Brethen of Valour
Special paving stones outside Freemasons’ Hall pay tribute to English Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I
A set of paving stones commemorating the 64 English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during World War I was unveiled outside Freemasons’ Hall on 25 April.
The VC is the highest award for gallantry that can be conferred on a member of the Armed Forces regardless of rank or status – and almost one in six of the 633 VC recipients during the First World War were Freemasons.
Of these, 64 were under UGLE and 43 were under other Grand Lodges in the British Empire. Freemasons’ Hall itself is a memorial to the 3,000-plus English Freemasons who gave their lives in World War I.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, attended the ceremony for the stones’ unveiling and blessing, together with Lord Dannatt, a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London; the Mayor of Camden; senior officers from the military services; a group of Chelsea Pensioners; and representatives from the VC and George Cross Association as well as some of the regiments in which the VC holders had served. Specially invited were the families of those who were being commemorated.
The event was open to the public, with Great Queen Street and Wild Street closed to traffic. The crowd included representatives from many of the service lodges as well as passers-by.
Music was provided by the Band of the Grenadier Guards and the North London Military Wives Choir. Radio and television presenter Katie Derham narrated the first part of the ceremony, which opened with Chelsea Pensioner Ray Pearson reading an extract from AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, followed by the President of the Board of General Purposes, Anthony Wilson, welcoming those attending.
Derham set the scene at the outbreak of war in 1914 with the aid of archive film showing how young men ‘flocked to the flag’ in the expectation that the war would be over by Christmas – and how the reality set in that it was not to be a short war but one that would affect every community in the country.
Simon Dean OBE paid tribute to his grandfather Donald John Dean, who, at the age of 21, was awarded the VC in 1918. Col Brian Lees LVO OBE, chairman of the Rifles, Light Infantry and KOYLI Regimental Association, and Lt Col Matt Baker, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, The Rifles, paid tribute to Oliver Watson, who was posthumously awarded a VC in 1918.
The horrors of the war were brought vividly to life by Sebastian Cator, a pupil at Harrow School. He read extracts from the diaries of Major Richard Willis, who had also been a pupil at Harrow, in which he described the carnage resulting from landing his men on W Beach at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. For his part in that action he was one of the famous ‘six VCs before breakfast’ of the Gallipoli landings.
The Grand Secretary, Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, gave an exhortation that was followed by the last post, a one-minute silence and reveille. The memorial stones were then unveiled and blessed by the Grand Chaplain, Canon Michael Wilson. The Grand Master and Lord Dannatt then inspected the stones, after which family members and other invited guests had an opportunity to view them before entering Freemasons’ Hall for a reception in the Grand Temple vestibule area.
You can watch highlights of the unveiling of the memorial to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War here
A special commemorative programme for the ceremony, including portraits and brief details of the 64 brethren of valour, can also be viewed here
Letters to the Editor - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017
We will remember
I wasn’t really sure who to address my comments to regarding the Victoria Cross memorial paving stones unveiling ceremony at Freemasons’ Hall, except Grand Lodge, brethren and friends. Freemasonry stood tall and exemplified what we are about in the unveiling of the wonderful memorial to those gentlemen who were Freemasons, and who paid the final sacrifice. This was a wonderful day for Freemasonry and a day of pride for Freemasons. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of it.
Lou Myer, Ubique Lodge, No. 1789, London
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 39 AUTUMN 2017
Valour and gallantry
Your recent article on the honouring of World War I Victoria Cross recipients was inspiring and fascinating. Brave men indeed! I write to enquire if any similar research has been done on gallantry medals awarded relating to World War II?
A past member, Vivian Hollowday, of my own lodge, Old Worksopian, No. 6963, was awarded the George Cross in January 1941. The George Cross is the highest award that can be made for gallantry ‘not in the face of the enemy’. Viv was the first non-commissioned member of the RAF to receive the extremely high and rare honour. He was the eighth initiate into the lodge in 1958. A convivial and friendly brother, he remained a member until his death in 1977 aged 60. Living in Bedfordshire, I believe he also joined a lodge in that Province.
For good measure, Old Worksopian Lodge at the time also included two recipients of the Military Cross, George Rees and Arnold Slaney.
