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
Bromley in step at Royal hospital
Two members of the Chelsea Pensioners – Audrey Merton, 85, and Douglas Hassell, 98 – are sleeping easier after Bromley Freemasons from Mandalay Lodge, No. 9383, Mandalay Chapter and the Mandalay Club dug deep into their pockets to buy two special £3,000 beds for the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Mandalay’s Master, Ron Warren, presented the cheque to Col Laura Bale, director of care services at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
A symphony in red
The gloom of summer had lifted. Twiddling thumbs on idle hands had now been usefully employed in fastening cufflinks and buttoning waistcoats in readiness for the first meeting of the new masonic season. No doubt having travelled, explored and generally sojourned their way through the summer months to relieve the boredom of masonic abstinence, they were now totally charged in preparation to enjoy this, their first meeting, to the full.
The doors of the masonic hall on Adelaide Street in Blackpool had been invitingly swung open and enthusiastic masons, intoxicated by the anticipation of a unique ceremony, had flooded in. After what may be called their forced sojourn, the returning brethren were fairly lapping up the camaraderie of the lounge bar.
Why a unique ceremony one may ask? The exceptionality of the occasion was immediately evident when glancing around the lounge bar, there were the usual smartly attired brethren in dark dinner suits and morning suits. There were the usual gleaming white shirts. There were the usual highly polished shoes. But there was also something most unusual! Two bright scarlet uniforms stood out from the thronging mass. These were the distinctive uniforms of Chelsea Pensioners.
John Gledhill, master of Symphony Lodge No. 4924 is a Chelsea pensioner, unique in itself in the Province of West Lancashire but making the occasion even more unique was that John was to preside over the initiation ceremony of another Chelsea Pensioner, his good friend and colleague Alan Thubron.
An agreeable untemperamental old boy is John. He prefers to avoid the limelight, slipping into the background with quiet dignity and mellow worth, for modesty prevents him from thrusting himself to the front of the queue. But on this very special occasion he proudly brought himself to the forefront. He had met Alan when he registered in at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the two of them had immediately struck up a strong friendship.
Alan, a veteran of the Catering Corp, had been a serviceman for 22 years, being attached to the Queen’s Regiment for 16 years. That he had experienced a colourful career in the army would be an understatement, having served in many campaigns and proudly sporting the medals to prove it. From the moment of his arrival at the masonic hall to the conclusion of the proceedings, his good humoured face wore an expression of delight. It was obvious that he was thoroughly enjoying his day and introduction to Freemasonry.
Attending the initiation ceremony and lending their support to John and Alan was Blackpool Group Chairman Peter Bentham and group secretary David Cook. John, himself a veteran campaigner, wasted no time in demonstrating his military acumen. Having despatched the general business of the lodge with expediency, he proceeded to tactically invite the immediate past master Jules Burton to occupy the WM’s chair and conduct the ceremony. Well, it was by way a respite for John and he obviously welcomed it.
Jules, a natural thespian in person, is a renowned ritualist, performing with passion and sincerity and once in the chair he soon opened negotiations with the candidate with the customary questions to the initiate. In a well practiced manoeuvre, Keith Roberts confidently conducted Alan around the lodge, much to the appreciation of the gathered onlookers. At each phase of the ceremony, excellence was in abundance. Jules was masterly as usual. Granville Coxhill performed the investiture of the badge of a mason with sparkle and perspicacity and Michael Glover presented the working tools without a single slipped syllable.
The highlight of the ceremony was, however, the recital of the charge after initiation. It was at this juncture that John Gledhill proved his worth as master of the lodge. In a delightful and genuine performance, John provided his audience with a memorable show. It was heartfelt, unpretentious and warmly delivered to his friend and colleague. It was a special moment for John and Alan and an unforgettable experience for those fortunate enough to be present on the day.
The director of ceremonies of the lodge, Alistair Still, who sports the features and aura of a well seasoned regimental sergeant major, was noticeably pleased with the day’s proceedings. The ceremony had been superbly orchestrated, coordinated and performed – exactly what one might expect from a lodge named Symphony!
