Service and sacrifice
The Battle of the Somme produced more than one million casualties. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements marks the masons who fought for freedom
The centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 will be marked this summer. On that single day there were almost 60,000 British casualties, most of them before noon, of whom nearly 20,000 died.
As the regular army had been largely destroyed by the end of 1914, the soldiers who fought on the Somme were Kitchener’s volunteer army, the best the nation had to offer, but inexperienced in battle. A few months earlier most had been working in factories, offices and fields and many had joined up with friends from their local areas.
The offensive on the Somme was launched to support the French army and was intended to draw German manpower away from Verdun. This meant that British troops were moved south from Flanders to north-east France.
Initially, the move was regarded as positive by the soldiers, as switching from clay to chalk soil meant they had a better chance of keeping dry. The British advance was preceded by seven days of artillery bombardment, which proved ineffective in damaging the barbed-wire barrier erected by German troops.
By the time of the battle, the method of centrally recording masonic losses had been established. Lodge secretaries were asked to record on special Grand Lodge forms the names of brethren known to have died. These were used to compile a Roll of Honour with name, military rank and masonic rank published each year in the Masonic Year Book. Modern research, checking these names against military records, has identified at least 25 masonic casualties during the period of the battle.
Manchester businessman Charles Campbell May was one of several Freemasons who died on the first day. Born in New Zealand, he had served six years with King Edward’s Horse (The King’s Overseas Dominions Regiment) before 1914 and then founded a volunteer unit at the outbreak of war. Charles was a member of King’s Colonials Lodge, No. 3386.
‘Coolest and bravest’
The Somme drew on the resources of the whole British Empire, and among the casualties was Eric Ayre, from Newfoundland, who was a member of Whiteway Lodge, No. 3541. His brother Bernard and cousin Wilfred were also killed. The head of a wooden gavel, now in the Library and Museum collection, was made from an abandoned German rifle by New Zealand troops, who claimed to have used it at masonic meetings on the Western Front.
Roby Myddleton Gotch had just qualified as a solicitor when war broke out. He had joined Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, while at the University of Oxford in 1910 and later joined Nottinghamshire Lodge, No. 1434. Described as ‘one of the coolest and bravest of officers’, Roby was killed as he helped to lay a telephone wire close to some German barbed wire.
Around 750 former pupils of the Royal Masonic School for Boys served in the war. Of these, 106 were killed, as well as six masters. In 1922, Memorials of Masonians Who Fell in the Great War was published with biographical details of each casualty. Among them was George Sutton Taylor, a fish merchant who had enlisted with the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, the ‘Grimsby Chums’, in 1914. He always declined any promotion so that he could stay with the friends he had joined up with.
‘He always declined any promotion so that he could stay with the friends he had joined up with.’
Remembering the fallen
Another Old Masonian casualty of the Somme was Cyril Young from London, a 20-year-old clerk with the Metropolitan Asylums Board. His platoon was among the first into battle on the first day. The Company Sergeant-Major wrote to Cyril’s mother soon after leaving for France in July 1915: ‘I did my utmost to dissuade him from volunteering so soon because of his youth, and he seemed such a nice chap that it made me think he probably left aching hearts behind him. Still, he was so keen on doing his little bit, as we all are, that I could not refuse him.’
Possessed of a fine swerve and a great turn of speed, Thomas Kemp had played for Manchester Rugby Union Club and Leigh Cricket Club as an amateur while pursuing a career in accountancy. When the war broke out he was working in Chile but travelled home to volunteer in the Manchester Regiment. The secretary of his lodge, Marquis of Lorne Lodge, No. 1354, was among those who sent condolences to his parents.
In a later phase of the battle, Eugene Paul Bennett, a lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment, led an attack on the German trenches despite being wounded and when most of the other officers had been killed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving his battalion and capturing the enemy line. On his return, Eugene became a Freemason, joining the Lodge of Felicity, No. 58, in London in 1922.
In July 1932 the Thiepval Memorial was unveiled by the Prince of Wales. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, its arch represents the alliance of Britain and France in the offensive. The village of Thiepval had been one of the objectives of the first day of the battle, having been held by the German army since September 1914. It was finally captured by the British at the end of September 1916 and will be the focus of the centenary commemoration.
At the 250th anniversary of the Lodge of Amity No. 137
Guest of honour RW Bro Sir Stuart Hampson, SGW, had a very special surprise when he was reunited with two brethren with whom he attended the Royal Masonic School for Boys in Bushey in the 1960s and had not seen since.
