Celebrating 300 years

Command performance

Robert Henderson-Bland was an actor, soldier, poet and Freemason. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements traces his fortunes during World War I

It is 100 years since Canadian doctor Major John McCrae wrote his poem In Flanders Fields, the first line of which, ‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow’, was to be an inspiration for the poppy as a memorial. The same year, 1915, also saw the death of one of the best-known war poets, Rupert Brooke, who wrote five sonnets in late 1914 that helped make him famous, including The Soldier. Somewhat forgotten now but also an active and frequently published poet in his time was Freemason Robert Henderson-Bland (1876-1941).

Henderson-Bland’s first war poem, published in August 1915, was inspired by the Scots Guards and includes the following lines, written before the idea of a War Graves Commission had been developed:

‘Let someone mark the place whereat they fell,
And hedge it round, for in the after-time
Their fame will draw the many who would dwell
Upon those deeds that made an hour sublime.’

Henderson-Bland was best known as an actor, working in the early 1900s with leading theatrical figures such as Lily Langtry and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. On 26 April 1912, as he records in his autobiography, he received a telephone call asking him to take the role of Jesus Christ in a new film to be made in and around Jerusalem. Directed by Sidney Olcott, From the Manger to the Cross became one of the most significant films of the silent era. 

It was Beerbohm Tree who had recommended Henderson-Bland for the part, as he considered that the only man who could play Christ was a poet. Although controversial at the time, the film was eventually praised by leading religious figures, and it has since been designated culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress. It was revived in London in 1926 when it was shown at the Royal Albert Hall every day for three months, and the Bishop of London supported the showing of a sound-enhanced version, stating that he considered it to be ‘a most beautiful film’. 

A few months before Henderson-Bland went to Jerusalem to make the film, he was initiated in Green Room Lodge, No. 2957, one of several London lodges with theatrical connections. His raising was delayed until filming was complete, in November 1912. In November 1913, he presented a souvenir of his time in Jerusalem to the lodge – a gavel made from stone quarried ‘from Solomon’s Mines’, with its shaft made of olive wood grown on the Mount of Olives. 

Theatre of war

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Henderson-Bland, aged 40, was acting in America. He returned to Britain to join the Gloucestershire Regiment, initially in Britain and then, from July 1916, in France, where he served until he was wounded in April 1918. By the end of the war he had been promoted to captain. After the war, Henderson-Bland became involved with veterans society the Ypres League, working to promote the organisation in America. He continued with his Freemasonry, joining, in 1927, another lodge with theatrical links, Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, where he was installed as Master in March 1937. He died in August 1941 as the result of an air raid. 

Henderson-Bland knew many who died in the war. One friend, also a Freemason (Drury Lane Lodge), was poet Arthur Scott Craven, who had joined the Artists Rifles and was killed in action in April 1917. Before the war, Henderson-Bland had dedicated a book of poetry to him. He wrote the following poem after his death and it was published in June 1917:

‘O all my youth came singing back to me
When first I learnt that you were dead, my friend.
What of the years when you and I did see
In life a splendour daily spilt to mend
Our souls grown tired of trivial delights?
Not lost to you the glimpses of the heights,
For you went gladly where the worst is surely best.’

The gavel presented by Henderson-Bland to Green Room Lodge is on display as part of the Library and Museum’s Spotlight: Freemasons and Entertainment exhibition, which runs until 13 February 2016.

A book written by Library and Museum staff, English Freemasonry and the First World War, is available from the shop at Freemasons’ Hall or online at www.letchworthshop.co.uk 

Published in Features

Riding to the Somme

Seven members of the Artificers Masonic Motorcycle Association and two of their partners undertook a sponsored ride to the Somme, where they laid a wreath at the Thiepval Memorial in memory of those who fell during World War I, and returned a bugle reportedly used in the Battle of Mons to sound the first retreat. 

