrifice for his country, was well known in Yarram, as in his boyhood days he attended the local State School.
Notwithstanding the family’s close association with the district and the mother’s explicit identification of Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’, James Mason’s name is not recorded on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Similarly, the names of the 2 other brothers who enlisted – Richard Wallace Mason and William Hickman Mason – are not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.
James Mason gave his age as 18 yo when he enlisted in March 1916 (7/3/16). Because he was under 21 yo, both parents were required to sign the enlistment form. The age given on the form both parents signed was ’18 yrs 7 mos’. However, when the mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she specifically noted that when he died (11/2/17) her son was ’18 years 7 months’. Also, the in memoriam referred to earlier, specifically noted that he was only 18 yo when he was killed. The memorial card featured below also has the age as 18 yo. It appears that, with his parents’ support and blessing, James Mason enlisted as a 17 yo. By early 1916, at least according to the AIF authorities, this type of underage enlistment was not supposed to happen.
James Mason gave his occupation as labourer while his mother noted that he was a ‘shearer’. His religion was Church of England and he was single.
Private Mason embarked as reinforcements for 46 Battalion on 16/8/16. There was further training in England until the end of December 1916. Whilst undertaking training, he was charged in November 1916 with being ‘absent without leave’ – in Salisbury – and travelling on the train network without a ticket. He was given 14 days detention. It was a not uncommon story with the Australian troops in training camps in England.
Private Mason reached France just before Christmas, on 22/12/16. In January 1917, he spent a short time in hospital with influenza. Finally, on 7/2/17, he joined 46 Battalion in the field. He was one of 32 men who were taken on strength with the battalion that day.
Just 4 days later (11/2/17) he was wounded – S.W.[shrapnel wound] Chest Penetrating, Right Thigh and Right Leg. He was admitted to a casualty clearing station (South Midland) but died of wounds the same day (11/2/17).
In February 1917, 1 Anzac Corps held the front near Gueudecourt. The conditions for the troops were particularly severe. Throughout February, there were several attacks on the German lines which were characterised by fierce, close-quarter bombing exchanges, including both rifle and hand grenades. According to its war diary, 46 Battalion relieved 13 Battalion on 4/2/17. On 11-12/2/17 it was involved in a ‘minor operation’ where the objective was to extend its position in Cloudy Trench. Employing both grenadiers firing rifle grenades and bombing parties armed with Mills hand grenades, the plan was to push along and take control of another 200 yards of the trench. Overall, the attack was described as ‘most successful’, but there was the inevitable German counter-attack. The war diary gave the casualties as ‘2 killed & 4 wounded’, at least one of whom, Private Mason, died of his wounds. The Germans lost 5 killed, and 1 was taken prisoner. The relatively light casualties would not have accurately reflected the ferocity of the close-quarter fighting.
Word of their son’s death reached the family in just over a week (19/2/17). He was buried in Dernancourt Communal Cemetery. In late February 1918, one year after his death, the personal kit reached the parents: Letters, Photos, Pocket Books 2, Religious Book, Belt, Handkerchief, Badges, Diary, Coin.
As indicated, there were 2 other brothers who enlisted. Richard, who was 2 years older, enlisted in January 1915. The other brother, William, was 12 years older. He first enlisted in January 1916 but was discharged as medically unfit less than 2 months later. He subsequently re-enlisted in early December 1917. Both these brothers survived the War.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project
National Archives file for MASON James Oliver 2236
Roll of Honour: James Oliver Mason
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Oliver Mason