Chelsea pensioner takes the chair
Former Coldstream Guardsman John Gledhill added a dash of distinctive colour in his Chelsea Pensioner’s uniform at his installation as Worshipful Master of Symphony Lodge, No. 4924, which meets in Blackpool. Donations to charities on the night included £1,400 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £200 each to Prostate Cancer and the Blackpool Group Sponsored Walk, and £100 each to Violet’s Light and the Children’s Hearing Service.
A rare a special sighting in West Lancashire
One of the most treasured and iconic images of British history and tradition is the distinctive scarlet-plumaged Chelsea Pensioner with its characteristic tricorne hat. Whilst this exceptional species is frequently observed in its native habitat amongst the shrubberies and lawns of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it is an infrequent migratory visitor to the sandy shores of the Fylde coast and, when away from its more familiar surroundings, it sheds its iconic headwear and dons its shako, a less flamboyant peaked hat.
In a rare sighting, believed to be the first of its kind ever in West Lancashire, an extremely fine specimen was spotted perching on the chair of King Solomon in Symphony Lodge No. 4924 in the masonic hall at Blackpool.
Former Coldstream Guard John Gledhill, proudly sporting his Chelsea Pensioner finery, was installed as Master of the lodge with military precision and in magnificent style by installing Master Steve Smith, Mentor for the Blackpool group of lodges. The lodge is proud that since its consecration in 1927 no member has served a year’s tenure as WM on more than one occasion. This has been aided by many joining members volunteering to occupy the exalted position. And so it was with John, another ‘willing’ volunteer!
Adding his dignified presence to the proceedings was Peter Elmore, representing the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. Unscathed by the wear and tear of modern society and its decline in general courteousness and etiquette, Peter is one of those individuals who has retained a consistency of poise and demureness, embodying the perfect gentleman.
The general business of the lodge having been completed with expediency and exactitude by Roy Fenton, the procession of dignitaries bowled in. Shedding further lustre on this already special event were other distinguished Grand and Provincial Grand Officers and acting Provincial Officers. Grand Officers Bill Eardley and Peter Bentham, chairman of the Blackpool group of lodges commanded pole position behind Peter Elmore, followed by John Turpin vice chairman of the group, and supported by acting Provincial Officers Martyn Jones, Gordon Ivett, and Chris Walpole.
Steve Smith, the installing Master, in the course of his masonic career has had many ambitions. As a young mason, he had yearned someday to become Master of a lodge. At one time he had entertained aspirations of being a Director of Ceremonies. Later he leaned towards being Secretary of a lodge. But now having elevated his status to group Mentor, all these desires were cast aside and forgotten. The sole thing that seemed most worthwhile to him now was to install John in the best possible manner and to this task he addressed himself with all the energy and enthusiasm he could muster. The resulting ceremony was delightful, impeccable and entertaining.
Equal to the task in hand too was Alistair Still, the formidable Director of Ceremonies of the lodge who had evidently whipped the company into great shape yet, being the perfectionist that he most certainly is he appeared to be ruminating on whether a few extra lashes may have paid dividends in some quarters.
Of particular note in the ceremony were the brethren who presented the working tools. Kicking off was Bill Snell with a delightful delivery of the tools of an installed Master, followed by Vinnie Carte’s presentation of the third degree tools. David Wilson, a professional magician, thrilled the throng by conjuring up a wonderfully vibrant rendition of the second degree tools and, bringing up the rear, a marvellous recital of the first degree tools by Keith Roberts.
Two highly experienced masons, Tom Bullen and Brian Sharples then gave exemplary addresses to the WM and wardens respectively. Following quickly on the heels of excellence, came brilliance. Peter Elmore rose with his customary dignity and delivered the address to the brethren in the most eloquent and articulate of fashions.
On occupying the chair John felt and looked quietly happy. He seemed to have brought sunshine with him from Chelsea. All eyes were now upon him and, being a chap of a demure and unassuming disposition who never seeks attention and shies away from limelight, he had acquired a complexion that perfectly complemented his splendid scarlet tunic.