The team included Jim Humphreys, a Zambian mason from Lusaka – the eldest of the group at 72 years old; Ray and Jacquie Sparks of the newly formed Sussex Motorcycling Lodge, No. 9871, who owned the 100-year-old bugle; Gary Dark from Chantry Lodge, No. 6454, East Kent; Mike Hogsden of Hamelesham Lodge, No. 8243, Sussex; Colin Wallington of White Horse of Kent Lodge, No. 8784, West Kent; Chris Ray of Pro Deo et Patria Lodge, No. 4425, London; and Dave Weedon from Hanslip Ward Lodge, No. 3399, Essex, and his partner Jeannette. 

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

30 April 2015 
An address by the ME The First Grand Principal HRH The Duke of Kent, KG

Companions, I know that you would want me to congratulate the Grand Officers whom I have appointed to or promoted in Grand Rank. Whilst thanking them for their efforts which have earned them recognition, I remind them, and other Grand officers, that with advancement comes added responsibility and wider opportunities for service to Royal Arch Masonry.

You will remember the generous £2.4 million raised for the two hundredth anniversary appeal to support the research work of the Royal College of Surgeons. A fundamental decision was needed as to how this sum should be invested and administered. It was decided that this would best be done together with the existing Grand Lodge Fund, launched for the Royal College in 1967, to celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Grand Lodge.

It has been agreed that the fellowships will be allocated to both the Craft and the Royal Arch in proportion to the contribution of funds. So, this will mean that there will be two Royal Arch Fellows in every five fellowships supported. 

As Patron of the Fund, I confirm that in order to reflect these important changes – notably that the funding for these fellowships has come from both the Craft and the Royal Arch – the name of the Fund has been changed from January 2015 to, ‘the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research’.

Companions, you will see behind me on the east wall the new case for the fine Willis organ, which has been renovated and greatly improved during the past year. You will be aware that Supreme Grand Chapter has funded this initiative from their reserves as the Royal Arch’s contribution towards the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England. In recognition of this contribution, the new case bears a triple tau at its top as well as on the front of the renovated console.

I am sure you would want me to congratulate all concerned with this project, which not only enhances this magnificent room, both audibly and visually, but also adds to the heritage of this building and the memory of those many Freemasons who died in the First World War.

I also thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for the excellence of the ceremony and the Grand Scribe Ezra and his staff for the detailed planning and organisation that has gone into ensuring today’s success.

Finally, Companions, I again congratulate those of you that I have invested and promoted on this memorable occasion and I wish you all well.

Published in Speeches

Victoria Cross heroes

East Lancashire PGM Sir David Trippier took the chair of his own lodge, East Lancashire Centurion Lodge, No. 2322, when he headed a Provincial deputation to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of the Great War. 

The event highlighted the heroism of masons within the Province who were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), and included an account of the origins and history of the VC by Essex mason Lt Col Mark Smith, curator at the Royal Artillery Museum

The Poppy through history

Start March 4, 2015 6:00 pm 
End March 4, 2015 6:45 pm

Dr Nicholas Saunders, the author of a recent book about the history of the poppy, will be talking about how the poppy became such a powerful symbol at the end of the First World War. There will also be an opportunity to view the current Library and Museum exhibition Freemasonry and the First World War

The talk will last approximately 45 minutes. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to book a place

Venue: Freemasons' Hall, London
Tel: 020 7395 9257

Published in More News
Friday, 05 December 2014 00:00

Brotherly love during the First World War

The welfare of others

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes believes that we should recall the brotherly love shown between Freemasons during the First World War 

At the Quarterly Communication held on 2 September 1914, one hundred years ago, the First World War had been under way for just under a month. Your predecessors would have known that, even in such a short time, the German Army had already defeated the Russian forces at the Battle of Tannenberg and the French and British armies were in fierce contact with the German advance in the south of Belgium. That Quarterly Communication was presided over by Sir Frederick Halsey as Deputy Grand Master, as the then Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, and the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, were away serving their country. 

