Celebrating 300 years
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 01:00

Fraternity in the trenches

Service and sacrifice

The Battle of the Somme produced more than one million casualties. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements marks the masons who fought for freedom

The centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 will be marked this summer. On that single day there were almost 60,000 British casualties, most of them before noon, of whom nearly 20,000 died. 

As the regular army had been largely destroyed by the end of 1914, the soldiers who fought on the Somme were Kitchener’s volunteer army, the best the nation had to offer, but inexperienced in battle. A few months earlier most had been working in factories, offices and fields and many had joined up with friends from their local areas. 

The offensive on the Somme was launched to support the French army and was intended to draw German manpower away from Verdun. This meant that British troops were moved south from Flanders to north-east France. 

Initially, the move was regarded as positive by the soldiers, as switching from clay to chalk soil meant they had a better chance of keeping dry. The British advance was preceded by seven days of artillery bombardment, which proved ineffective in damaging the barbed-wire barrier erected by German troops. 

By the time of the battle, the method of centrally recording masonic losses had been established. Lodge secretaries were asked to record on special Grand Lodge forms the names of brethren known to have died. These were used to compile a Roll of Honour with name, military rank and masonic rank published each year in the Masonic Year Book. Modern research, checking these names against military records, has identified at least 25 masonic casualties during the period of the battle. 

Manchester businessman Charles Campbell May was one of several Freemasons who died on the first day. Born in New Zealand, he had served six years with King Edward’s Horse (The King’s Overseas Dominions Regiment) before 1914 and then founded a volunteer unit at the outbreak of war. Charles was a member of King’s Colonials Lodge, No. 3386.

‘Coolest and bravest’

The Somme drew on the resources of the whole British Empire, and among the casualties was Eric Ayre, from Newfoundland, who was a member of Whiteway Lodge, No. 3541. His brother Bernard and cousin Wilfred were also killed. The head of a wooden gavel, now in the Library and Museum collection, was made from an abandoned German rifle by New Zealand troops, who claimed to have used it at masonic meetings on the Western Front. 

Roby Myddleton Gotch had just qualified as a solicitor when war broke out. He had joined Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, while at the University of Oxford in 1910 and later joined Nottinghamshire Lodge, No. 1434. Described as ‘one of the coolest and bravest of officers’, Roby was killed as he helped to lay a telephone wire close to some German barbed wire. 

Around 750 former pupils of the Royal Masonic School for Boys served in the war. Of these, 106 were killed, as well as six masters. In 1922, Memorials of Masonians Who Fell in the Great War was published with biographical details of each casualty. Among them was George Sutton Taylor, a fish merchant who had enlisted with the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, the ‘Grimsby Chums’, in 1914. He always declined any promotion so that he could stay with the friends he had joined up with. 

‘He always declined any promotion so that he could stay with the friends he had joined up with.’

Remembering the fallen

Another Old Masonian casualty of the Somme was Cyril Young from London, a 20-year-old clerk with the Metropolitan Asylums Board. His platoon was among the first into battle on the first day. The Company Sergeant-Major wrote to Cyril’s mother soon after leaving for France in July 1915: ‘I did my utmost to dissuade him from volunteering so soon because of his youth, and he seemed such a nice chap that it made me think he probably left aching hearts behind him. Still, he was so keen on doing his little bit, as we all are, that I could not refuse him.’

Possessed of a fine swerve and a great turn of speed, Thomas Kemp had played for Manchester Rugby Union Club and Leigh Cricket Club as an amateur while pursuing a career in accountancy. When the war broke out he was working in Chile but travelled home to volunteer in the Manchester Regiment. The secretary of his lodge, Marquis of Lorne Lodge, No. 1354, was among those who sent condolences to his parents. 

In a later phase of the battle, Eugene Paul Bennett, a lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment, led an attack on the German trenches despite being wounded and when most of the other officers had been killed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving his battalion and capturing the enemy line. On his return, Eugene became a Freemason, joining the Lodge of Felicity, No. 58, in London in 1922. 

In July 1932 the Thiepval Memorial was unveiled by the Prince of Wales. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, its arch represents the alliance of Britain and France in the offensive. The village of Thiepval had been one of the objectives of the first day of the battle, having been held by the German army since September 1914. It was finally captured by the British at the end of September 1916 and will be the focus of the centenary commemoration.

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The Library and Museum’s latest temporary exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of the Royal Masonic Hospital

This first opened in late 1916 to take casualties from the First World War. In 1933 the hospital opened at a new site at Ravenscourt Park in West London where its award winning Modernist building broke new ground in hospital design. It then played a role in the Second World War treating over 9,000 personnel. The hospital and its staff were pioneers of many medical treatments and its nurse training facilities were renowned. The buckle worn by the hospital’s nurses featured masonic symbols. By the late twentieth century the financial and operational challenges faced by the hospital proved too much and it closed in 1996.

