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Charles Rupert Mason

Private 5734 Charles Rupert Mason, 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment

 

Charles Rupert, known as Bert, was born in 1882 the son of Henry Mason and his wife Rhoda née Rushent. He was the third child of at least eight, and also the third son after Harry Reginald (born 1877) and Frederick James (1880). His birth was followed in the ensuing years by William George (1883), Gertrude Elizabeth (1886), Edith Agnes (1889), Rhoda Ann (1891) and Walther John (1893). Sadly Rhoda Ann died in infancy, before her first birthday.


Harry worked in Newbury as a coal heaver, hard physical labour, which may have contributed to his death in 1897 at the relatively early age of 49. Rhoda took in washing to earn a living, but life was not as hard for her as it might have been had Harry died a few years older because the elder sons were of working age and were able to contribute to the family budget.  By 1901 two of her sons had left home, Harry to work as a coachman in Shiplake and Bert, who had enlisted into the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 6 December 1899 and  would have joined the 1st Battalion at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. He would then have gone with the battalion to Gibraltar returning to Southampton 26 October 1902. They spent a few months in the Woking and Aldershot area and moved on to Dublin 30 August 1904. They were in Ireland until 4 October 1910 serving briefly suppressing riots in Belfast. They returned to Aldershot where they remained until the outbreak of war.


Berkshire Regiment badge

The regimental badge of the Berkshire Regiment, as used on CWGC headstones.

Bert would have enlisted for a 12 year term, of which a part would be spent in uniform with the battalion (typically 7 years); the remainder of the term would be spent as a civilian in the Reserve.  It appears that, when war broke out, he volunteered to re-enlist in his old regiment. As an experienced soldier he would not have required much training, so he was soon sent to France, where he landed on 23 November 1914. He was one of a draft of replacements for the 1st Battalion, probably the 6th reinforcement consisting of 2 officers and 149 men that joined the battalion at Caestre on 30 November.


In September 1915 the British were planning an attack on the German lines near the coal mining town of Loos-en-Gohelle in northern France, part of a major Anglo-French offensive known as the Battle of Artois. This element of the larger offensive was to earn its own name as the Battle of Loos. It was the first time the British used poison gas (chlorine).


The 1st Battalion were in reserve on the day of the opening advance (25 September 1915) but were called into action on 28 September. They were attached to the 7th Division which was tasked with the capture of a section of the German lines in an area known as The Quarries between Hulloch and a mine called Fosse 8. The 1st Battalion's specific rôle being to attack a strongpoint known as the La Bassée Railway Triangle Redoubt (passing through the lines captured by the first wave of the attack). Things went awry from the start and the Battalion's objective was changed to Fosse 8 itself (if everything had gone to plan this would have been captured by the first wave, before the 1st Battalion moved forward). Attacking in bright moonlight at 2.30 am, passing through trenches captured by the first wave, they moved forward, until they were spotted 400 yards short of the German positions.

The entry in the Battalion's war diary tells the story:
12.30 am. Battalion collected from fatigues and working parties in order to attack FOSSE No 8 at 2.30am. Capt Radford DSO went to the Brigade HQ at the VII Divisional Dugouts to explain that the battalion were scattered on fatigues and that the position to be attacked and the approaches were strange to the officers.
Personal message from General Gough (1st Corps) explained that owing to the situation the attack was imperative.
Coys moved in file to the rendezvous A. B. C. D. HQ & MGs. Here the battalion formed up in Company Column and advanced towards the objective 800 yards away. During the advance two lines of captured German trenches and two lines of barbed wire had to be crossed - these were manned by British troops.
Owing to the bright moonlight the enemy saw us advancing when we were 400 yards from our objective (FOSSE 8): they put up "very" lights and kept up a continuous rifle fire on us from our right front - this grew heavier as we got nearer.
The battalion advanced steadily A, B and part of C Coy going straight for the FOSSE. They were unable owing to the heavy fire from the enemy who by this time were manning the top of the FOSSE to gain the slag heap, being checked about 70 yards from it. D and part of C Coy meanwhile advanced and manned the front British trench.
During this time 2nd Lieut A B Turner single handed bombed down a German communication trench driving the enemy before him a distance of over 150 yards. During the whole of this period the Germans were throwing bombs at 2/Lt Turner. While performing this very gallant act he was mortally wounded. By this time it was known that the CO Major Bird was wounded and Capt Radford DSO 2nd in command was killed. In consequence the command devolved on Capt C W Frizzell who was in command of the rear company D: also by this time Colonel Carter the Brigadier was up in the first trench.
Seeing that the first two companies were checked Colonel Carter gave Captain Frizzell the order to charge with the remaining men available, this order was carried out - the leading men with Capt Frizzell in front got half way up the slag heap when the Germans from the top threw bombs on our heads. This checked our further advance and the men retired to the front British trench a distance of 150 yards.
As it was now getting daylight and the men were all rather exhausted Colonel Carter decided not to attack again. He ordered Capt Frizzell to re-organise in our old trenches.
Casualties. Killed. Capt M C Radford DSO. Died of wounds 2Lt A B Turner.
Missing. Capt E N Getting, 2Lt P C Rawson 2Lt R A Summers, 2Lt J W B Blazey. Wounded and missing. Lieut G F M Hall.
Wounded. Major L W Bird, Lt E F Eager, Lt D E Ward, 2Lt Haigh, 2Lt W S Mackey and Capt Adj C St Q Fullbrook Leggatt DSO.
Other ranks. Killed 17 missing 143 wounded 115. Total 288
The death of Captain Radford cannot be too much deplored. He was a very gallant officer and his loss is very keenly felt by everyone in the regiment and brigade. He was buried at Vermelles.
Search parties under Captain Large were untiring in the devoted manner they searched for the wounded.
The 1/2 Battn 1st KRR were not able to reach the rendezvous and attack with us. Also the bombing parties from the regiments on our flanks were not there.


