Masters, Clarence William "Molly" (1897-1975): A Coal Miner's Life and His Reminiscence of World War I

  • Posted 11/30/2008
  • Essay 8858
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Clarence Masters, known to everyone as "Molly," was a coal miner who worked in east King County mines for his whole life. As a boy he had lived with his family in Port Blakely, but was made an orphan by the disaster of the steamer Dix, which collided with another vessel and sank on November 18, 1906, with a loss of at least 39 lives, including the mother, father, and stepbrother of Clarence Masters. Clarence went to his older brother in the coal town of Wilkeson, and eventually became part of the George Morris family, first as an orphaned child and helper, and then, after growing up, by marrying his "sister," Marian Mae Morris (1902-1978). This People's History contains four  parts: A short biography of Clarence "Molly" Masters by Betty (Morris) Falk (1920-2006), the story of how Clarence Masters came to be called "Molly" by Evan Morris Sr. (1922-2006), Masters' own reminiscence of his life as a soldier in World War I, and a poem composed by Molly Masters. Molly Masters retired from coal mining in 1964 and died in Enumclaw in 1975. This People's History was contributed by William Kombol, Manager of the Palmer Coking Coal Company, in Black Diamond.

Clarence William Masters: His Story by Betty Falk 

Not much is known about Clarence’s early life. He had an older brother Leonard and his mother’s name was Gracia. The family came to the United States from Canada and settled in the mill town of Port Blakely. On Sunday, November 18, 1906, tragedy struck the family as they were returning home from a weekend excursion to Seattle. The steamer Dix on which they were passengers struck the steam schooner, Jeanie, off Alki Point and the top heavy Dix quickly sank claiming the lives of 45 passengers, mostly Port Blakely Mill workers. The disaster captured the headlines of both Seattle daily papers for the next week. The story of Leonard Masters’ orphaned status was featured on the front page of the Seattle P.I. Clarence, it seems had been left behind at home and avoided the fate, which claimed his mother, father, and stepbrother.

In an interview with Clarence’s niece, Shirley Masters Jones, I learned that Clarence lived with an aunt and uncle for a time before being enrolled at St. Martin’s High School in Lacey, Washington. According to records at St. Martin’s, Clarence entered the “Second Prep Class” on September 11, 1910, and received high marks in conduct, mathematics, and history. On September 5, 1911, he enrolled in the “Prep Commercial Class” and stayed for three fourths of the academic year. In the spring of 1912, at the age of 15 he left St. Martin’s on his own initiative (ran away) and found his way to Wilkeson, Washington, where Leonard Masters was living and working. Len did not exactly welcome his brother, and Clarence was left to his own devices.

My grandfather, George Morris (1856-1936), owned a livery stable in Wilkeson. The brothers still at home, Ed, Bill, and my father (John Henry Morris) worked there. Clarence, according to his niece by marriage, Emily Merritt Porter, hung around the stable making himself useful. He slept at the stable at night and Grandpa would bring him into the house for a meal form time to time. Eventually, Grandma (Mary Ann [Williams] Morris, 1860-1934) decided that since he was working and eating with the family, he might as well be sleeping there too. Clarence had found a home with the Morris family in the coal mining town of Wilkeson.

On March 17, 1917, Clarence celebrated his twentieth birthday. On April 6, the United States declared war with the German Empire. Nine days later, Clarence Masters enlisted in the U.S. Army in Tacoma Washington. Edward Morris (1889-1959) and William “Bill” Morris (1897-1979) also enlisted about this time. Clarence received his training in the artillery division and eventually joined the allied forces in France several months before the November 11, 1918, Armistice was signed. Clarence served a second tour in the army and was finally discharged on June 23, 1920.

Clarence and Marian Mae Morris exchanged letters all through his army service. His letters to her often began “Dear Sis” or “Sis Marian.” Hers were “Dear Bro” or sometimes “Brother Clarence.” By the time Clarence was discharged and came home, the little “sister” he had been writing to was a young lady and Clarence was a young man who had served his country honorably. They began to regard each other in a different light!  

Clarence and Marian were married on September 14, 1926. They were happily married for 49 years. They had no children, having lost one baby boy who was stillborn.

Clarence worked for Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company and Palmer Coking Coal Company for all his adult life. He worked in a number of different mines in eastern King County. He drove coal trucks and ran the hoist at various underground mines. His last job was as the hoistman at the Rogers #2 mine in Landsburg near Ravensdale.  He retired in December 1964. He died in Enumclaw, Washington, on July 12, 1975, at the age of 78. To most friends and relatives, he was known simply as Molly. Marian died three years later on June 5, 1978, at the age of 76.