The exhibition is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, and runs between April 25th 2016 and April 7th 2017

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A centenary of medical care

The history of the Royal Masonic Hospital and the work done by its staff is the subject of the latest exhibition in the Library and Museum

The First World War created a host of new charitable causes for which Freemasons and their lodges raised funds. The health and care grants that are provided today have their origins in the work of the Freemasons’ War Hospital in London’s Fulham Road. The hospital accepted its first 60 patients in September 1916 and treated over 4,000 members of the armed forces during the course of the war. 

The premises reopened as the Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home in 1919, providing care for 46 inpatients who were Freemasons, their wives or dependent children. Having outgrown its original site, in 1933 the hospital moved to Ravenscourt Park. The new building was opened by King George V and Queen Mary, and renamed the Royal Masonic Hospital.

Staff at the hospital pioneered many modern medical treatments, and it was known for its nurses’ training. The Wakefield Wing, with new physiotherapy and pathology departments, accommodation for nurses, and a chapel, opened in 1958, and a new surgical wing in 1976. When the hospital closed, its Samaritan Fund, which helped Freemasons afford private treatment, was taken on by the Masonic Samaritan Fund

The exhibition opens spring 2016 and can be visited Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm

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Foundations: new light and early years

Zetland and Hong Kong Lodge No. 7665 have kindly extended an invitation to Friends of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry to attend one of the official deliveries of the 2016 Prestonian lecture, the only official Craft lecture sanctioned by the United Grand Lodge of England. 

The lecture will be held at Freemasons’ Hall on Monday 25th April 2016, 5.00pm.

Please register your attendance by 1st April 2016 via the Library and Museum: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

The Prestonian Lecturer is Dr Ric Berman and the chosen subject is: Foundations: new light on the formation and early years of the Grand Lodge of England.

The 2016 Prestonian Lecture explores the evolution of Freemasonry, queries long-standing myths, and explains the step change that occurred with the creation of the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717.

Dr Ric Berman outlines the connections between Freemasonry and the British establishment in the eighteenth century, and how and why its leaders positioned Grand Lodge as a bastion of support for the government. He also touches on how Freemasonry was used to advance Britain’s diplomatic objectives and for espionage.

The lecture marks the upcoming 300th anniversary of the formation of the first Grand Lodge and sets a context for 2017’s celebration.

The Prestonian Lecturer is appointed by the United Grand Lodge of England. This year’s lecturer, Ric Berman, is the author of Foundations of Modern Freemasonry first published in 2011 and now in its second edition; Schism (2013), which explains the real conflict between Moderns and Antients; and Loyalists & Malcontents (2015), a history of colonial and post-colonial Freemasonry in America's Deep South.

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Perpetual memorial

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. 

Moving forward

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. 

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Finding Freemasons

A digitisation project between the Library and Museum and Ancestry will make searching for masons from the past much easier

The world’s largest online family history resource, Ancestry has transcribed over two million records of Freemasons in the English and Irish Constitutions using the membership registers of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Ireland. 

The names have created a searchable online database of Freemasons from the 1750s to the early 1920s. The database and images from the Grand Lodge registers are being made available via Ancestry’s website. This will provide information about individual lodge affiliation, as well as address and occupation details. 

It has often been difficult to track down the names of individual Freemasons if there were no details of their lodge. Grand Lodge’s main communication was with lodge secretaries and there was no reason for the organisation itself to create an alphabetical index of members. 

It will now be much easier for family historians, researchers and those writing their lodge histories to access this information. 

Ancestry provides a pay-per-view or subscription service and free access will also be available in the Library and Museum. Further details are available on the Library and Museum’s website and at www.ancestry.co.uk

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017

Masonic ancestry

Sir,

What a great article you wrote in Freemasonry Today, Issue 32, called ‘Finding Freemasons’. My mother enjoys her family history research and through the Ancestry connection she discovered that my great, great, great, great grandfather Abraham Keyzor and his cousin Abraham Murray were both initiated into Robert Burns Lodge, No. 25, on 6 December 1858. 

One hundred and fifty-seven years later, I was delighted to see the lodge going strong and they very kindly allowed me to visit at their installation night on 6 February 2016.

What a night! The whole lodge made me feel very welcome and the Festive Board included a bagpipe player escorting in the Worshipful Master. There was an ‘address to the haggis’ before we tucked into a starter of haggis, and after dessert we had great entertainment with musical songs before a raffle, where I was lucky enough to win a bottle of Rabbie Burns beer.

Having the opportunity of visiting the lodge of an ancestor is something truly special and I intend to visit again in future. Hopefully, other brethren may find similar connections with older lodges.

David Bywater, Cantuarian Lodge, No. 5733, London

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Two million historic Freemason records published online

Newly digitised collection offers fascinating insight into one of world’s most intriguing organisations 

More than two million historic Freemason membership records have been published online for the first time, revealing the names of some of the most famous and well-connected men in British history. 

Digitised by Ancestry, the world’s largest family history resource, the UK and Ireland Freemason Membership Registers 1733-1923 span 190 years and offer fascinating insight into the inner workings of one of the world’s most intriguing organisations.

