Roger Fenton, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Robert Capa... James Mason!!!
Honouring a Landmark Figure in the World History of War Photography

The Paardeberg Sword - Pattern 1845 - Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO

Maj. James Cooper Mason DSO, RCR - 1875 -1923 - 6 - The Soldier

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The photo shows how James' studio gear has been adapted to fit circumstances for a soldier on a battlefront.

They are all in khaki now, to render them less visible to the sharp-eyed Boer marksmen. The white helmet has been covered with a khaki cover.

Their swords are gone, languishing in a tent, and replaced with a Lee Metford bayonet. Both carry a Lee Metford .303 rifle with ammo on bandoliers and in pouches.

They are also carrying binoculars, and a haversack stuffed with provisions.

Note how the Sam Brownes are carried the same way Pee Wee Herman carried his belt, way up there, nowhere near the waist.

The bandoliers both carry .303 rounds in single tubes. They have to be loaded by the each, into the rifle to be fired. A very slow process, while Boers, with the same motion, were loading clips of five Mauser cartridges.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

One of James' most famous photographs from Belmont, South Africa, is of himself right and of Lt. Temple left all loaded up for night piquet duty.

Evening is already starting to fall; it is Christmas Eve 1899 - and the hottest time of the summer. At Belmont Station, in South Africa, the Canadians had taken over a battlefield from the British Army and were taking a couple of months of intensive training to teach the mostly Canadian civvy volunteers from which end of a rifle the bullets came...

The Canadian hospital at Belmont, just steps from where the photo left was taken, discovered by Canadian historian John Goldi in 2000, and which he brought to the attention of the Canadian Government (Minister of Heritage, Parks Canada, Historic Sites & Monuments Board, and Veteran's Affairs Canada), all of whom had, previously, been unaware of its existence and significance.


Photo, Lt. Temple & Lt. Mason (r), RCR, Belmont, South Africa, 1899

Orig. Mason Photo - Size - 13 x 13 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

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Go to Canada Recognizes Our Discoveries

As a result of our Belmont discoveries, our campaign to recognize Canada's role in the Boer War in 1900, and our complaints that in 100 years the Canadian Government had placed not a single marker anywhere on any Canadian historic or heritage site in South Africa - where some 300 Canadian men and women lost their lives in service to their country - the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has finally said it will place official markers in South Africa, to rectify this egregious lapse, though no one has notified us where or when. They will become the first Canadian heritage markers ever placed on the African continent.


James had his photo taken at the Livernois studio seen here in Quebec City, in 1890, nine years before he paid a visit.

He would have walked down the sidewalk from the upper right to enter the angle building's front door. He would have avoided crossing the street and all the horse turds everywhere.

Three generations of the Livernois family operated one of Canada's top photography studios here from the mid 19th century, until 1974.

 



Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous photo of one of Canada's finest sons, on the eve of his departure to take part in Canada's first ever, military expedition overseas.

It is October 1899, and Lt. James Cooper Mason of the newly formed Royal Canadian Regiment is posing in the Livernois studio in Quebec City, only hours away from embarking on Sardinian, and a year long adventure that would be the highlight of his life, as a man, and as a soldier.

Soldier - He would return as one of Canada's most decorated heroes, being mentioned in dispatches by Lord Roberts, and winning the Distinguished Service Order for extreme bravery under fire, at Paardeberg, the bloodiest battle of the entire Boer War.

But James was far more than a soldier.

War Photographer - He would also bring back photos that entitled him to be ranked among the great pioneers in the world history of war photography, because he applied to that rare art, the same raw courage and passion that he did to his calling as a soldier. The helmet he is holding would be punctured, and his badge shot away, only four months later, as he took his famous action photo under fire at Paardeberg.

Athlete - James was also one of North America's top individual and team scullers at a time when that sport attracted the finest athletes in the land. He won North American championships both as an individual sculler and team crew.

In 1902, his crew of Argonaut 8s would win the rare honour of being invited to compete at the famous Henley Regatta in England.


Cabinet Card, Lt. James Cooper Mason RCR - Livernois, Quebec, Oct. 1899
Orig. cab card - Size - 13 x 18 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

The photo gives us a good view of how a Victorian officer distributed his essential gear with the help of his Sam Browne.

To support the heavy sword on his left, and pistol on his right, James uses double braces, like suspenders, to pass the weight from the belt to the shoulders. Leather straps from the sword frog, are hooked to D rings sewn to the belt. The ammunition pouch sits at the front.

The helmet remained white as the men marched aboard ship, but in South Africa, it was painted khaki and fitted with a khaki cover. It became obvious that the Boers could see the white helmets miles away. And many a Victorian officer paid with his life for his flashy headwear.