But the Coldstream guards train their sons well. Once John had digested the fundamental fact that his installation had been concluded, he grasped the role of master with the tenacity of a lithe mongoose pouncing on a dastardly king cobra and adopted a stance of supreme efficiency. He seemed to be so energised that, should he have had any desire to do so, he could have felled a two ton hippopotamus with a single blow of the gavel. One may pontificate, with a degree of reluctant trepidation, that even the ubiquitous Steve Smith was reduced to a meagre shadow of his former resplendence by John’s alluring performance.
During his years in the Coldstream Guards John had served in Kenya, Aden, and Bahrain. He was stationed at Gilgil camp in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952 to 1960. Posted to the camp in 1959, it is rumoured that John’s arrival there was the sole reason that the Mau Mau surrendered the following year, although, being the modest man that he is, John refuses to take full credit for the regiment’s success.
The Coldstream Guards is the oldest regiment in the regular army in continuous active service and dates back to the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell gave Colonel George Monck permission to form his own regiment as part of the New Model Army. The Monck’s Regiment of Foot was formed in August 1650 and less than two weeks later it took part in the Battle of Dunbar at which the roundheads defeated the forces of Charles I. After Richard Cromwell’s relinquishment of his position as Lord Protector, Monck gave his support to the Stuarts and in January 1660 he crossed the River Tweed into England at the village of Coldstream from where he made a five-week march to London. He arrived in London in early February and helped in restoring Charles II to the throne. Such is the glory of the regiment that John is so proud to represent.
And this was one of the points that Peter Elmore spoke of in conveying the best wishes of the Provincial Grand Master. Adding further glitter to the dazzling ceremony, John presented Peter with handsome donations to charities, including £1,400 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £200 to Prostate Cancer research, £200 to the Blackpool Group Sponsored Walk, £100 to Violet’s Light, and £100 to the Children’s Hearing Service.
The day was an occasion to celebrate and remember. The rare sighting of a Chelsea Pensioner alighting the chair of King Solomon in West Lancashire was made extra special by the endearing, modest and enigmatic personality behind the tunic.
This grant was approved by the Grand Charity in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the installation of the Duke as the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, who also serves as Grand President of the Grand Charity.
The Duke opened the berth prior to taking part in the Chelsea Pensioners’ 322nd annual Founder’s Day Parade on 5 June as Reviewing Officer – an event that commemorates the founding of the Royal Hospital by King Charles II in 1682.
‘I was most interested to learn of the enormous efforts made to establish the Royal Hospital as a beacon of excellence in the domain of care,’ said the Duke. ‘Most impressive are the new berths in the Long Wards, which now enable In-Pensioners [full-time residents] to enjoy accommodation that’s been built to the highest modern specifications, and yet remains in keeping with its historic surroundings.’
The Chelsea Pensioner who will reside in the ‘Freemasons’ berth’ is 77-year-old Gordon ‘Sandy’ Sanders. ‘I’ve been moved from the 17th to the 21st century,’ he said. ‘My new accommodation is nothing short of fantastic!’
Freemasons have contributed to the Royal Hospital Chelsea charity over a number of years, including donations for the recently opened Margaret Thatcher Infirmary, which provides 24-hour nursing care.
‘I was most interested to learn of the enormous efforts made to establish the Royal Hospital as a beacon of excellence in the domain of care.’ Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent
Marking Liberation Day
On 9 May every year, the Channel Islands celebrate their liberation from German occupation. For the past 20 years, Chelsea Pensioners have visited Guernsey around Liberation Day for an expenses-paid holiday and to take part in events to mark the occasion.
Guernsey Freemasons have made a significant contribution towards the annual cost of the visit for several years. This year’s donation was handed to the Pensioners by Provincial Grand Master David Hodgetts during their tour of the masonic centre, accompanied by visiting Gurkhas.
