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
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.
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.
Venue: Freemasons' Hall, London
Tel: 020 7395 9257
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.’
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.
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
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.
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.
Fraught with fate
Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, considers the impact of the outbreak of World War I on the Craft in England
Britain entered World War I on 4 August 1914. When the Grand Lodge held its regular Quarterly Communications less than a month later on 2 September, French and British armies had delayed the German advance in the south of Belgium, but their success at the first Battle of the Marne was still uncertain. Alfred Robbins, the President of the Board of General Purposes, later described the atmosphere at that meeting as being fraught with fate. ‘Not only for the British Empire and her Allies, but for all that English masons held dear,’ he wrote. ‘Darkness was descending on many a soul.’
Calls for lodges to stop meeting were dismissed by the Grand Lodge, but two of them with the closest German links, Pilgrim Lodge, No. 238, and Deutschland Lodge, No. 3315, both ceased to meet for the duration of the war. Members of both lodges had been faced with the provisions of wartime legislation that had given ‘enemy aliens’ a matter of days to leave the country and forced all those remaining to register with the police. The activities of other lodges were disrupted as members, including the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, went to fight or became involved in the conflict.
By mid-September 1914, Lord Charles Beresford Lodge, No. 2404, based in Chatham in Kent, had all its two hundred and fifty members serving while forty-three of the forty-five members of Alma Lodge, No. 3534, in Hounslow, whose members were drawn from the Royal Fusiliers, rejoined for war service. The lodge meeting scheduled for September 1914 didn’t take place and the lodge members weren’t to meet again until 1918.
Other lodges were forced to move out of their meeting places as buildings across the country were requisitioned. Several London lodges were forced to move from De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment when it was requisitioned for the Military Aeronautics Directorate. The Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester gave its hall to the Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at their premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the lodge’, but it was able to return to its hall in January 1918.
An estimated 200,000 refugees arrived in Britain from Belgium, displaced by the war. The Grand Lodge made an immediate initial donation of £1,000, the equivalent of more than £40,000 today, to the Belgian Relief Fund. The returning refugees were dispersed across the country. Some were sent to Nottingham where they were housed in Chaucer Street properties that had been purchased shortly before the war for the site of a new masonic hall. Funds were regularly raised for them at Provincial meetings until they were repatriated in 1919.
A £1,000 donation was made to the British Red Cross Society, where Sir Arthur Stanley, Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire, Western Division, was chairman of the executive committee.
A ladies committee is born
With many businesses closing down or reducing their activity at the outbreak of war, there were fewer employment opportunities for single women as servants and secretaries. When the Queen’s Work for Women Fund was established, the Grand Lodge requested that the wife of the Pro Grand Master, Lady Ampthill, form a Ladies Committee to raise contributions for the Fund from the wives and daughters of Freemasons. An impressive £2,001 was raised. This was presented to Queen Mary in March 1915, with the funds divided between several bodies providing training and support for women.
Women soon began to replace men in clerical and manufacturing roles as the war continued, especially after the introduction of conscription in 1916, and the need for the Fund was much reduced.
Many organisations and communities established Rolls of Honour in the early months of the war. These were originally intended to record the names of those who had volunteered, but they also quickly became a record of casualties. The idea of a Masonic Roll of Honour was first considered by the Grand Lodge at its meeting in December 1914, its second meeting after the outbreak of war.
Documents sent by the Grand Lodge to lodge secretaries asked for the name, military rank and masonic rank of brethren known to have died. The first list appeared in the 1916 Masonic Year Book – it was thirty pages long with five hundred names.
The Library and Museum has a new, free temporary exhibition called English Freemasonry and the First World War, which opens on Monday, 15 September 2014 and runs until Friday, 15 May 2015. A richly illustrated book to coincide with the exhibition has been published and is available from Letchworth’s Shop at Freemasons’ Hall, priced £15.