Dorset Freemason Bruce Graham Clarke DSC, one of the last surviving crew members of the Second World War XE midget submarines, has passed to the Grand Lodge above aged 95 years
A public servant and talented artist, Bruce was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his role in the mission to cut the undersea telephone cables connecting Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The success of this operation forced the Japanese to use radio which left their messages open to interception.
Born in Edinburgh on 9 September 1922 into a military family, his father was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Educated at the Tower House School and University College School in London, Bruce volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1941. He initially served aboard destroyers, escorting convoys in the North Sea and the Mediterranean and witnessed the sinking of the French fleet. He later took part in Operation Torch – the invasion of Northwest Africa.
In 1943, Bruce volunteered for service aboard the Royal Navy’s midget submarines and after training in Scotland was commissioned. In July and August of 1945 Bruce was one of the crew of midget submarine XE5 which took part in Operation Foil to cut the Hong Kong to Singapore telegraph cable west of Lamma Island, running under Hong Kong harbour. In the book “Above us the waves” by Charles Warren and James Benson the mission is recalled ‘... Hong Kong was supposed to be blessed with clear water. It was most galling, therefore, for the crew of XE5 to arrive in the defended waters of Hong Kong after a very rough trip… and for the best part of four days ... the two divers, Clarke and Jarvis, were working up to their waists in mud…’
In his report of the operation, the commanding officer Lieutenant H.P. Westmacott wrote: ‘Whilst trying to clear the grapnel, S/Lt Clarke had caught his finger in the cutter, cut it very deeply and fractured the bone. It is impossible to praise too highly the courage and fortitude which enabled him to make his entry into the craft in this condition. Had he not done so, apart from becoming a prisoner, it is probable that the operation would have had to be abandoned for fear of being compromised.’ A month later the war ended and Bruce was posted to Minden in East Germany and put in command as Physical and Recreational Training Officer of Allied troops. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in Operation Foil on 17 November 1945 and subsequently demobilised in 1946.
After brief spells working in India and Africa, Bruce joined the Overseas Civil Service and through a series of promotions and secondments formed a successful career in Kenya. In 1955, Bruce married Joan in Nakuru, Kenya. The family moved to Aden in 1957; this posting for Bruce included a period as Labour Commissioner.
In 1962, Bruce retired from Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service and after a three year contract as Personnel Manager for the East African Power & Light Company in Tanganyika, Bruce returned to the UK, settling in Boscombe in Dorset in 1967. For a brief period, he and his wife Joan bought and let property but latterly restored antique china, porcelain and furniture, until Joan’s death in 1982 at the age of 60. In retirement, he returned to his hobby of oil painting; he was a very talented painter and produced some fine copies of the old masters.
He was initiated into United Studholme Alliance Lodge No. 1591 in 1979 and in 1986 joined Lodge of Meridian No. 6582 in Dorset, where he was Chaplain of for many years. Bruce was a holder of London Grand Rank and a Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in Dorset. He was exalted into St Aldhelm's Chapter No. 2559 in Dorset in 1996.
Richard Merritt, Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, said: 'Brother Clarke was typical of so many unsung heroes within the Masonic Order. His military career, extreme bravery in the face of the enemy, personal charm and life-long modesty exemplify the principles observed and practised by Freemasons throughout their lives.'
At the grand age of 96, Lincolnshire Freemason Ken Green's friends arranged a surprise flight for him to see the Royal Air Force (RAF) bases he’d worked at during World War Two from the air
Ken had been the RAF’s ‘go to’ Merlin aircraft engine tuning expert in Bomber County, so he didn’t learn to fly until peacetime. It was Ken's experience and expertise that kept him on the ground during the war, but danger was never far away.
On one occasion he and a colleague had almost finished working on an engine and Ken was due for some leave. Arranging that his friend would finish the task, Ken climbed on to his bike and pedalled away, unaware that very shortly afterwards a bomb being loaded into the aircraft's bomb bay would fall off its dolly and explode. The aircraft was destroyed and Ken's friend was sadly killed.
Ken’s last flight was set up by fellow Freemasons Mike Craggs and Paul Anyan. It was prompted by a chance remark Ken made to Mike one clear afternoon when looking into a cloudless sky.
Ken saw the contrails of an aircraft and said: 'I should like to be up there just once more.' That was all it took for the wheels to be set in motion and Ken was taken to the former RAF base at Wickenby, to the north-east of Lincoln, to start a 90-mile circuit over former airfields at Newark, Skelingthorpe and Scotter, amongst others.
Ken Green passed to the Grand Lodge above just a few weeks later.
A group of local volunteer craftsmen came together to repair Beaminster Masonic Hall in Dorset, which was bought by local Freemasons in 1926 for £1,250
The building has served masons and the community ever since, and was requisitioned for military use during World War II. Members embarked on an ambitious programme of repair and restoration, which included works on the roof and external structure, as well as renovation and redecoration inside the building, making it ready for another 90 years of use.
Bikers rally to masonic memorial gardens
An estimated 10,000 motorcyclists gathered during the annual Ride to the Wall event at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in October, in memory of members of the Armed Services killed in action since the end of World War II.
Home to ‘The Wall’ – the 43-metre Armed Forces Memorial, constructed from Portland limestone – the Arboretum also encompasses the Freemasons Memorial Garden of Remembrance. Last year more than 60 masons from around the UK, mainly members of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association, gathered there to pay their respects to fallen comrades, friends and relations.