John Taylor, Old Worksopian Lodge, No. 6963, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
8 March 2017
An address by VW Bro John Hamill, PGSwdB, Deputy Grand Chancellor and Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Diane Clements: Ninety-nine years ago today, Charles Graham Robertson, a railway clerk from Dorking in Surrey, was fighting with the Royal Fusiliers on the Western Front. He realised that his position was being cut off so he sent two men to get reinforcements while he stayed at his post with one other man and a Lewis gun. He managed to kill 'large numbers of the enemy' but no reinforcements arrived and realising that he was now completely cut off he and his fellow soldier withdrew about ten yards. He stayed there for some considerable further time firing his Lewis gun but was again forced to withdraw. In this new position he climbed on top of a parapet with his comrade, mounted his gun in a shell hole and continued firing at the enemy who were pouring across the top of, and down, an adjacent trench. His comrade was killed and Robertson severely wounded but he managed to crawl back to the British line, bringing his gun with him. He could no longer fire it as he had exhausted all the ammunition. For his initiative and resource and magnificent fighting spirit which prevented the enemy making a more rapid advance, Robertson was awarded the Victoria Cross in April 1918. A few months later, after the end of the First World War, in February 1919, he was initiated in Deanery Lodge No. 3071 in London. He is one of over one hundred and seventy holders of the Victoria Cross who have been identified as freemasons, representing more than 13% of the total recipients.
John Hamill: The Victoria Cross was a product of the Crimea War. In many ways this was one of the first ‘modern wars’, reported from the battle field by newspaper journalists. The media, then as now, liked stories of heroes and villains, and it soon became apparent that there were many heroes but no award available to acknowledge the heroic actions of the ordinary British serviceman. Other European countries already had awards for their armed forces that did not discriminate according to class or rank. In 1856 with increasing public support, Queen Victoria ordered the War Office to strike a new medal which was made open to all ranks. The Victoria Cross is awarded for valour 'in the face of the enemy' to members of the British armed forces and to members of the armed forces of some Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories.
Many have been inspired by the stories of those such as Charles Graham Robertson but holders of the Victoria Cross were often modest men who didn’t make a fuss and many masonic researchers have worked hard to track down their masonic links, including the 2006 Prestonian lecturer, Granville Angell. Diane and I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all those researchers today.
The Victoria Cross was awarded 628 times for action in the First World War. Over 100 recipients have so far been identified as Freemasons of whom sixty-three were members of English Constitution lodges.
As many of you will know this building, now known as Freemasons’ Hall, was formally opened in 1933 as the Masonic Peace Memorial and it was, and is, a memorial to all those Freemasons who died in the First World War. Acknowledging this and as part of the Tercentenary celebrations, the United Grand Lodge is going to have a memorial pavement laid outside the Tower doors with details of all the English Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War. The date we have chosen for the ceremony is 25th April.
DC: On 25th April 1915 a battalion of over 1,000 men from the Lancashire Fusiliers landed on a beach at Gallipoli. During the landing, the men were met by very heavy and effective fire from the Ottoman Empire troops defending the beach and lost over half their number. The survivors, however, rushed up and cut the wire entanglements and managed to gain the cliffs above the beach. Amongst them were Major Cuthbert Bromley, Lance Corporal John Grimshaw, Private William Kenealy, Sergeant Alfred Richards, Sergeant Frank Stubbs and Captain Richard Willis. The courage of these six men was recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross to each of them and the event was hailed in the Press as '6 VCs before breakfast'. Three of these men were Freemasons.
Richard Willis had joined St John and St Paul Lodge No. 349 in Malta in 1901. He retired from the army in 1920 and took on an education role within the RAF before working as a teacher. Cuthbert Bromley, who had been a member of Invicta Lodge No. 2440 since 1909, was wounded during the landing and sustained further wounds over the next two months. He was evacuated to Egypt to recover and in August 1915, whilst returning to the Gallipoli peninsula aboard a troopship, he was killed when the ship was torpedoed. After the war John Grimshaw became a recruiting officer for the army. He joined Llangattock Lodge No. 2547 in 1928. Frank Stubbs died during the landing. William Kenealy was seriously wounded in a later battle on the Gallipoli peninsula and died in June 1915. As a result of a wound sustained in the action Alfred Richards had to have his leg amputated and was discharged from the army as unfit for further service. Despite this he served in the Home Guard during the Second World War.