Rich in detail, each record reveals the Freemason’s name, profession, residence, date of initiation or date that they joined the organisation, age at initiation and lodge location. Accordingly, this collection will be of vital significance for anybody looking to locate, or find out more about, a Freemason ancestor.

The records also feature numerous famous Freemasons, including: 

Oscar Wilde – Following his initiation on the 23 February 1875, Irish-born Wilde is listed as a member of the Apollo University Lodge, Cambridge. A novelist, essayist, and one of the most popular playwrights of his time, his novels The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest remain popular today. 

Sir Henry Wellcome – Scientist, businessman, philanthropist, archaeologist and collector, Wellcome is best known for his pioneering approach to medical research. His legacy, the Wellcome Trust, continues to provide grants to pharmacology departments to educate and train young researchers.

Winston Churchill – Appearing in the records at the age of 26, Churchill was initiated into Studholme Lodge on the 26 May 1901. He went on to become a British statesman, orator, author and eventually prime minister across the years 1940–45 and 1951–55. Many credit ‘British Bulldog’ Churchill for leading the country to victory in World War II.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling – Writer, poet, and novelist, Kipling's works of fiction include children’s favourite The Jungle Book and Kim. Born in Bombay, Kipling was initiated in the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance No 782, in Lahore in 1886. 

Novelists and scientists aside, further analysis of the records reveals that engineers, merchants and clerks were the most common professions of English Freemasons. Similarly, in Ireland, farmers, clerks and engineers make up the top three most frequently occurring member roles. A plethora of other professions also appear, not least 14,882 ‘Gentleman’, and even a solitary ‘Cloth Shrinker’. 

'As freemasonry approaches its 300th birthday in 2017, we are pleased to be able to provide access to details of past members. The records demonstrate the extensive involvement which Freemasons have had in British society at national and local level and I hope that they will provide a fascinating insight.' - Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments: 'We’re delighted to be able to offer people an online window into a relatively unknown organisation. Whilst we can’t reveal the inner workings of Freemason ceremonies, what we can tell you is the details of over two million historic members. So, if you want to find out more about a Freemason ancestor or locate a famous member, now is the perfect time to get online and start your search.'

To search the UK and Ireland Freemason Membership Registers 1733-1923 and more than 16 billion historical records worldwide, visit www.ancestry.co.uk 

A part of the launch, Sir Tony Robinson took a tour of Freemasons' Hall with Dr James Campbell who was able to debunk some of the common myths surrounding Freemasonry

 

 

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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 

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Reel attraction

To preserve captured moments in the history of Freemasonry, the Library and Museum is digitising masonic films to enable anyone to view them

The Library and Museum stores and cares for collections of older records on behalf of Grand Lodge and the masonic charities. Among these are films such as a 1929 newsreel of a ceremony marking the extension at Treloar Hospital in Hampshire, and a film made for the RMBI in 1978 entitled Life in Our Homes. 

Former head of the East Anglian Film Archive David Cleveland was asked by the Library and Museum to undertake a survey of the film reels to identify duplicates, and to advise on methods of destruction for some of the duplicate material. 

Current recommendations are for the transfer of reel film to digital media for long-term preservation. The process is costly but the Library and Museum has received support from London’s Screen Archives (LSA), which transferred 16 film titles to digital media at no charge, courtesy of the British Film Institute’s Unlocking Film Heritage Digitisation Fund. The digitisation was completed by Prime Focus in London’s Soho.

All 16 titles will be accessible with full descriptions at the LSA website. After copying, the reel films are kept in specialist storage at the London Metropolitan Archives. With half of the film titles in its collection now available online, the Library and Museum is working on ways to preserve the rest of its film collection. 

Films can currently be viewed at the BFI Player portal: http://player.bfi.org.uk/search 

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The latest exhibition in the Library and Museum starts this week on Monday 8 June and turns the spotlight on Freemasonry and entertainment

During the 1700s, as Freemasonry grew in popularity, it began to attract new members from increasingly diverse social backgrounds. Masonic lodges had always attracted men whose work could take them anywhere in the country, such as mariners and merchants, who would find security and friendship within the fraternity. The stage was no different and throughout the 1700s, there are many examples of members of the theatrical or musical professions enjoying or seeking membership of lodges. The 1800s saw the development of 'class lodges', which were lodges for men with a common interest, background or occupation. 

In 1863 Maybury Lodge No. 969 was formed for Freemasons connected to the Royal Dramatic College in Woking, a home for retired actors. This was the first of many lodges associated with the theatrical profession that would open in the next 100 years.  

This exhibition examines over twenty lodges associated with theatre, music and entertainment from lodges for Victorian pantomime stars in London's Drury Lane to musical hall bohemians in Birkenhead.  

Throughout the exhibition you will also find items relating to many theatrical and musical 'stars' of their time: ventriloquists, actor managers, the original Charley's Aunt, music hall and vaudeville comedians, composers and conductors, a star of the silent screen and two rock music legends. 

Start: 8 June 2015
End: 13 February 2016

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