Rosie Dyson from our Digital Content Team writes about Jack Mason’s collection.

The Digital Content Team based in Special Collections receive many varied and interesting requests for digitisation. A recent standout came in the form of a family link. The granddaughter of John (Jack) Mason got in touch to find out more about her grandfather’s items, housed in the Liddle Collection. We were able to digitise his collection in full which amounted to over 1000 images. The family have kindly given permission to make these images openly available on the Special Collections catalogue so watch this space.

Private Jack Mason in uniform on a horse. Image credit Leeds University Library.

It was a real pleasure to digitise Jack Mason’s collection, and like many Liddle boxes, a treasure trove made up of various items. Jack wrote detailed diaries spanning 1915-1918 and collected military badges from many different regiments. His written correspondence and manuscript documents, along with the buttons, badges and medals make up the majority of the collection, however also present are press cuttings, letters, pay books, photographs and military records. From a digitisation point of view the variety of media presented some photography challenges. Different lighting techniques, cameras and setups were used based on their suitability for each object. Items were categorised by size and type prior to digitisation in order to snap groups of items which required similar photographic set ups. Flat-bed scanners, Phase One and Canon cameras, flash kits and static lighting were all utilised to complete the job in the Digitisation Studio.

Documents belonging to Jack Mason. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Jack Mason served in the First World War as a Private in the 9th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, joining up in 1915 aged 18. In April 1918 he was hit in the head by shell splint. A week after returning to action following recuperation from his injury he was captured, becoming a prisoner of war after a German ambush. Having witnessed horrific violence and multiple fatalities as a result of the attack, he carried wounded Allies and Germans to safety. Jack’s vivid diaries tell of the adversities he faced upon his detention, being kept in cages, fighting for food in squalid conditions whilst carrying out back breaking work such as railway and road building. The food shortages were particularly influenced by the Blockade of Germany and Jack describes the gradually worsening conditions for all involved. Despite this his diary entries remained optimistic, which proves testament to his character.

Jack’s bravery was recognised by George V who wrote to him on his release later in 1918. “The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries and hardships which you have endured with so much patience and courage”

Receipt of the images provoked an emotional response from his granddaughter who was “so grateful for everything you have done, the level of care in copying every page has blown me away”. To reunite a relative with copies of these precious items is a heart-warming example of how Special Collections forges links and creates important engagement opportunities.