JMH: Also as part of this year’s Tercentenary celebrations a Masonic Memorial Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire will be unveiled next month on 18th April. Since planting began in 1997, the National Memorial Arboretum has become a special place honouring those who have served, and continue to serve, our nation in many different ways. It’s not a cemetery but covers 150 acres of trees and planting, a peaceful place of remembrance. There are more than 300 dedicated memorials on the site acknowledging the personal sacrifices made by the Armed Forces, the Police, and the Fire and Rescue and Ambulance services. The idea of a Masonic Memorial Garden was the millennium project of a group of Provinces led by Staffordshire. Realising the project was not without its difficulties but, assisted by additional finance from Grand Lodge, has now been fully realised. The garden is entered between two pillars, topped with globes, leading to a squared pavement on which are two large ashlars. The Province of Staffordshire held a service in the garden on Armistice Day last year.
DC: I am sure that many of those here today are familiar with the name of Toye, Kenning and Spencer, one of the country’s oldest companies still in operation and, of course, the manufacturer of masonic regalia and the Tercentenary Jewel. The company also has a long tradition of making military decorations although not the Victoria Cross. It may not be so widely known that the grandfather of W Bro Bryan Toye, Alfred Toye, was awarded the Victoria Cross, at the age of twenty for his actions on the Western Front in March 1918 when he established a post that had been captured by the enemy, fought his way through the enemy with one other officer and six men, led a counterattack and was able to re-establish the line. Continuing his military career after the war, Brigadier Toye, as he became, joined Freemasonry in Grecia Lodge No. 1105 in Egypt in 1930.
Following the Armistice on 11th November 1918 which ended most of the actual fighting, a series of peace treaties were negotiated between the two sides. The Treaty of Versailles with Germany was signed on 28th June 1919 and it was registered by the Secretariat of the newly formed League of Nations in October that year. The First World War had led to the fall of several empires in central and eastern Europe, the first of which was the Russian Empire overthrown in an internal revolution by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 and which led to civil war. Britain and her allies got caught up in this and were forced to send a Relief Force to North Russia in June 1919. Three men were awarded the Victoria Cross during this action. One of them was Royal Navy Commander Claude Dobson who led a motor boat flotilla to the entrance of Kronstadt harbour. In his 55 foot boat he passed through heavy machine gun fire to torpedo a Russian battleship. In 1925 Dobson joined Navy Lodge No. 2612. As the action in which he was involved falls within the period of the First World War and its treaties, he will be included on the memorial.
JMH: Armistice Day in November 1920 was a day of mellow sunshine. It was the second time that the Armistice had been marked but was to be especially significant as it was on that day that the King, George V, unveiled the cenotaph in Whitehall and also the day that the Unknown Warrior was interred in Westminster Abbey. The coffin carrying the Unknown Warrior was carried into the Abbey between two lines of men, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross during the war or otherwise distinguished themselves by special valour. They were known as the 'Bodyguard of Heroes'. Sixteen of this honour guard have been identified as Freemasons.
One of them was Captain Robert Gee who had been a member of Roll Call Lodge No. 2523 in London since 1907. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 30 November 1917 in France when an attack by the enemy captured his brigade headquarters and ammunition dump. Gee, finding himself a prisoner, managed to escape and organised a party of the brigade staff with which he attacked the enemy, closely followed by two companies of infantry. He cleared the locality and established a defensive flank, then finding an enemy machine-gun still in action, with a revolver in each hand he went forward and captured the gun, killing eight of the crew. He was wounded, but would not have his wound dressed until the defence was organised.
One of the names to be marked on a paving stone outside is Eric Archibald McNair, who was initiated in Apollo University Lodge No. 357 in 1913. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at the age of just 21 in 1916. On 14 February 1916 on the Western Front in Belgium, Lieutenant McNair and a number of men were flung into the air when the enemy exploded a mine, several of them were buried. Although much shaken, the Lieutenant at once organised a party with a machine gun to man the near edge of the crater and opened rapid fire on the enemy who were advancing. They were driven back. Lieutenant McNair then ran back for reinforcements, but as the communication trench was blocked he went across open ground under heavy fire. His action undoubtedly saved a critical situation. Sadly Lieutenant McNair did not survive the war but died in August 1918. His name is amongst those included on the Roll of Honour that is been displayed at the Shrine in the vestibule outside the Grand Temple.
It seems fitting that, in this Tercentenary year, the building is adding a further memorial to those that fought in the First World War. It would also be fitting, I believe, to stand for a moment in remembrance of those sixty-three men of valour whose names will be a part of this building for so long as it shall stand.
