John Charles Mason, Private 10514, 8th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Killed in action 9th April 1916 in Mesopotamia (Iraq), aged 35
John Charles Briggs Mason was born in the early summer of 1881, the son of widow Sarah Mason nee Bickerton of 13 West St, Macclesfield, and Charles Biggs/Briggs, a silk weaver. In 1891, nine year old John was living at 39 Newton Street, Macclesfield with his widowed mother and siblings Rhoda (19), Annie (26), Ralph (18), Fred (14) and Lillie (8).
John was educated at the National School, Duke Street, and attended the Trinity Wesleyan Sunday School.
On 13th September 1897 John joined the 4th (Militia) Cheshire Regiment, receiving service number 3713. At that time he was living at 6 Spitalfields, Macclesfield, and working as a cotton weaver at Lower Heyes Mill. He stated that he was 17 years 9 months old, overstating his age by some 15 months or more. He was described as being 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 122 pounds, with a 32 inch chest, fair complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. On 22nd January 1900 he was embodied into the regular army and appointed Lance Corporal, followed by promotion to Corporal on 1st April. After completing his service in the South African wars, John returned to civilian life in the Militia Reserve on 5th March 1903.
John married Florence Goddard at St Michael’s Church, Macclesfield on 11th April 1903, and they set up home at 28 Newgate, Macclesfield.
Perhaps John missed the military life, as he rejoined the Militia as a private (immediately promoted to corporal) on 21st June 1904, stating that he lived at 1 Preston St and was employed as a silk finisher by Mr Leech of Roe Street. He was now 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 145 pounds with a 35 inch chest and various tattoo marks on both forearms. His records note that he had a wife, Florence Mason, and a son, John Charles (baptised at St Michael’s Church on 2nd February 1904). A daughter, Hilda, was born on 23rd May 1905 and also baptised at St Michael’s Church, on 14th June 1905.
Times may have been hard for the family, as in 1905 they emigrated to Paterson, New Jersey, where their second daughter Hazel was born. John sailed ahead on the ship “Campania”, arriving at New York on 24th June 1905; his intention was to travel to Paterson, New Jersey, where he said his sister Edith Wilson was living. He stated that he was a weaver, and he had just $10 with him. Florence and the children followed on the ship “Luciana” which left Liverpool on 18th November 1905 and arrived at New York one week later. The family’s final destination was East 18th St, Paterson, New Jersey, where John had found them a home. Florence carried $15 with her.
Evidently life in Paterson did not turn out as they had hoped because Florence and the children returned to England on the “Carmania”, arriving at Liverpool on 29th May 1907 when baby Hazel was just six months old. John did not travel with his family but must have returned within the next couple of years, as by 1911 the family was together again, living in Macclesfield at 5 Wellington Street with four children: John Charles (7), Hilda (5), Hazel (4) and Leslie (1). Another daughter, Emily, was born in 1912.
John was a National Reservist, and on the outbreak of war immediately joined the 8th Cheshire Regiment, leaving Macclesfield with other reservists on 22nd August 1914, as reported in the Macclesfield Courier. John was drafted to the Dardanelles, arriving there on 15th November 1915 and fought at Gallipoli before moving on to Egypt. The 8th Battalion reached Mesopotamia on the 28th February 1916. On the 9th April they made an unsuccessful attack on Sannaiyat; the battalion lost five officers, with seven men killed, fifty wounded and sixty-four missing. John was killed in action on this day, aged 35.
It is not clear whether John was a Private or a Corporal when he died; army records appear to show that he was a private, but locally he is often referred to as a corporal.
John’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 19th May 1916:
FOUGHT IN SOUTH AFRICA – WIDOW AND FIVE CHILDREN BEREAVED
Mrs Mason, 5 Wellington St, Macclesfield, has received a War Office notification that her husband, Corporal John Mason, 8th Cheshire Regt., was killed in action on April 9th at a place not stated.
Corporal Mason, who was 35 years of age, was an old soldier and had gained three medals for service in the South African war. He re-enlisted on the outbreak of hostilities, and prior to joining the forces was employed at Leech’s dyeworks, Pearl Street. Corporal Mason underwent twelve months’ training, and was drafted out to Egypt six months ago. While there he wrote several letters home… The last letter was received a fortnight before the news of his death. Corporal Mason was educated at the National School, Duke Street, and attended the Trinity Wesleyan Sunday School.