W Bro Chris Bond and W Bro Graham May on seeing that Sir Stuart was to grace the lodge with his presence decided to make his visit a memorable one. Not content with just their presence, W Bro Chris received permission from the lodge to reprise the school’s Latin grace which he recited at the Festive Board much to the enjoyment of their honoured guest.
John Hamill looks back on the construction of Freemasons’ Hall from the perspective of those who worked there
Despite the economic problems, the 1920s was a period of great expansion for Freemasonry. It appealed to those coming back from the war – both as a means of continuing the camaraderie they had experienced on active service and giving them a sense of stability and tradition in a much changed world.
With the growing popularity of Freemasonry, the great project of building the present Freemasons’ Hall in London was undertaken as a memorial to those who had given their lives in the First World War. Changes of this magnitude and the increased work in raising money for the new building put enormous strains on the small office run by the Grand Secretary.
In 1919, the office consisted of the Grand Secretary, Assistant Grand Secretary, sixteen permanent clerks, four junior clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’, Miss Haig and Miss Winter. The two ladies had come in towards the end of the war as temporaries but were to spend the remainder of their careers in the Hall as secretaries to the Grand Secretary and his assistant.
The daily running of the building and the letting of lodge and committee rooms was under the charge of the Grand Tyler, who lived in the hall. He had an assistant, two porters, a night watchman, a ‘furnace man’ who looked after the primitive heating system and the open fires in the offices and committee rooms, and a floating number of cleaners.
Six of the boys taken on between 1925 and 1929 – some of whom came directly from the old Royal Masonic School for Boys – were each to spend forty-nine years in the service of the Grand Lodge: Gerry Winslade, Harold Brunton, Llew Hodges, Bill Browne, Derek Chanter and Bob Hawkins.
Dickensian is probably an overused adjective, but it aptly describes the conditions under which the clerks worked. Freemasons’ Hall had been extended in the 1860s and what were termed commodious offices had been provided for the Grand Secretary and his clerks. Even the provision in 1906 of two new rooms in a house attached to the west end of the old Hall did little to give proper working space.
As the steel work for the new building began to rise in 1927 it gradually became apparent that much would have to change in the future. It was to cover two and one quarter acres with four principal floors, a large basement area and mezzanine floors in various parts of the building. Routine maintenance would be of ‘Forth Bridge’ proportions, to say nothing of security.
Not surprisingly, many of those who had been involved in raising the building applied for jobs and spent the rest of their working lives caring for it, some of them working into their mid-seventies. Carpentry, electrical and engineering workshops were set up in the basement, together with a paint shop and upholstery department. When the time came to demolish the Victorian Hall, the office was transferred to temporary accommodation in what was to be one of the new lodge rooms so that the administration could continue. The conditions were far from ideal but they knew that before long they would be moving to what one of the clerks described as a ‘demi-paradise’.
The new office for the clerks was built in the undercroft of the Grand Temple and matched it in size. Unlike the Grand Temple, it had enormous windows allowing much natural light to come in from the light well which surrounds it. Unlike the cramped Victorian offices, it was open plan giving a great feeling of airy lightness and space. Visitors came in through large glazed bronze doors to find a long enquiries counter, always manned by a senior clerk who could deal with their enquiries or quickly fetch the appropriate clerk who dealt with the particular matter. While waiting to be served, the visitor had a view over the whole of the office.
At the back of the room was a mezzanine floor where the cashier and his clerks had their office. The sensitive nature of their work dealing with Grand Lodge finances and staff payroll was carried out without any fear of being overlooked by staff or visitors. In those halcyon days it was the only part of the office where the doors had locks, the rest of the office was always accessible even when the clerks had left for the evening.
In time, as the Craft continued to expand – particularly after the Second World War – the office again became crowded. In addition, areas had been partitioned off to provide small offices for individuals and the whole open-plan design had been submerged. When a major structural reorganisation of the Grand Secretary’s office took place in 1999 the old partitions were torn down and the feeling of light and space returned. Apart from the modern furniture and the computers, were one of the 1932 clerks to return to the office today they would find it little changed from that ‘demi-paradise’ they were the first to occupy.
On 24 March 2012, seventy years after joining the former Royal Masonic Junior School, Tony Elliott was installed as the 2012/13 President of the Old Masonians Association at their Annual Dinner held at the Durham Masonic Hall, Old Elvet.
The Association comprises former pupils of the former
Tony’s links to the Association began in 1942 when, as a ten-year old boy, he joined the
Tony’s Masonic career began in 1954, when he was initiated into New Sanctuary Lodge No.6604 in the
To find out more about the OMA, please visit: http://www.oldmasonians.org