With soldiers from across the world meeting and sharing values during World War I, Diane Clements looks at how this period shaped New Zealand’s relationship with Grand Lodge
The armed forces of many different countries fought in World War I between 1914 and 1918, with their experiences often being pivotal in the formation of national identities. But what of the effect these nations had on each other as they fought side by side? The experiences of masons as they travelled to new countries provide an intriguing window into how the war helped to develop the links between Grand Lodges across the world.
In 1914 there were 1,700 lodges across England and Wales, with a further 1,300 spread throughout the British Empire. As British colonies had become independent from the mid-1800s, they had established their own masonic jurisdiction or Grand Lodge. The relationship between the English Grand Lodge and the overseas Grand Lodges strengthened during World War I and was marked at celebrations of the Grand Lodge’s bicentenary in 1917 and of the peace in 1919.
For the soldiers, the experience of travelling to foreign countries, the comradeship and the trauma of war were significant in their personal development. For many, informal links with Freemasons were widened and reinforced, and the bond formed between New Zealand masons and their English brethren is a prime example of how the Craft came together during wartime.
The first masonic lodge in New Zealand was formed in 1842 and each of the English, Irish and Scottish Grand Lodges all formed lodges there. In 1890, 65 lodges established the Grand Lodge of New Zealand, with Henry Thomson as the first Grand Master. A medal was produced in 1900 to mark its first 10 years. The three ‘home’ Grand Lodges also maintained District and Provincial Grand Lodges in New Zealand.
William Massey, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, sent a telegram on the outbreak of war in 1914, saying: ‘All we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British government.’ He travelled to Britain several times, both during and after the war, and attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, signing the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of his country. Massey was installed as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand in November 1924.
In 1914, the population of New Zealand was about 1.1 million and 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), which went first to the Middle East and fought at Gallipoli and then to the Western Front. Around 18,000 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, with more than 41,000 wounded.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry collection includes a gavel with a head made from the stock of a German rifle found on the Somme battlefield in 1916 during an advance on Flers by the NZEF. It was then taken to New Zealand where it was mounted and polished.
The NZEF Masonic Association was formed in France by Colonel George Barclay in 1917. According to an article in The Freemason in April 1918, the association developed from an informal meeting of serving New Zealand troops near Armentières in June 1916.
The association’s original objective was to hold meetings to promote fraternity among its members, with branches formed in various camps, depots and hospitals. One branch was formed in Egypt and Palestine in May 1917 by Brigadier-General William Meldrum (1865-1964), the officer commanding the mounted division. This group held a meeting in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in April 1918. The association’s meetings included lectures and discussions and its members were encouraged to visit other local lodges.
NZEF soldiers came to England for rest, recuperation and training, with Wiltshire’s Sling Camp functioning as their chief training ground, while in London, the NZEF Masonic Association organised visits to Freemasons’ Hall. The association was active along the south coast of England and correspondence between Grand Lodge and Jordan Lodge, No. 1402, in Torquay from December 1917 provides a fascinating glimpse into the interaction between the troops and local lodges.
The Lodge Secretary, Stanley Lane, wrote to London about a candidate, Eric George Rhodes, a corporal in the New Zealand Paymaster’s department: ‘There has been a large camp of discharged New Zealanders near Torquay, this being the convalescent base before embarking for home… several of the officers have visited Jordan Lodge many times.’ Rhodes’ candidacy was supported by a letter from George Barclay himself who was then based at Boscombe.
By the end of the war the NZEF Masonic Association had about 1,500 members. Its members’ jewel was in three grades: metal, silver gilt and gold. In 1919, one of these gold jewels was presented to the Grand Lodge in London to commemorate the association’s wartime work and it remains a treasure of the collection.
Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter
9 November 2016
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes
Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire. Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.
This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.
The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.
The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.
Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.
Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.
Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.
Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.
I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.
Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.
Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.
Thank you, companions.
Ian Mould was born in Bedfordshire and has lived there all his life and his father, Gordon Mould, is a Freemason and member of the Old Dunstablians’ Lodge No. 5974.
From an early age Ian has been inspired by military, history and as a young boyscout he regularly went to the local war memorial in November each year. This ignited Ian’s interest in the Bedfordshire Regiment. Though a small county, Bedfordshire had its own infantry regiment in WW1 which, after the war, was joined with Hertfordshire and then in 1958 both were absorbed into the Anglia Regiment.
Ian has been visiting the Western Front for 20 years and was struck by the peace of the area in what was once the most violent place on earth.
