One of the ambitions of the Heritage team volunteers in their research project into the names recorded on the War Memorial in the Cemetery was to create a whole picture of each individual serviceman, so that they are more than just a sad inscription on a memorial. All of these men had lives before they enlisted – even if some of these lives were very short – they all had families and many left children behind when they died.
All of the Heritage volunteers are really hoping that, as part of this research process we will actually find photographs of the servicemen. Many thousands of service men would have had an ‘official’ photograph taken by a professional photographer either before leaving the UK or once they were in Belgium or France. Proudly wearing their uniform, they would sometimes have the photograph taken with a family member, their wife or girl-friend, a brother also in uniform or a child they were leaving behind.
Newspapers regularly reported on their local men who had enlisted, including a photograph where possible, as a way of encouraging more men to sign up. Sadly, many reports from families announcing the death of a son, father or brother might also include a photograph. These final images would become a treasured possession.
So far we have only been able to locate the photograph of one of our service men.
Stoker 1st Class Peter Mason was born on 13th August 1891. He was one of the 9 children (only five of whom were alive by the 1911 census) of Thomas and Sarah Mason who lived in Stepney and Mile End. Peter was working as a store repairer in the gasworks in the 1911 census and his widowed mother is supporting the household by working as trouser finisher, despite being 62 years of age. Peter’s father also worked in the gas works (in the 1901 census) as a labourer and it is probable that he helped his son obtain his job.
Peter enlisted on the 8th June 1915 in the Royal Navy, Chatham. He served on board six different ships, including the shore base at HMS Pembroke. His last ship was HMS Victorious, one of nine Majestic-class pre-dreadnought battleships, which ended her war service as a repair ship for the Grand Fleet. Peter died of pneumonia on 12th November 1918 at the age of 27 years. He left a widow, Emmie, living at 16 Bale Street (a couple of doors down from Number 28 where he had been living with his mother in 1911). The couple had one daughter, Rose Nell, who was born on 6th November 1918. Peter never met his baby daughter. He is buried in Grave Nu 1517 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
It would be wonderful if we could find other pictures of the War Memorial men so please do get in touch if you have any memorabilia you would like to share with the Heritage research volunteers. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org
The photograph of Peter and his Jack Russell dog is available on www.bbc.co.uk/remembrance/wall/. It was uploaded by Peter’s great grand-daughter.