Livernois was one of Canada's two top photography houses in the 19th century.




Go to The Troopship Sardinian
Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005

Here is the utility knife supplied to Canadians just a dozen years later for use in World War I.

It shows just how fabulous was James' utility knife in comparison to what runts were given, who in fact, had to carry out most of the dirty work where such tools were necessary.

Of note is the Canadian hallmark featuring the Queen's broad arrow inside a C for Canada.

Canadian collectors especially appreciate items with these markings because far fewer were produced than of those just carrying the broad arrow.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous personal utility knife of a great Victorian soldier.

In Victorian times every man - and almost every boy - carried a pocket knife. There certainly was no soldier without one.

James Mason's utility knife was one of the very finest of the age, the equivalent of the Swiss Army Knife of our day, made by George Butler & Co. of Sheffield, England.

It is large, rugged, has heavy staghorn scales and features an array of handy tools, including, from the top clockwise:

- a saw, file, and screwdriver combination

- regular knife

- a broken end of a blade, probably for whittling, that must have been very handy and no doubt broke from constant use

- a corkscrew

- a double size drill for leather, tin, or wood

- a triangular leather punch

- pullout tweezers that slide into the end near the bail

- pullout toothpick is missing


George Butler & Co. Utility Knife - Capt. James Cooper Mason, 1899
Orig. knife - Size - 11 cm body
Found - Cambridge, ON


We know James had this knife in South Africa because he has inscribed his name as Capt. Mason, which promotion he received in 1899. So Butler made this knife in the 1890s.

It must have been very shiny when James boarded Sardinian with it in late October.

No doubt it received more than its share of abuse on a campaign that lasted for a year in South Africa before it came home with James.

It left a blade, and a toothpick, somewhere in the dusty veldt...

 

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous early 20th century Sam Browne and whistle.

The Sam Browne is the standard body harness to which an officer attaches all the equipment he needs on campaign or parade.

James had been a militiaman for years, before the Boer War came along in 1899.

As a member of the 10th Royal Grenadiers, in Toronto, he became a 2nd Lieutenant in 1894, a Captain in 1899 and a Major in 1910.

His military equipment was what he wore when supervising drill and on parade functions in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Like many officers who applied to join Canada's First Contingent for South Africa, he knew that he would have to take a lesser rank if he wanted to get accepted.


Sam Browne Belt & Whistle - Lt. James Cooper Mason
Orig. leather - Size - 23 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON


James was commissioned as a lieutenant, in the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry (RCRI) in October, 1899, and got an entirely new outfit: Sam Browne, uniform, pistol, sword, etc. which he wears in the cabinet card above.

With one exception, as we will note below, he left his militia gear at home, to use again when he returned, after his one year service contract was up.

The Sam Browne we feature here, is not the one he took to Africa. His militia belt had need for only one shoulder brace, to support the belt on the heavy sword side.

During the Boer War James wore double braces, because the pistol needed support on the other side.

What is rare on this belt is that it has a whistle holster.

On the Western Front, during World War I, officers would blow prearranged signals and the whole company would charge out of the trenches and into machine gun fire to the sound of his whistle.

No doubt, for years afterwards, many a surviving soldier would wake up in a cold sweat because he thought he heard the deadly whistle blast in his sleep.

This time he was sure, his number was up...

 

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Photo, Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO, RCR, A Halt on the Way (to Paardeberg), 1900
Orig. Mason Photo - Size - 13 x 13 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON


Further proof that James wore his sword in the field, while on the march to Paardeberg.

Would he have left it in the tent on going into action on Bloody Sunday?

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Bacon Print, Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg, Feb. 28, 1900
Orig. chromolithograph - Image Size - 56 x 76 cm
Found - Montreal, QC

A famous print features a Canadian officer waving his sword as the Dashing Canadians lead the final attack leading to the Boer Surrender. It could not be Lt. James Mason. For one thing he was already in hospital, from wounds suffered nine days earlier during his own heroic date with destiny on Bloody Sunday. For another, James would never be this far back in a charge, but in the front lines.

About another thing we have no doubt. Leading his men in his first charge in a real battle on Bloody Sunday, did he wave his sword as he urged his men on? James would never have left his proudest symbol of achievement and authority in his tent.

Go to Majuba Day
Go to Paardeberg Memories
Go to Paardeberg

 

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Lieutenant's Commission - Lt. James Cooper Mason DSO - Signed Lord Aberdeen, FW Borden
Orig. commission - Size - 30 x 40 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

A fabulous Victorian commission granting James Cooper Mason a Lieutenancy in the Canadian Militia retroactive to 1895. This acknowledgement is dated July 29, 1897.

