Philip Mason OBE CIE (19 March 1906 – 25 January 1999) was an English civil servant and author. He is best known for his two-volume book on the British Raj, The Men Who Ruled India (written under the pseudonym ‘Philip Woodruff’, the latter being his mother’s maiden name), and his study of the Indian Army, A Matter of Honour (1974).
Early life and education
Philip Mason was one of three children- two sons and a daughter- of Herbert Alfred Mason (1876–1968), a general practitioner at Duffield, Derbyshire, and his wife Ethel Addison (1880–1956), daughter of Herbert Addison Woodruff, an engineer and manager of a Cammell Laird steel factory. The Mason family had been farmers for several generations at Barrowden in Rutland, East Midlands; his great-grandfather Henry brewed beer and sold malting barley to brewers, and his grandfather George Mason “grew first-class malting barley and reared Leicester lambs”. On the basis that “Woodruff” struck him as “a prettier, a more unusual, and a more romantic name than plain ordinary Mason”, he “decided very early to be Philip Woodruff Mason and was known by that name until (he) was thirteen and had to produce a birth certificate.”
Mason was educated at Sedbergh School and Balliol College, Oxford, taking a first-class degree in Modern Greats. In 1978 he published a volume of autobiography, A Shaft of Sunlight: memories of a varied life (Deutsch, ISBN 0233969551), and in 1984 a sequel, A Thread of Silk.
Career with the Indian Civil Service
Mason worked for the Indian Civil Service from 1928 to 1947. He was an under-secretary in the War Department from 1933 to 1936, in that year being appointed Deputy Commissioner at Garhwal and remaining in this position until 1939. During the Second World War, he held appointments in the Defence and War Departments at Delhi (Deputy Secretary, Defence Co-ordination and War Departments 1939–42; Secretary of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, India and Head of Conference Secretary, South-East Asia Command 1942-4, Joint Secretary, War Department 1944-7), retiring in 1947 intending to take up farming.
Race and decolonisation
With his farming efforts, even supplemented by the income from his writing, proving insufficiently remunerative for the needs of his growing family, Mason took the part-time position as the first Director of Studies of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, serving in this capacity from 1952 to 1958. Mason’s role was to both undertake research and seek out scholarly work on disciplines relating to racial problems; he first went to Southern Rhodesia, at the time when it was embarking upon a union with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Three volumes- The Birth of a Dilemma (1958), The Two Nations, and The Year of Decision (the second undertaken by a junior colleague, but the first and third by Mason)- resulted from this research. By 1958, his position at Chatham House translated into directorship of the independent UK Institute of Race Relations; during this time, Mason focused on Latin America, producing Patterns in Dominance (1970), the last book he wrote before retiring in 1969.
Mason was strongly influenced by Octave Mannoni‘s use of The Tempest to illuminate the colonial situation– Prospero as imperialist- and in his own book of 1962, Prospero’s Magic: Some Thoughts on Race and Colour, he extended Mannoni’s symbolism to cover the Third World in general, noting how “in my country until a generation ago we liked Prospero…some of us are beginning not to like him”.
Marriage and later life
In retirement, Mason wrote nine more books, before encroaching blindness ended his literary endeavors (he had previously suffered temporary blindness in 1941 after a shooting accident). These works included a biography of Rudyard Kipling and two autobiographical volumes.
In 1935, Mason had married (Eileen) Mary, daughter of Courtenay Hayes, of Charmouth, Dorset and niece of senior Indian Army officer Major-General William Twiss. They had two sons and two daughters. Mason lived at Mulberry House, Church Street, Fordingbridge, Hampshire (formerly at Hither Daggons, Brock’s Hill, Cripplestyle, in the parish of Alderholt, near Fordingbridge), where he died. He had been created OBE in 1942, and CIE in 1946.[
Books in order of publication:
|The Men Who Ruled India. Volume I: The Founders||1953|
|The Men Who Ruled India. Volume II: The Guardians||1954|
|Patterns of Dominance||1970|
|A Matter of Honour: An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men||1974|
|Kipling: The Glass, The Shadow, And The Fire||1975|
|A Shaft Of Sunlight: Memories Of A Varied Life||1978|
|English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal||1982|
|The Birth of a Dilemma: The Conquest and Settlement of Rhodesia||1982|
|A Thread of Silk: Further Memories of a Varied Life||1984|
|The Men Who Ruled India||1985|
|Memoirs of a Bengal Civilian: Lively Narrative of a Victorian District Officer||1991|