Ex-soldiers and Freemasons Michael and Sandy found their way to London’s famous Royal Hospital via very different paths. As Sophie Radice reports, they have both discovered a fellowship of kindred spirits in the Chelsea Pensioners
It is easy to see why The Royal Hospital Chelsea has been called ‘the most beautiful elderly people’s home in the world’. It provides sheltered accommodation, nursing and medical care for 300 Chelsea Pensioners, otherwise known as The Scarlet Men. Not only does the hospital sit within 66 acres of parkland overlooking the Thames, but the buildings – designed by Sir Christopher Wren – are breathtakingly elegant and impressive.
Completed in 1692, The Royal Hospital has been looking after old and infirm veteran soldiers for well over three centuries. Charles II decided that the nation had a duty of care to the men who had risked their lives in battle, now known as ‘The Nations Covenant’. Phases of redevelopment and sensitive modernisation started with the opening of the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary in January 2009, which can care for up to 120 pensioners, and the completion of 34 en-suite study bedrooms.
Each of the nine foot by nine foot ‘berths’, which lead off a communal corridor with shared bathrooms, will be modernised in time. One of the spurs to start refurbishment was the introduction in 2009 of the first female Chelsea Pensioner, Dorothy Hughes, aged 85. Now there are six women, and the numbers of female Chelsea Pensioners will increase over the years in order to reflect women’s growing role in the armed forces. Although there was some initial grumbling about ‘change’ echoing through The Long Wards, the four-storey wings containing the pensioners’ living quarters, it seems that most of the residents are quite proud of the ladies in their midst. As one said: ‘There are complaints when the puddings alter slightly so there is always going to be resistance about a major change like this.’
Although the Freemasons do not have a formal relationship with The Royal Hospital, they have long been generous benefactors. In 2009, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity presented donations totalling £550,000 to ten charities nominated for consideration by HRH The Duke of Kent in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of his installation as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. The Royal Hospital Chelsea received £50,000 to assist with the building of the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary.
Several Chelsea Pensioners who are also Freemasons have been hoping to encourage a greater number of fellow masons who have served in the army to consider spending their later years at this prestigious London address. Former servicemen Sandy Sanders and Michael Allen are the driving force behind this push to increase awareness of what life is really like at The Royal Hospital. Both go to lodges to give talks and encourage follow-up visits and tours of the buildings and grounds by Freemasons and their families.
Sandy originally became interested in the Freemasons while serving with the army in Cyprus in the 1960s. ‘One of the officers went with his wife on a trip to Egypt for the weekend leaving their children with friends. The couple were killed in a plane crash and when I started to sort out fundraising for the youngsters, another soldier told me not to worry because he belonged to an organisation that was already covering it. I remember saying that I wouldn’t mind belonging to something as caring as that,’ recalls Sandy.
Sandy eventually joined the Freemasons in 1982 when he left the army and became a member of a lodge in Buckinghamshire. When he decided to move to Portugal in the hope that the climate would better suit his wife who had polycystic kidneys, he helped set up the Prince Henry The Navigator Lodge in the Algarve but had to return to the UK as his spouse became increasingly unwell.
In 1999 Sandy found that his kidneys were a match and he donated one of them to his wife, who enjoyed a further eight years of life before passing away. Sandy had a cousin whose father-in-law was a Chelsea Pensioner and after a four-day trial Sandy decided that this was the place for him now that he was a widower. Sandy works in the development office, is a tour guide and is still a Freemason at a London lodge. He has a ‘lady friend’ who lives nearby and ‘obviously found the red coat irresistible’.
Michael Allen also has a girlfriend who he met since becoming a Chelsea Pensioner so perhaps there is something about the distinctive scarlet jacket. He became a Freemason in his forties when he left the army to work at St Paul’s Cathedral.
‘I had been born into the army and lived in army housing all my life until then. I found that I didn’t speak the language of civilian life. I felt there was no work ethic, loyalty or comradeship. When I was initiated into the St Paul’s Cathedral lodge it was such a relief to be back with men who believed in all the qualities I felt non-army life lacked. People who I trusted and who were decent.’