It is signed by the Governor-General of Canada at the time, the Earl of Aberdeen.

Go to Earl of Aberdeen

 

 


It is signed at the bottom by Frederick Borden, who was the Minister of Militia and Defence all during Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Prime Ministership, from 1896 till 1911.

Frederick Borden lost his only son in South Africa just a couple of months after Paardeberg.

The sword was the visible symbol of the signatures of the mightiest powers in the land in witnessing the solemn patriotic commitment of an officer in the Canadian Forces at the time.

Go to Frederick Borden

The British (Canadian) Infantry Sword Pattern of 1845
(the same as the JC Mason sword above)


In 1845 the British Forces adopted a new sword pattern to meet the changing demands of those who complained from the field that the current weapon they were using was not as good as it could be in dealing with the various groups of Fuzzy Wuzzies its officers were trying to subdue in various parts of the world.

Left an example of the 1845 Pattern infantry officer's sword with original scabbard, showing the slight upward bend in the blade and scabbard section.

It has a leather field scabbard. For infantry officers the brass scabbard was standard.

This sword has been cleaned too much and looks like the day it was first issued. Compare this with James' sword and its wonderful patina from 100 years of no polishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The 1822 pattern was the direct predecessor of the 1845 pattern infantry sword which, with hilt and curved blade, it superficially resembles.

But the 1822 pattern had a flat blade with no fuller (trough along the centre of the blade to give it flexibility) and had a pipeback, literally a tube running down the back to give it stiffness above and below..


1822 Pattern infantry officer's (pipeback) sword with curved scabbard (Wm. IV cypher)



1822 Pattern infantry officer's (pipeback) sword with curved scabbard (Wm. IV cypher)

In 1845 the 1822 pattern was updated. Most importantly, the pipeback was removed and a fuller (trough running along the length of both sides of the blade to give it more flexibility) was added. The guard was made more substantial, acquiring a decidedly Gothic look. (see Mason above.)


1845 Pattern infantry officer's sword with standard infantry brass curved scabbard (Victoria cypher)


1845 Pattern infantry officer's sword with (probably) 1897 straight scabbard - it will not fit (Victoria cypher)

In 1895 a new infantry officer's sword pattern was introduced, to give officers a stiffer thrusting blade and a better guard. With a minor modification, to remove part of a hinged guard, the sword was issued finally as the 1897 pattern. And in 1899, during the Boer War, the Sam Browne leather covered wooden scabbard was made generally available for field use for the first time below.


1895 Pattern infantry officer's sword with straight nickel plated scabbard (Victoria cypher)


1897 Pattern infantry officer's sword with straight leather Sam Browne field scabbard (Victoria cypher)

The 1897 pattern infantry officer's sword has been called "the best fighting sword ever prescribed for the infantry officer" which has been repeated ad nauseum by unthinking militaria buffs. Considering the sword had an active life, as a tool of war, of only a year or so, this can be considered a completely worthless evaluation at the time in history when the sword was made totally irrelevant by the machine gun and the accurate long distance firing rifle.

Used by some in the Sudan in 1898, it was worse than useless in the Boer War because, except for some rare close encounters, early in the war, no one got close enough to Boers to use it, and anyone who wore it with its shiny scabbard was marked for instant death by a far away Boer sniper. Some who carried it - out of nostalgia - painted it black like the one from the Northumberland Fusiliers shown here right and below.

Most officers chucked it into the trunk in the tent and only hauled it out for wear at fancy soirées, when the enemy it was designed to dispatch was far away. Frankly, the 1897 pattern infantry officer's sword was far more effective as a chick magnet than a tool of war.

Below comparing the 1845 with the 1897 infantry officer's sword patterns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




When evaluating the military effectiveness of the two swords one must remember that the 1845 pattern lasted for some 50 years, during the last period of hand-to-hand sword fighting in British history. Now that is praise for a sword, however many were the complaints. On the other hand, the 1897 pattern lasted, as a tool of war, for only a couple of years. As a fighting sword it never graduated from the beta version. It has lasted as the sword pattern for British infantry officers for 110 years, not because it is the best sword design ever, but because it looks nice at dances...

Both swords have a Queen Victoria cypher, both blades are 83 cm long. Both have wooden hilts covered with fish or sharkskin.

Side by side it's easy to tell the 1845 pattern sword from its 1897 pattern replacement.

The rather flexible, fragile, and curving 1845 sword, designed for slashing and cutting was replaced with a sturdier, straight blade designed more for stabbing.

To this end, the cutting length of the blade, which began right at the hilt in the 1845 pattern, was dramatically reduced with only the last half of the blade being sharpened in the 1897 sword.

