From the obituary in The Independent
: PHILIP MASON OBE, CIE will be remembered first and foremost as a writer of history, not of the exhaustively researched, academic kind addressed to fellow specialists, but sound, well-reflected, worldly-wise history, beautifully written and effortlessly read, such as appeals to people of experience in every walk of life. Less well-known, but no less important, was his career as an outstandingly able member of the Indian Civil Service during the 20 years leading up to Indian independence, and also his pioneering work in promoting the study of racial and minority problems as the founding director of the Institute of Race Relations.
He took a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford. He joined the Indian Civil Service in 1928, and served successively as Assistant Magistrate in the United Provinces, Under-Secretary in the War Department, Deputy Commissioner in the Himalayan district of Garhwal - a remote, sub-Himalayan district of more than 5,000 square miles - Deputy Secretary in the Defence and War Department, Secretary to the Chiefs of Statf Committee and finally as Joint Secretary to the War Department, when his highly promising career was ended by Indian independence.
During the war years he had worked closely with Wavell and later with Mountbatten, and there could surely have been a continuing future for him in some other part of the Commonwealth or else in the rapidly expanding field of diplomacy, had he chosen to go that way. Instead, he decided for early retirement with his wife and four children to a smallholding in the west of England, where they hoped, with the help of his ready pen, to make ends meet.
It was a gamble and it did not work. The books came - seven novels and two volumes of The Men Who Ruled India (as The Founders and The Guardians were called when reprinted as one volume in 1985), about the major figures of the Indian Civil Service, all published under the pen name of Philip Woodruff between 1945 and 1954. But the financial return did not meet the needs of a family of six, and in 1952 he found part-time employment at the Royal Institute of International Affairs as Director of Studies in the newly established field of Race Relations.
Nine more books were to follow during the first 15 years of Mason's retirement before blindness drew its curtain on his literary work. They included a short history of the Indian Army, A Matter of Honour (1974), a life of Kipling, The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire (1975), his Bampton lectures published as The Dove in Harness (1976), and two delightful volumes of autobiography, A Shaft of Sunlight (1978) and A Thread of Silk (1984).
The first concerns his Indian years and breathes the romance of empire (at least for those who ruled), with long days in the saddle and long evenings by the camp fire listening to the varied problems of his Indian clients. The second, necessarily less glamorous in content, centres on the world of ideas, institutions, and family.
Both are notable for the frank discussion of the part played in his life by his deep commitment to the Christian religion. For most of it he was an Anglo-Catholic, prepared for adult life by the Cowley Fathers, and with a faith much strengthened during a period of temporary blindness caused by a shooting accident in 1941, when his wife Mary read to him daily from the New Testament and they discussed its contents together.
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