Monday, June 13, 2011

Mason's Man-Eaters

As I perused what remains of my late father's book collection, most of it either devoted to warfare, politics, or painting with watercolours, I came across a book entitled "No Man's Land" by Victor W. Wheeler, published by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation in 1980.  The book is a history of the 50th Infantry Battalion of Calgary in the trenches of WWI, commanded by my great grandfather on my mother's side, Lieutenant-Colonel E. G. Mason, MD.  A letter attached inside the cover from Wheeler's widow, commented on by my great aunt, confirms that the author "intended to call the book Mason's Man-Eaters", but for some reason when it was published posthumously the title changed.  (There is even a great photo of a troop train leaving Calgary for Halifax in 1915 with "Berlin or Bust", Mason's Man-Eaters", and "Pride of the West" graffiti on its side.)  An excerpt therefrom: "God not having been manifest to many of us on our first trip up the line, we turned to Lieutenant-Colonel E. G. Mason, Officer in Command of the 50th Battalion, for moral support.  Being a physician in private life, it seemed natural for him to look out for his "patients".  The Colonel had been the first man to step out toward the front line on our maiden trip into the trenches, and throughout our tour he instilled confidence in us by personally plodding up and down the line several times each day and night.  As he chatted with us singly or in small groups he convinced us that we would despatch ourselves with honour to our King and Country."  Needless to say, the horrors of trench warfare at the Somme, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele are described in excruciating detail within the pages that follow this excerpt.  My paternal grandfather, who was wounded and captured in the very same area, may have encountered many of the men in Wheeler's book - and perhaps old Doc Mason himself, unaware that 30 years later their families would marry!