2nd Lieut A B (Alexander Buller) Turner was from Thatcham, his actions that night won the regiment's first VC of the war.


Bert’s name was among the 148 men reported as ‘missing’ that day, along with 19 killed and 121 wounded: 


Newbury Weekly News, 11 November 1915 – Missing
MASON – Private R Mason, 5734. 1st Royal Berks, attached 170th Co, RE, third son of Mrs Mason, South View-cottages, Northcroft-lane. Missing since Sept 28th.
Also Private W G Mason, 7286 Oxford and Bucks LI, fourth son of above. Missing since May 16th – Any information would be thankfully received by their mother.

 

A report of ‘missing’ always left some hope that the soldier was out in no-man’s land keeping his head down until he got the chance to crawl back to the British lines, or he had been captured and would resurface in a POW list a few weeks later.  Sadly this was not the case for Bert (or for his brother William), but it was a year before he would be presumed dead by the War Office.


Newbury Weekly News, 28 September 1916 – Killed in Action
MASON – Reported missing on September 25th [sic] 1915, now officially presumed dead, Charles Rupert (Bert) Mason, Pte, Royal Berks Regt, late of Upminster, Essex, third son of Rhoda and the late Henry Mason, Northcroft, Newbury aged 33 years.
“Short days ago
He loved, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow,
Loved and was loved.
And now he lies in Flanders fields.”


Bert’s body now lies in grave II.D.13 at the Arras Road Cemetery, Roclincourt  but it was not buried there until September 1927. His body had been recovered from the battlefield at map reference ‘44a.G.4.d.central’ – this refers to a small area within the German lines of that date.  This helps to clarify one issue arising from the newspaper notice reporting him as ‘missing’.  This stated that he was ‘attached 170th Co, RE’, in full the 170th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers. It seems unlikely that he would meet his end in the German lines if he were working with a tunnelling company.  However, prior to the launch of the Loos offensive on 25 September tunnels were driven under the German positions known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt and filled with explosives which were detonated as the attack was launched. During the ensuing infantry actions tunnellers would go forward to investigate enemy tunnelling activity and could well be killed.

 

Name on Newbury War Memorial

Bert's name on Newbury War Memorial

(centre)

However, the location of Bert’s body was within the area that his battalion attacked across that day, suggesting that he was with them.  As stated in the war diary the battalion’s attack was a last minute affair and men had to be collected from fatigues and working parties in order to attack FOSSE No 8 at 2.30am. Bert’s activities with the tunnellers may well have been considered a part of a working party.


For a detailed account of the 1st Battalion's part in the Battle of Loos - click

 

Locally Bert is remembered on tablet 1 of the Newbury Town War Memorial; unusually he is not on the same tablet as his brother Bert.  The names on the memorial were placed by lot, meaning that they are randomly distributed, but exceptions to this were made in the case of brothers, who are usually listed together.  George and Bert are an instance where this did not happen; presumably those determining the distribution were unaware that they were related.

 

George (W G) Mason died serving with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, his story is told here.

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23 July 1916
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