People on board
MASON, James Black
James Black Mason was born in Rhode Island on the 11th of November 1892 to John and Rachel Mason. He was the second of their five children and the eldest of three sons. John Mason was a Carpenter and the family lived at Gibb Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. John was aged ninety in the 1930 census and had died before the 1940 census. In the 1920 census all five children, in their twenties and single, were living at home.
James Mason was employed as a Machinist at the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Newport. In December 1917 eleven machinists at the station, including James Mason, volunteered for “Duty for Torpedo Overhaul and Repair for the Navy, operating in European Waters”, under the condition that they would have to enlist in the Navy. They were assigned the rating of Chief Special Mechanic, a new rating created by Congress to obtain various technical specialists needed by the Navy for the war. The group left New York on USS St Louis on the 19th of December, reaching Liverpool on the 28th and Queenstown on the 30th. They began work at the Torpedo Repair Station on Haulbowline Island on the 3rd of January 1918.
James Mason was going on leave when he travelled on RMS Leinster on the 10th of October. He made a written report to the Officer in Charge of the Torpedo Repair Station in which he described the sequence of events from when the first torpedo hit the ship to the subsequent sinking shortly afterwards.
He was involved in successfully launching two lifeboats but when the ship started sinking he lowered himself by a rope into the water though he was not wearing a lifebelt. He swam to three rafts before finding one that was relatively empty. Captain Hutch Cone, a U.S. naval officer, was on the raft with both his legs broken, and he afterwards credited James Mason with keeping him safely on the raft in the rough sea.
Eventually they were rescued by a Motor Launch whose crew were highly praised for their efforts in getting Captain Hutch on board, though again James Mason played a large part. In November his “commendable conduct” was reported to the Secretary of the Navy with the recommendation that he “receive the Department’s commendation”.
James Mason returned to Newport and resumed work at the Naval Torpedo Station. About 1943 he married Isaline Clara Rodda and a daughter Marilyn was born in 1945. He died in July 1957 aged sixty-five and was buried in St Mary’s Episcopal Churchyard in Portsmouth, Newport County.