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Estimate: $ 600 - $ 900
(WORLD WAR TWO.) David Mason. Diary and related papers of a year driving an ambulance in Africa with the American Field Service. More than 100 items, including most notably 66 photographs and a manuscript diary from his war service; condition generally strong. Vp, bulk May 1942 to June 1943
David Woodrow Mason (1917-2007) of Larchmont, NY had an unusual and eventful experience in the war. He had been a 6'5" tennis star at Columbia University, but was not drafted because of imperfect eyesight. Eager to serve the cause, he signed up as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service, who sent him to North Africa. He was attached to the British Eighth Army as they pressed the Axis from Syria all the way to Tunisia.
His diary begins on 20 May 1942 with an 82-day passage by Dutch freighter across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope, followed by two months in Syria, tending to a regiment of Nepalese Gurkhas. On 12 October 1942 he was suddenly dispatched for the desert front. In Egypt on 25 October he reported "One of my section is from Free French who are just north of Qattara depression, ambulance shot full of holes. As he was dragging patient out to safety, explosive bullet hit & killed patient. Stuck in sand & had to await tank to be pulled." On 6 November near Daba, Egypt: "My first sight of soldiers killed in action, lying right beside road, already beginning to smell. Booby traps all around, and even though there is lots of loot to pick up, it is best to be careful. Several in CCS [Casualty Clearing Station] from those set off by fountain pens, water bottles, etc." He crossed into Libya on 15 November. After weeks in the desert with no bath, he washed his clothing in petrol on 1 December. On 8 January 1943, he wrote "Camp on road about 70 miles from Benghazi. Patient sleeps right next to me with contagious jaundice--great sport!" Pressing into Tunisia, he reported on 7 April "Germans retreating now. . . . Several hundred Jerry prisoners pass by walking to POW cages." Outside of Tunis on 7 May, "we take 4 Jerry wounded back to CCS, looting their kit as we go; can't say I dealt gently with bumps. . . . They were very young and dead tired, probably hadn't slept in four days." The next day, entering liberated Tunis, was "the most exciting day of my life. . . . The people are wild, cheering, clapping, throwing flowers. . . . Climb aboard a Churchill tank and feel like Caesar as we acknowledge acclaim of crowds." This festive day was a fitting end to his year of service, and he was soon en route homeward; the diary ends on 20 May, with a few additional memoranda about some Egyptian sightseeing and the trip home. Mason spent most of his long postwar life in Fryeburg, ME, where he ran a camp.
Included with the diary are 66 photographs from this period, showing Mason and his fellow drivers as well as the North African scenery. One shows an American Field Service ambulance with its front tire blown off by a land mine (illustrated). Other ephemera includes a large folding map of northern Egypt; a paperback war-era history titled "The Conquest of North Africa"; 8 pieces of paper money collected from various nations; 3 period newspaper clippings; an air-dropped safe-conduct pass intended to convince Italian troops to surrender; other contraband found after German retreats; and about 50 postcards and photographs from tourist sites in Egypt and Jerusalem. A CD containing a long 2007 interview with Mason about his war experience is also included, as well as a detailed transcript of the diary embellished with photographs, additional documents, a route map, and a full itinerary.
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