Michael divorced and found himself as a 60-year-old in sheltered accommodation with 24 women in Cambridgeshire. It was his GP who suggested that he would be eligible to become a Chelsea Pensioner and as soon as he went for his trial Michael knew that it was the place for him. ‘It is such a sociable place. The Royal Hospital has its own bars, cafes, allotments, shops and restaurants. As it is catered, we eat communally in The Great Hall so there is always an interesting conversation going on.’ Michael also has two jobs, working in the internet café and as a tour guide.
QUALITY OF LIFE
The lieutenant governor Peter Currie is understandably proud of the quality of care The Royal Hospital offers its residents, whose average age is 83. ‘While I know that the buildings and grounds of The Royal Hospital are exceptional and we are lucky enough to be considered an essential part of British culture, I do think that there is a great deal the rest of society could learn about looking after the elderly in all the different stages of later life.’
Currie explains how the hospital offers sheltered accommodation, an onsite GP and an extremely active and communal life to those that are fit and well. ‘For those that have health problems we have an excellent care home and hospice for end of life care,’ he says. ‘A pensioner who joins us at 65 and stays here for 20, 30 years will have enjoyed a high quality of life, working if he or she wants to, surrounded by like-minded people and will die somewhere he or she knows and is known. I can’t see why this sort of model couldn’t be replicated in towns and cities throughout the UK, with the rest of the community considering this sort of provision
of care as a moral and financial duty.’
The Royal Hospital has an exceptionally friendly and warm atmosphere. There is a lot of laughter with pensioners sitting together not only in the armchairs in The Long Wards but outside on benches and in the cafés and bars. The requirements to become a Chelsea Pensioner are that you are over 65, have served in the army, give up your army pension on coming to live at the hospital and that you don’t have any family who are financially dependent on you. For ex-servicemen who are Freemasons, it would seem like a natural progression and an enviably convivial way to spend your later years.
If you want to find out more about becoming a Chelsea Pensioner or would like a Chelsea Pensioner to speak at your lodge meeting, go to www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk
With both Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, it has certainly been a memorable summer.
Since the last issue we have successfully released a new core leaflet. The title, What's It All About?, was inspired by our most frequently asked - and probably hardest to answer - question from non-masons. This is another milestone in our strategy for making people understand the relevance of Freemasonry in modern society which, in turn, will help both recruitment and retention. Do please look at the leaflet on our website. I think it is important to note that the leaflet is written in plain English for both the potential candidate as well as for all our families and friends.
It is a great 'myth buster'; showing that our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Additionally, it talks about friendship, openness, giving, our purpose and how we all grow by our membership. Very different to anything we have done before, the leaflet has some outstanding black and white photography. Indeed, the initial distribution to London, the Provinces and Districts has proved so popular that we have already had to order another print run.
We have another thought-provoking issue of Freemasonry Today for you all, including a fascinating interview with the Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes. He talks openly about what he has got out of Freemasonry as well as the responsibility of this key leadership role and his hopes for the Craft. Dr Roman Hovorka goes on the record to discuss the creation of an artificial pancreas - the result of medical research that has been funded by the Freemasons and which could transform the way children with Type 1 diabetes manage this chronic condition. We spend a day on the lake with the Masonic Fishing Charity in Northamptonshire to see how young people are finding new ways of interacting with the world. Finally, ex-soldiers and Freemasons Michael Allen and Sandy Sanders reveal the camaraderie they have found in becoming Chelsea Pensioners.
Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012
In reading the Grand Secretary’s column and hearing about the new Core Leaflet it occurred to me that Freemasonry is not just a charitable institution – a view held by the mundane world and many brethren alike. We all know that charity is the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart and most apply this virtue without vaunting it. It is natural that the Craft should defend itself against the many unfair accusations made against it, but in doing so in public our charitable virtues should not be overstated. The Craft is far more than a charity.
Letters to the editor - No. 21 Spring 2013
Keeping up standards
I read with great interest and agreement the correspondence from Herbert Ewings and Tom Carr in the winter 2012 edition and felt somehow that the two letters were intrinsically linked.