Sir Frederick proposed the motion that ‘Grand Lodge expresses the deep appreciation of the loyal and devoted service now being rendered to our country by HRH the Grand Master, the Pro Grand Master, and very many other brethren of all ranks in the Craft, and its earnest prayer for their continued well-being’. He went on to say – among other things – that it was a time of great anxiety and that every Grand Officer would carry out his work without panic and alarm and show that calmness and confidence which animates the breast of every Englishman and mason.

Sir Frederick added: ‘Our hearts go out to our friends and relations, to our dear ones, both in the Craft and outside it, who are now serving their country at the call of duty; our prayers follow them, and we trust that before long, in the mercy of the Great Architect of the Universe, they may emerge from this present struggle safe and sound.’

Sadly, more than 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services – Army, Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Flying Corps – never made it home. Freemasons’ Hall was created as a peace memorial dedicated to them and its magnificent commemorative window has recently been restored thanks to the generosity of London lodges and chapters, as well as individuals coordinated by Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter. Below the window is the bronze shrine containing the Roll of Honour parchment scroll honouring those who gave their lives in service of their country. We should not forget that numerous sons and grandsons of members were killed – many of whom would have been potential members.

Brotherly love remains as important today as it was in those dark days of the Great War. To exercise kindness, tolerance and charitable support – and to be interested in the welfare of others – is a source of the greatest happiness and satisfaction in every situation in life. 

It is, I believe, of the utmost importance today to ensure our long-term survival, but I am concerned that we are not always seen internally as a caring organisation, with junior members too often marginalised and unsupported. This must change and it is the responsibility of every member to help to retain those of integrity within their lodges by making them feel cared for. By so doing we will ensure that they will gain the same fulfilment and satisfaction from their masonry that we have all been lucky enough to enjoy.

‘Sadly, more than 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services, never made it home. Freemasons’ Hall was dedicated to them.’

Published in Features

Local heroes

Masonic records are providing unique insights into the people who fought in the Great War

Lodge and chapter records are a rich source of information for Freemasonry and social history, and the period of World War I is no exception. 

John Horace Marsden, a local brewer, had been installed as Master of Scarsdale Lodge, No. 681, in Chesterfield in January 1913. The lodge minutes for October 1914 record that he, and another member of the lodge, attended for the last time prior to leaving the town with their regiment. Marsden never returned. Described as a man of ‘indomitable pluck’, he was killed on the Western Front in April 1917.

Saint Augustine’s Lodge, No. 1941, in Staffordshire was just one of many lodges that found itself welcoming new members from local army camps. In many cases, these new members were from overseas. In October 1917 the installation of Canadian businessman and philanthropist William Perkins Bull as Master of Elstree Lodge, No. 3092, in Hertfordshire, was attended by a great gathering of ‘Canadian officers in khaki’. 

While many lodges have records of members’ war service, several have contacted the Library and Museum to check details of any casualties in their lodge. The key source for this is the Roll of Honour published in 1921, which details the brethren who fell in the service of their King and country during World War I. It lists all the names alphabetically and also under each lodge. There are several copies available in the Library and Museum. 

The membership registers give, in many cases, a date of death. With this information it is possible to check the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission online and ascertain where the man is buried or remembered. This can give an idea of where he fought, even without pursuing detailed military records. 

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Free talk at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Sir Alfred Robbins: Prime Minister of Freemasonry and the First World War

Thursday 2nd October 2014 
6–7.30pm 
Freemasons’ Hall, London

Dr Paul Calderwood will talk about Sir Alfred Robbins and his role in Grand Lodge from 1913 to his death, looking in particular at the impact of the First World War. 

The evening will include a private view of the new Library and Museum exhibition on Freemasonry and the First World War which opens in September 2014. 

Wine will be served.

