Published: September 08, 2019
William Ernest ‘Bill’ or ‘Billy’ Mason was born on January 8, 1910 in Kimberley to Ernest Joseph Mason, who was born in 1888 and Johanna Catherine Graham (formerly Mason), who was born Botes in 1892. Ernest and Johanna were married in 1915 in Kimberley, and at the time of their wedding, Ernest was employed as a cook in the 10th Mounted Field Ambulance Corps in Kimberley.
After Ernest’s death in 1918, Johanna married postal worker, James William Graham on April 9, 1921 in Pietermaritzburg.Bill had two siblings: his sister, Gladys Catherine Mason – born February 22, 1912 – married Clifford Henry Johnson, a farmer from Tweedie in Natal, while his brother, Reginald Ralph Mason – born July 8, 1918 – was a motor mechanic who served in the South African Air Force during the war.
Reginald married Vera Doreen Gay in 1943, while he was stationed at 1 Voortrekker Air Station, Roberts Heights, Pretoria.
Bill was educated in Pietermaritzburg, where his mother and stepfather lived (270 Victoria Road).
Bill joined the Post Office and worked in Pietermaritzburg, Vryheid and Greytown, before joining up with the South African Artillery Corps for the war. On September 1, 1934 in the Methodist Church in Vryheid, Bill married Mary Adams, a farm girl who grew up near the town with her siblings.
Mary’s niece, Monica Alice Walker was her flower girl, the matron of honour was Honey Bell, and best man was John Bell.
After their marriage, Bill and Mary lived on Church Street.
Bill was the father of two boys and one girl: Warwick Ernest Mason, who married Marie van der Vyver and passed away in February 2009; Anthony Malcolm Mason, who is married to Jane and lives on the Breede River about 40 kilometres from Swellendam in the Western Cape; and Valerie Joan Roux neè Mason, who is married to a retired Minister and lives in Newcastle.
As a bombardier with the SA Artillery, Bill was killed in action on December 31, 1941, during an attack on Bardia/ El Burdi in Libya, when the Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car in which he was a crew member was hit by enemy machine gun fire.
He sustained a fatal bullet wound to the head.
The Vryheid Gazette of January 16, 1942 read: “The names of Jack Frame, son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Frame of Vryheid and Wm. (Bill) Mason, at one time on the staff of the Local Post Office appeared in a wire received from Pretoria, as being killed in action in Libya. We extend our deepest sympathy to their relatives in their tragic loss.”
An edition of the Vryheid Gazette (date unknown) read: “MARITZBURG CASUALTIES. The following information about Maritzburg men have been received by their nearest of kin: Killed in Action. Bombardier William Ernest Mason, husband of Mrs. M. Mason, of Vryheid, and eldest son of Mrs. J.W. Graham, of Maritzburg.”
The men who died together with Bill were Major Mansfield Sired of the Second Field Regiment, who was the husband of Queenie I, Sired of Pietermaritzburg; Gunner Cyril William Fuller of the South African Artillery, who was the son of William John and Edith Evelyn Fuller of Durban; and Sergeant Thomas Francis Spaven Staples of Maseru, who was educated at St. Andrews College in Grahamstown.
In a letter addressed to “My dear Mrs Mason” and dated February 15, 1942, Reverend W.R. Duxbury of the Second Field Regiment of the Union Defence Force wrote to Mary, informing her he was the one who had retrieved the bodies of Bill, ‘Jack’ Sired, Cyril Fuller and Thomas Staples from their armoured car, and he had laid them to rest in a little cemetery at Sidi Azeiz near Bardia.
After Bill’s death, Mary lived at Landdrost Street and later Church Street, across the road from the high school.
She never married again, and was the Librarian of the Carnegie Library.
Mary also taught Sunday school, ran a boarding house across the road from the old Vryheid Market where OK Supermarket once stood, ran a tuck shop, and was a leader of the Boy Cubs Troop.
She adopted a teenager boy named John Maree into the family.
John matriculated from Vryheid High School, and became a school teacher himself, teaching English at Vryheid High and then Hoërskool Pionier.
John married fellow teacher, Sybil Steyn in 1972 in Kokstad.
In 1986, John and Sybil moved to Pietermaritzburg and in 2015, John died there after suffering from lung cancer.
On the May 9, 1997, Mary passed away and she was buried in Newcastle.
William Ernest ‘Bill’ Mason’s final resting place is the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery in Egypt and his name is inscribed on the War Memorial in Vryheid.
Lest we forget.
See more photos in the gallery below…
The permanent Grave Stone marking Bombardier William Ernest Mason's final resting place in the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery in Egypt. The graves of Bombardier William Ernest Mason and other Allied Servicemen who fell at Bardia in North Africa. Sybil and John Maree, shortly before his death in 2015. Sisters- Honey, Mary and Gladys Adams. Reginald Ralph Mason. Private Ernest Joseph Mason. Private Ernest Joseph Mason. Mary's adopted son John Maree. Mary with Anthony, Warwick and Valerie when William Ernest was up North. Mary Mason. She never married again after William's death. Mary Mason, far left, was the Vryheid Town Librarian for many years at the Carnegie Library. Mary Mason posing in the garden. Mary Mason in later years. Mary Mason and her three children in a garden here in Vryheid. Mary and William Ernest Mason just before he was off to war. Mary and Bill, in those carefree days before the war came. John Maree and the mother who adopted, cared for, and loved him, Mary Mason. Bombardier William Ernest Mason's grave at Sidi Azeiz near Bardia in Libya. Bombardier Bill Mason, third row, 6 from left. Bill Mason and his wife Mary with their son's Warwick and Anthony before Valerie's arrival. Bill Mason and his mother Johanna Catherine Graham. A newspaper report on Bombardier Mason's death. A letter to Mary Mason by King George 1953 in Vryheid. Mary with Tony,Valerie and Warwick.
Also read: ‘The Lord gives and He takes away’ – RIP Brigadier Andreas Roelof van Ellinckhuyzen
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