Ian realised that though the Bedfordshire Regiment sacrificed so much so gallantly, there was no Western Front memorial to the regiment. He worked tirelessly raising monies by asking most parish and town councils, organisations, clubs and businesses in the county for contributions, built a mock up memorial and took it to various shows and fêtes.
Having raised sufficient funds, Ian started to order materials. Bedfordshire being famous for its brick making, it seemed appropriate that it should be constructed mainly from Bedfordshire bricks and Portland stone.
The Keep, which is the Bedfordshire Provincial Office, was originally the headquarters of the Bedfordshire Regiment, so to maintain the link, there is one brick from the Keep with a plaque giving its origin and connection.
His first achievement was to find a fitting place for the memorial which would be widely accepted, and it was agreed to erect the memorial at Tyne Cot, along the pathway to the visitors centre.
With the help of friends, the memorial was built in early November 2014 in time for the WW1 centenary.
The memorial was unveiled on the morning of 10th November 2014 as part of the WW1 centenary commemorations with representatives of the Anglian Regiment, the War Graves Commission, local dignitaries, friends and family, 100 years and one day from the meeting of the two battalions at Locre, as depicted in the painting in the main bar at the Keep.
A wreath was also laid at the memorial at Locre to commemorate that event.
The memorial site was donated free of charge by the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 and will be looked after by them in perpetuity.
OF THE OFFICERS AND MEN
1914 – 1918
LET THOSE THAT COME AFTER
SEE THAT THEIR NAMES
ARE NOT FORGOTTEN
Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes explains why Armistice Day should be a moment when we remember all the masons who have given their lives in times of conflict
Armistice Day commemorates those who gave their lives in two World Wars. To mark the occasion, a poppy wreath was laid at the memorial shrine in the first vestibule to the Grand Temple. It sits in front of the casket that holds the roll listing over 3,000 of our members who gave their lives on active service in the First World War.
I think it is worth reminding ourselves, however, that it is not just the shrine that is the memorial but the whole of Freemasons’ Hall itself. Indeed, during the planning stages in the 1920s and the first years of its existence, the building was known as the Masonic Peace Memorial.
As a memorial, it was intended that the building should be reserved solely for masonic purposes. Time and economics, as well as the fact that the building is now Grade II* listed, have gradually led to it being opened for non-masonic events and filming.
I would assure you, however, that our excellent in-house events team takes great care to ensure that outside events, especially filming, are consistent with the building’s origins and core purpose. We have a building of which we can be justifiably proud and that is recognised as one of the landmark buildings of London.
On Armistice Day we remember not only those in whose name the building was raised but also the many thousands of our members who gave their lives during World War Two and other conflicts that have taken place since then. I believe that on Armistice Day, we stand to remember those who sacrificed their lives to preserve those ideals that have allowed Freemasonry to flourish.
‘On Armistice Day we remember not only those in whose name Freemasons’ Hall was raised but also the many thousands of our members who gave their lives during World War Two.’
As Commonwealth nations mark the armistice signed to end the First World War, Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, traces the origins of Freemasons’ Hall
While the peace treaties after the First World War were still being negotiated in Versailles, following the armistice on 11 November 1918, the United Grand Lodge of England began preparations for its own masonic peace celebration in London. In June 1919, guests from lodges in Ireland, Scotland, America, Canada, New Zealand and England enjoyed a week of activities, including visits to the masonic schools and the Houses of Parliament. A peace medal was issued to those who attended the special Grand Lodge meeting on 27 June at the Royal Albert Hall.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught, was unable to attend, but he asked Lord Ampthill, the Pro Grand Master, to read a series of messages. One of these spoke of ‘a perpetual memorial’ to ‘honour the many brethren who fell during the war’. For the Grand Master, ‘The great and continued growth of Freemasonry amongst us demands a central home; and I wish it to be considered whether the question of erecting that home in this metropolis of the empire… would not be the most fitting peace memorial.’
With individual lodges considering what form their own memorials should take, the issue was raised at the Grand Lodge meeting in September 1919. Charles Goff from Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge, No. 12, asked if consideration had been given to other forms of memorial – particularly a fund to support Freemasons wounded during the war or their dependants. Charles also asked whether a major building project should proceed at a time of housing shortage. Although several lodges and Provinces decided to support local hospitals, Grand Lodge elected to proceed with its new temple.