Free but please reserve your place by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in More News
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - September 2014

Quarterly Communication

10 September 2014 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, at the Quarterly Communication held on the second of September 1914, one hundred years ago, the First World War had been underway for just under a month. Thinking back to that time, your predecessors would have known that, even in that short time, the German Army had already defeated the Russian forces at the Battle of Tannenberg and the French and British armies were in fierce contact with the German advance in the South of Belgium.

That Quarterly Communication was presided over by Sir Frederick Halsey as Deputy Grand Master as the then Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Connaught and the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill were away serving their country. 

Sir Frederick, in proposing the motion that ‘Grand Lodge expresses the deep appreciation of the loyal and devoted service now being rendered to our country by HRH the MW Grand Master, the MW Pro Grand Master, and very many other Brethren of all ranks in the Craft, and its earnest prayer for their continued well-being’, went on to say – amongst other things – that it was a time of great anxiety and that every Grand Officer would carry out their work without panic and alarm and show that calmness and confidence which animates the breast of every Englishman and mason.

He added, ‘our hearts go out to our friends and relations, to our dear ones, both in the Craft and outside it, who are now serving their country at the call of duty; our prayers follow them, and we trust that before long, in the mercy of the Great Architect of the Universe, they may emerge from this present struggle safe and sound’.

Sadly over 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services Army, Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Flying Corps never made it home. This fine building was created as a peace memorial dedicated to them and I trust you will have all seen the magnificent memorial window at the end of the vestibules beyond those doors and which have been recently restored thanks to the generosity of London Lodges and Chapters as well as individuals coordinated by Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter, and below it, the bronze shrine containing the Roll of Honour parchment scroll honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in the service of their country. We should not forget that many sons and grandsons of members were killed – many of whom would have been potential members.

The Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall has an exhibition entitled, ‘English Freemasonry and the First world War’ starting next week and which will go on until the beginning of March next year. This major exhibition tells the story of the organisation and members during the First World War and, for example, it explores how lodges coped with members being called up to fight. 

Brethren, brotherly love remains as important in today’s world as it did in those dark days of great anxiety in the First World War. To exercise kindness, tolerance and charitable support – and to feel deeply interested in the welfare of others – is a source of the greatest happiness and satisfaction in every situation in life. It is, I believe, of the utmost importance today to ensure our long term survival but I am concerned that we are, surprisingly, not always seen internally as a caring organisation with junior members too often marginalised and unsupported. This must change and it is the responsibility of every member to help to retain those of integrity within their Lodges by making them feel included and cared for. By so doing we will ensure that they will gain the same fulfilment and satisfaction from their masonry that we have all been lucky enough to enjoy.

Published in Speeches

Faces  to names

The extensive photographic collection at the Library and Museum adds another perspective on the history of the Craft and its members

Whether in the form of paintings, engravings, prints or photographs, the Library and Museum has a wealth of images of people. Over recent years, these have been catalogued online, with captivating biographies of many individuals, including details of their masonic careers. 

The online catalogue now has details for over 2,700 images – including those in albums of photographs. Enquirers can request digital copies of images they are interested in and many are available for inclusion in lodge or chapter histories and presentations. The three images here all relate to the period of World War I. 

Sir Francis Lloyd, shown above, in his army uniform, was a career soldier. In World War I he commanded the Territorial Forces in the London District. He was also active in Freemasonry, serving as the Master of the City of London National Guard Lodge, No. 3757, in 1916. 

Ladislas Aurele de Malczovich was a Hungarian civil servant who became a member of the English research lodge, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, and published articles in its Transactions. 

As one of many ‘alien enemy brethren’, he was excluded from membership of his English lodges during World War I. The back of his photograph is inscribed to his friend, Frederick Crowe – a noted masonic collector. 

In June 1919, an Especial Grand Lodge was held at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the end of the war. Among the audience of over 8,000 were many overseas representatives. The formal meeting was one of many hosted by London lodges, including a visit to the Houses of Parliament where the photograph, top right, was taken.

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