(This explains why what looks like the back of the blade, is really the unsharpened section of the blade edge near the guard you are seeing.) This made the blade thicker near the hilt and much stiffer - better for piercing your enemy, if you could ever get close to one - and more substantial when holding it up to parry blows.

The 1845 sword had a cast brass guard with a Gothic design; the 1897 pattern, a pressed basket of pierced and stamped steel. This was a big improvement as the brass guard tended to break.

This is the sword in use today, with only the cypher of the reigning monarch changing, like to the George V one right.

In 1898, in an earlier war which white European Christians waged against Muslim tribesmen in the Sudan, British officers praised the sword, reporting that it "did extremely good work on the Dervishes." It is not known how well the sword is faring in the latest war which white European Christians are waging against the Muslims and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, though countless 1897 pattern swords are in service there.

Sword knots could be elaborate for dress parades. James' knot, of tough leather, is the one that is attached when you are expecting to use it in some serious combat.

The 1845 pattern, of the British infantry officer's sword, was adorned with what is known as a Gothic hilt (more correctly "guard," the basket that shields the hand.).

The dominant visual feature of the guard are the three parallel and pointy cut outs, reminiscent of the windows in a Gothic cathedral.

The guard is solid brass and also features the cypher of Queen Victoria.

The white dust remains from the last time James brassoed it for parade, almost a hundred years ago.

This 1845 pattern sword had been replaced two years before, with the 1897 infantry officer's sword. No doubt the officers of the First Contingent to South Africa were also provided with the new sword.

But we don't believe the officers wore them. Photographs we've examined show officers on Sardinian wearing the old style 1845 sword, not the new issue. They kept their militia swords.

Stands to reason. The officers were proud that they were commissioned long ago, not just greenhorns, in time for the South African War. The sword was the symbol of everything good they stood for as members of the Canadian Militia. They wanted their swords on campaign, just as the sovereign wanted her scepter at the coronation.


So, we believe James followed suit and took this sword to South Africa. In fact in James' Livernois Quebec photo above he is wearing a Pattern 1845 sword. It can be none other than his militia sword from the Royal Grenadiers. He wouldn't dream of leaving that behind on his greatest adventure as a soldier.

Sam Brownes may come and go. But a Victorian officer had an emotional tie to the sword that signifies his close professional duty to the sovereign, and his emotional bond with his country, and countrymen, in whose name he served.

The sword is clearly identified as belonging to James Cooper Mason of the 10th Royal Grenadiers.

Go to James leaves on Sardinian


Right and below RCR officers on board Sardinian on the way to South Africa.

From details of the hilts that one can make out, all of them are wearing the Pattern 1845 swords.

Though not verified with documentary evidence we believe that James is second from the left in the picture right and far right in the picture below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous discovery is the Victorian sword of Lt. JC Mason DSO.

This was the sword of British and colonial infantry officers all during the reign of Queen Victoria, as the British army spread its military might across Africa, and the Middle East.

Since he was a captain in the Canadian militia - the 10th Royal Grenadiers - in the early 1890s, he wore the standard 1845 pattern British infantry officers's sword.

This pattern was finally replaced with a new sword in 1897. But most officers proudly kept the old one as a sign of their seniority in the service.

James got this sword in 1894, when he received his commission.

The hilt features the original shark skin grip and wire winding, all in tip top shape even though the sword was made some 120 years ago.

It was manufactured in Toronto.

The metal work is all cast brass.

Dangling from a leather strap - it's really supposed to be a wrist strap, so that in combat you wouldn't lose the weapon in violent sword work - is the original decorative acorn sword knot.


1845 Pattern Canadian Infantry Sword - Lt. James Cooper Mason, DSO
Orig. sword - Size - oa 97 cm, blade - 83 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON

Wanted: Dead or Alive - The Stolen Medals of Canadian Major James Cooper Mason DSO


On Feb. 18th, for heroic bravery, as he result of which he was severely wounded, Lord Roberts visited him in his hospital tent on the battlefield at Paardeberg. Bobs mentioned him in dispatches and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Some time, in the 1970s all James' medals were stolen from a house of his relatives in Oakville, Ontario.

A substantial reward is offered to anyone who can - anonymity guaranteed - provide information that will lead to the recovery of these medals.

It is not known what medals all were included in the stolen lot, but at least the DSO, the Queen's South Africa medal, and the Colonial Auxiliary Forces medal would have been involved.

His DSO would have had the Queen Victoria crown and cypher.

The QSA probably has bars for Paardeberg and Cape Colony: possibly Transvaal...

They would bear his name Lt. JC Mason RCR or perhaps Maj. JC Mason 10th RG.

You may contact the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum with information here.