Molly’s brother, Leonard Grenville Masters, died in 1950 at age 58. He was born in Vancouver B.C. and served in the Coast guard during both world wars. For much of his adult life he ran a service station on the Auburn-Enumclaw highway. Leonard was survived by two daughters: Shirley Masters Jones and Helen Masters Bean.

How Clarence Masters Got the Name "Molly" by Evan Morris Sr.

Clarence Masters gained the nickname "Molly" while as a youth working in the coal mines in Spiketon.  He was small in stature compared to the husky Yugoslavians developing the mine.  Whenever they would need some heavy props to shore up their tunneling they would form a chain of miners to pass up the timbers.  When they had enough they would pass the word down to the "little one," meaning Clarence, to stop supplying timber, saying "checki per molla."  In their Serbo-Croatian language, "Checki" meant "hold it" or "slow down" and "per molla" meant "little one." The nickname Molly stuck and followed him the rest of his life. Molly Masters worked in the coal mines until retiring in 1964 at age 67.

Journal of the Great War

by Sergeant Clarence W. Masters

Supply Company 78th Field Artillery
Camp Grant, Illinois
June 3, 1920

Enlisted in the U.S. Army, April 15, 1917 at Tacoma, Washington and was sent to Seattle, Washington for final exam, and sent to Fort Lawton, Washington.  From Fort Lawton I went to Fort McDowell, California and arrived there on the first day of May, 1917. Stayed at Fort McDowell until the fourteenth day of June, 1917.  Loaded on the train at the Mole at Oakland, California for Fort Riley, Kansas.  Traveled five days on the train through the states of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and arrived at Riley, Kansas on the nineteenth day of June, 1917 and stayed with that Regiment until it was split to form the 20th and 21st Calvary. Stayed at Fort Riley, Kansas until the third day of November, when our Regiment was entrained for Camp Logan, Texas. Traveled three days on the train through the states of Missouri and Oklahoma and arrived at Camp Logan, Texas on the morning of the sixth day of November, 1917.

The Regiment was then made Provisional Field Artillery Light and received guns at Fort Logan and went into immediate training with same.  Stayed at Camp Logan until the thirtieth day of April, 1918 when we entrained for Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Traveled two days by train and arrived at Fort Sill on the second day of June, 1918. At this post the Regiment was made the 78th Field Artillery Light and went into training with the 75mm. guns at the school of fire under French instructors. Stayed at Fort Sill until the fifth day of July, 1918 when we entrained for the port of embarkation, Camp Mills, Long Island and traveled through the states of Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland and arrived at New York where we were loaded on the ferry boat and taken to Long Island. We arrived there on the tenth day of July, 1918.

At Camp Mills we got all the equipment we were short for overseas service and were given our final exam by a dozen different doctors and on the afternoon of the thirteenth day of July, 1918 we entrained at camp and were taken to Long Island City and loaded on a ferry boat and taken to Hoboken and at four o'clock we started to load on the British transport or freighter Pyruss. Loading was completed at six o'clock and we had supper and went to bed expecting to wake up someplace at sea. Instead, we were still at dock. At six thirty a.m. we left the pier and steamed away out past the Statue of Liberty and in less than an hour were out of sight of land. We then picked up the rest of the convoy of twelve ships and the cruiser Montana and a flock of sub chasers. Also a number of planes and dirigible balloons. These stayed with us all day and part of the next day. They then went back to New York and we continued on our way with the Montana as our bodyguard.

We had the best of weather going over and the only thing that spoiled the trip was the fish and tea that the British handed us every meal and sleeping with your clothes and lifebelt on at all times. After 12 days on the water we steamed into the port of Liverpool, England, and unloaded at what they called the Queen's landing. Then began the hard work. We marched seven miles to Nokey Ash to the American "rest" camps, if you could call it that and if ever any one bunch of men were tired and disgusted, us fellows were. Hiking up hill and over English cobblestones is no joke, especially when you are wearing Uncle Sam's hobnailed boots, for every step you took you slipped back two. The greeting that we got from the English children was great. They came running and asked "hi Yank, have you got any sense?"  Couldn't understand what they meant or wanted until one little fellow who was smarter than the rest said, "Have you got any pennies?"   Well, we all had a good laugh at that.