Russia honours convoy veteran
Merchant seamen braved the Luftwaffe and U-boats in the treacherous Arctic waters during World War II to bring vital supplies to Russia, with many perishing. Now their bravery and sacrifice are being rewarded with a medal from the Russian government. Among the recipients is Bucks mason Ernest Baden Hall, a member of Eric Deung Lodge, No. 9695, who recently received his medal from the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.
Keep calm and carry on
Director of Special Projects John Hamill argues the case for a national scheme that would record how Freemasonry helped during World War II
Such has been the media’s concentration on commemorating the centenary of the start of World War I that those events rather overshadowed the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day Landings – probably the last major commemoration of that event, as its survivors are now all in their late eighties and nineties.
World War II did not come as such a major shock as World War I. Indeed, to many of us, it was not a question of if, but of when war would break out.
It was also to have a far more devastating effect on those who stayed at home, and had rather more impact on Freemasonry than its predecessor.
In 1939, Grand Lodge still met on the first Wednesdays of the usual months, so a meeting took place within four days of war having been declared. A circular sent to all lodges then suspended all masonic meetings until further notice. There was a determination to ‘carry on as normal’ and, by the end of September, it was agreed to resume meetings.
At the Quarterly Communications in September and December 1939, emergency resolutions were passed to cover the crisis – giving Masters the authority to alter the dates and meeting places of their lodges as circumstances required. As the war progressed, there were further changes, not least the suspension of paying subscriptions and dues by those who were on active service.
Once aerial bombing began, it was suggested that lodges should meet during the day to avoid their members being exposed in the evenings. With the rationing of food and material, dress and regalia codes were relaxed, and it was proposed that post-meeting refreshments should be kept to a minimum.
With the scarcity of all sorts of raw materials, not least precious metals, in 1940, Grand Lodge suggested that brethren might like to sacrifice their personal masonic jewels to assist in the war effort. At that time, Stewards’ jewels for the Charity Festivals were solid silver, and founders’ and Past Masters’ jewels were usually gold. The brethren met the challenge, and in 1941, Grand Lodge was able to announce that £20,000 had been passed to the Treasury for the war effort.
Freemasons’ Hall in London had been built as a memorial to those brethren who fell in World War I and was initially known as the Masonic Peace Memorial. It survived the Blitz largely undamaged as other parts of Holborn and Covent Garden were destroyed. Until the post-war rebuilding of London, the tower of Freemasons’ Hall was one of the tallest structures in central London and it was apparently used by German pilots as a landmark to help guide them across the London sky.
During the Blitz, the people of London sheltered in the Underground at night. The workers from Covent Garden Market and the occupants of the local Peabody Buildings preferred the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, which had been cleared of all the archives and other papers, to Holborn Underground station. Whether this was connected with the fact that each morning the then Grand Secretary Sydney White and his Secretary, Miss Haigh, provided tea and sandwiches for them, history does not record.
A greenhouse was even built on the Grand Temple to grow soft fruits and vegetables.
Just as there has been a national scheme to record what people at home and in the services did during the war, should we not have a similar project for Freemasons? If so, we need to hurry; many of those who took part in World War II will not be with us for much longer, and their memories are irreplaceable.
‘World War II did not come as such a major shock as World War I. Indeed, to many of us it was not a question of if, but of when war would break out.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 28 Winter 2014
Keep calm and record
In the autumn issue of Freemasonry Today, John Hamill suggests that there should be a project to record what Freemasons contributed during World War II both at home and abroad. He reminds us that time may be against us. However, I trust he is aware that Grand Lodge should already be in possession of a significant quantity of records of what brethren contributed during that period.
On 15 May 1946 the Board of General Purposes instructed each lodge to ‘collect detailed information and prepare a report to be incorporated in the minute book of the lodge, and a copy to be sent to the Grand Secretary for preservation in the records of Grand Lodge’. The Board asked for details of each brother’s service, including those who were disabled or made the supreme sacrifice. It also asked for information on the effect on meetings and attendances, plus any losses of records or property.
In the 1946 minute book of my mother lodge, Telephone Lodge, No. 3301, there is a copy of the report sent to the Grand Secretary and it makes fascinating reading. Noting that many of our members stayed in Britain as they worked in a reserved occupation, it nevertheless records that many brethren served with the Home Guard, in civil defence, as fire wardens or as business premises wardens. It records that brother HR Harbottle was appointed OBE for his contribution to the GPO War Group, while brother Shipton is recorded as having worked on ‘radar and secret devices’. It tells of the need to move meetings to the summer months during daylight and that all dining ceased. Finally, the lodge reported no loss of property except the lodge’s printing dies, which were at the printers when it was blitzed. This report formed a rich resource when I was updating our lodge history for our centenary in 2008.
So not only should Grand Lodge’s archives have all these reports, but lodges should find a copy of their own contribution in their minute book.
Peter Walker, Telephone Lodge, No. 3301, London
John Hamill replies
I am aware of the reports asked for by Grand Lodge. Sadly, less than a third of lodges supplied the requested information. Those who did gave the basic information but what I was suggesting was recording personal impressions to give a human face to the basic records.
I know from talking to brethren over many years that there are fascinating stories that will be lost when those individuals are no longer with us.