In January 1920 details of the campaign to raise funds for the new building were distributed to lodges and individual members. The target was £1 million, giving the campaign its name – the Masonic Million Memorial Fund. Contributions were to be marked by the award of medals. Members who contributed at least 10 guineas (£10.50) were to receive a silver medal and those who gave 100 guineas (£105) or more, a gold medal. Lodges that contributed an average of 10 guineas per member were to be recorded in the new building as Hall Stone Lodges and the Master of each entitled to wear a special medal as a collarette. By the end of the appeal, 53,224 individual medals had been issued and 1,321 lodges had qualified as Hall Stone Lodges.
A design by architects HV Ashley and F Winton Newman was chosen and building work started in 1927. Construction began at the western corner of the new building, where houses on Great Queen Street had been demolished, and progressed eastwards.
The new Masonic Peace Memorial, as it was called, was dedicated on 19 July 1933. The theme of the memorial window outside the Grand Temple was the attainment of peace through sacrifice. Its main feature was the figure of peace holding a model of the tower façade of the building. In the lower panels were shown fighting men, civilians and pilgrims ascending a winding staircase towards the angel of peace.
In June 1938, the Building Committee announced that a memorial shrine, to be designed by Walter Gilbert, would be placed under the memorial window. Its symbols portrayed peace and the attainment of eternal life. It took the form of a bronze casket resting on an ark among reeds, the boat indicative of a journey that had come to an end. In the centre of the front panel a relief showed the hand of God in which rested the soul of man. At the four corners stood pairs of winged seraphim with golden trumpets and across its front were gilded figures of Moses, Joshua, Solomon and St George.
In December 1914 Grand Lodge had begun to compile a Roll of Honour of all members who had died in the war. In June 1921, the roll was declared complete, listing 3,078 names, and was printed in book form. After completion of the memorial shrine, the Roll of Honour, with the addition of over 350 names, was displayed within it on a parchment roll.
The Roll of Honour was guarded by kneeling figures representing the four fighting services (Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Flying Corps). By the time all these memorials were complete, the country was already in the midst of another war. Freemasons’ Hall continued to operate during that Second World War and survived largely undamaged so that it can be visited today.
Remembering fallen brethren
This year’s church service for the Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, was held at York Minster during evensong when a commemorative plaque was blessed. The plaque marks the service of 54 brethren from 22 of the Province’s lodges who died while in the service of their country in World War I.
Hundreds of brethren in full regalia then walked from the Minster to St Saviourgate, accompanied by Provincial Grand Master Jeffrey Gillyon; the Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Sonja Crisp; and many civic and Armed Forces dignitaries. The PGM unveiled a newly mounted plaque at the masonic hall, which was dedicated by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, Rev Trevor Lewis.
Every year the brethren of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, attend a church service in a different part of the Province
The Provincial service this year was held at York Minster on 27 September 2015 at the 4.00pm Evensong. During this service, a commemorative plaque was blessed. It marked the service of 54 brethren from 22 Yorkshire, North and East Ridings lodges, who, during the First World War, were killed in action, died of wounds or died whilst in the service of their King and country in that conflict.
The Provincial Grand Master Jeffrey Gillyon, accompanied by the Lord Mayor of York Sonya Crisp and many civic and armed forces dignitaries, as well as hundreds of brethren in full regalia, then walked through the streets of York, from the Minster to St Saviourgate.
The British Legion also marked this occasion with a display of their banners. This display of Freemasons in their regalia is believed to be the first, in about one hundred years, although archives are being checked to establish this fact.
At the masonic hall at St Saviourgate the Provincial Grand Master unveiled the newly mounted commemorative plaque, and it was dedicated by the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Trevor Lewis.
All present stood in a reverential silence after a trumpet tribute to our fallen brethren by Bro Mark Richardson.
The Lord Mayor said that she was pleased to be with the Freemasons on this memorable day for them.
The plaque came into being after one of the brethren, Peter Rudd, was researching the First World War and saw that these 54 local Freemasons had not been officially recognised for their ultimate sacrifice.
A very emotional day for all concerned, and we can now say that we have truly recognised the service and sacrifice of those Yorkshire brethren.
Remembrance Poems on the London Underground
In a repeat of last year's successful engagement with Transport for London, Metropolitan Grand Lodge has once again been asked to provide London masons, preferably serving or former serving of HM Forces, prepared to record poems or readings from World War I that will be replayed over the tannoy at various London Underground Stations over the Remembrance period in November.
The five tube stations involved this year are Charing Cross, Covent Garden, Knightsbridge, Oval and Westminster and recordings will take place on Tue 3rd–Fri 6th November at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.