Clive P. Mason in the AFG

The devil is in the details!

by Alexander F. Barnes

Clive Mason posed with a group of his buddies and co-workers, fourth from the right sitting on the car’s running board. Some of the men who are not in uniform may be either civilian CID agents or German employees of the AFG. With each reduction in assigned “strength,” the AFG hired more local citizens, mainly German Army veterans. They worked as mechanics, quartermasters, and security guards, creating perhaps one of the great ironies of the American occupation: Armed German ex-soldiers guarding the facilities in which the Americans were working and living.

In previous Military Trader issues, we have dug deeply into the “Photo-Archeology” of a Third Army/American Forces in Germany (AFG) barracks, a motor pool and, a unit day room. Now we have the opportunity to examine a few photos of the soldiers of the AFG taken during the middle period of the occupation (mid-1921 to mid-1922) of the German Rhineland. We will view these pictures through the lens of the one soldier in them whom we can identify for certain: Clive Mason.

Mason is certainly an interesting character. Before the war, he worked as a cowboy in California. After being inducted into the Army, Mason was first assigned to the 23rd Company of the Coast Artillery Corps. He was transferred at some point to a Military Police unit and sent to France. When the Third Army marched from France to Germany after the Armistice was signed Mason was with them.

Mason first became noticed in 1919 when, boxing under the name “Chief” Mason (a tribute to his native –American heritage), he established a good record as a light heavyweight including an important victory over a Quartermaster Corps fighter. He also maintained his love of the outdoors and obtained Third Army permits for fishing and hunting.

At some point in his time in Coblenz, site of the AFG HQ, Mason began to work as a member of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Provost Marshall’s Office. As can be imagined, with unoccupied Germany beset by violent and well-armed militias of both left and right wing extremists and equally fervent Rhineland Separatists inside the American occupied zone, the soldiers and civilians of the CID were busy. They were also heavily involved in stemming the flow of black market goods as well as performing background investigations on the German ladies who were becoming engaged to the American soldiers.

Apparently Mason had an aptitude for the work as he appeared to prosper in the job. In 1931, he received a strong recommendation from a former superior officer, now Police Chief of Anaheim, supporting his bid to join the Los Angeles police Department. Mason worked for a while as a private detective in California but eventually settled into doing what he knew and loved best – running a ranch and raising horses.

So here, with this background in mind, is a look at Clive Mason and his comrades.

For more clarity and insight into Clive and his comrades, we need another photograph to reveal some important details. This time, everybody is in uniform and now Mason is standing second from the right, and yes,that is his smile.

Among Clive Mason’s personal papers was this badly damaged photo. He marked it as being two of his good pals. Though it may not have been taken in Coblenz, this photo is relevant for the subject matter. The soldier on the left appears to have the long felt collar “rectangles” that were favored by military police units as backing for their disks. Equally importantly, both of these soldier show two wound stripes each on their right sleeves and three overseas stripes on their right, and while their uniform coats appear to be too small and are stretching at the buttons, they both appear to be “bon soldats.”

What can we take away from our study of Clive Mason? One obvious thought is that, for the soldiers, service in the American Forces in Germany (AFG) was good duty. It was certainly preferable to serving at Fort Sill, Fort Bliss, or other remote Army site in the United States – a country that was then under the rules of Prohibition. Another obvious fact is how well these soldiers are dressed compared to the sorry state in which they arrived in Coblenz in 1918.

What is not obvious is that these soldiers also worked hard; their annual maneuvers in the area around Mayan with live artillery fire, night assemblies leading to breaching attacks, and close support by aircraft were observed by other countries’ military officers from as far away as Japan. The AFG was truly the elite unit of the US Army and professional soldiers – Clive Mason and the men in these photos made it so.

Alexander F. Barnes is the author of To Hell with the Kaiser: America Prepares for War, 1916-1918, Vols 1 & 2, (978-0-7643-4909-6 and 978-0-7643-4911-9. Schiffer Publishing, 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310; 610-593-1777;

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