We finally arrived at the "rest" camp at four o'clock on the 26th day of July, 1918. It was a little camp set out in a field with a stone fence about three feet high all around and if you ever saw a flock of geese flying wrong that is the way the English men and women were around our camp. Had a good rest that night and the next day. Then got a pass and went into the city of Liverpool. Stayed at the rest camp three days and on the morning of the 29 day of July, 1918 we loaded on the train and were on our way to Winchester, England. As each soldier stepped on to the train, he was handed a "Greetings" from King George by some English soldiers who had thousands of them to give out. Old George must have had some job signing all of them. We finally got a-going and arrived at Winchester on the afternoon of the 29th day of July, 1918 and hiked three miles to another rest camp "lots of sport" called Wenodown, which we nicknamed "wear-you-down."  Stayed there all night and while there we lost a number of our men.  They were kept there in quarantine and did not rejoin the Regiment again until sometime in November, 1918.

We left "wear-you-down" Winchester on the morning of July 30, 1918 for Southampton and arrived there about noon of the same day. We were unloaded form the train and marched to the docks and stayed on the docks until six o'clock that evening. While on the docks, I was placed on guard at one of the gates which was along side of a big dry-dock. Walked post all afternoon and was somewhat tired when relieved at six. We were loaded on a boat and started across the Channel for France. That was the most crowded boat I ever saw. You could hardly find room to sit down. Finally got to sleep and when we woke up we were docked at Le Havre, France.

Unloaded on the morning of the 31st day of July and hiked four miles to another of those lovely rest camps. We named it "Cousin Jack's Tea Room" All you could get was tea and some biscuits and fish. Left there on the evening of the 4th day of August 1918. It was at this place that we were baptized under fire, while standing at the depot waiting to load on the trains. Heinie came along over head and dropped a couple of his pickles on the crowd. Certainly was a scared boy that night, pitch dark and those pickles coming singing down and the Frogs banging away at Heinie with their anti-aircraft guns. Sure was shocking to us "babes." But, we stood up under it in great style and were complimented by some big English general for it. That made us feel big and we all wanted to get to the front right away. Just before Heinie let all his pickles go, one of the following sang out, "Hey gang, if we don't get up to the front we can't say we heard the big guns." He was meaning the anti-aircraft guns, which he thought was the big fellows at the front.

We finally got loaded on the train at 2 A.M. and on our way. We didn't know where and didn't care. We traveled five days and were bombed twice while on the train and one night we stayed in a tunnel for more than two hours. We finally arrived at Vercel,  our destination at 12 a.m. on the 9th day of August, 1918 and were sure glad that the train trip was over. Stayed at this Camp Vercel until we then went to Valdahon  and relieved the 33rd Division Artillery at the school of fire and stayed there and fired on the range day and night in all kinds of weather, mostly rainy weather.

It was here that the flu broke out among the men and we lost a great number of men. We left there for Liffol-le-Grand and arrive there late. Stayed at Liffol-le-Grand until the Armistice was signed, in all five months. We then hiked to Tours overland and arrived there after five dreary days. Stayed there for the winter. While at this place I went on furlough to Nice and Monte Carlo and Grenoble. On the 22nd day of May, 1919, we left Tours, France for Brest, the port of embarkation and sailed from Brest on the ship Kaseriana Augusta Flatonia  on the 10th day of June, 1919 and arrived on the 19th of June, 1919.

Went to Camp Mills and re-enlisted on the 24th day of June, 1919. Left there for a month furlough on the 25th day of June and arrived in Seattle, Washington on June 30 and home  on the first of July, 1919. Stayed at home until the evening of the sixteenth of July, 1919. Went to Seattle and from there to Camp Grant, Illinois. Arrived at camp on the 23rd of July, 1919. Stayed at camp until the ninth day of September, 1919 when I left for a three month trip through the State of Indiana on recruiting service and arrived back in camp on November 9th, 1919. Stayed in camp until the 22nd of November, when I left again on recruiting duty to Indianapolis, Indiana. Arriving there I reported for duty on the 25th of November, 1919. Stayed in that city until the 1st of December, 1919 when I was sent to Muncie, Indiana and stayed there until the 27th of March, 1920. Then I went to Rensselaer, Indiana and took charge of a truck and toured the State of Indiana until the 14th day of May, 1920. Then got relieved and sent back to Camp Grant, Illinois.

Arriving in camp on Sunday evening, the 10th of May, 1920, got a job right away as acting first sergeant in the absence of our first sergeant. Have only 18 days more to do. At the time I am writing this, am going to the State of Washington and no more Army life for me, unless called to the colors. Will have three years and two months in and enough for a while.


A dying soldier crazed with pain
sent up the piteous cry:
"Oh! Mother come; kiss me once more
just once more before I die"

A Red Cross angel bent over his cot
as she was passing by
"Mother is here!" she said
and kissed his lip
and heaven forgave the lie.

--by Clarence Masters

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