In March 2020, two men of different generations but similar experiences were awarded the MBE. Both were military veterans who had suffered unbelievable trauma during warfare – Harry Billinge on D-Day in 1944, Mark Ormrod in Helmand in 2007. They spent the following years devoting time and energy to other people and taking part in charitable endeavours. Both are also Freemasons. We talked to Harry and Mark about their military careers, their charity work and the importance of Freemasonry to their lives
Mark Ormrod’s life changed forever on Christmas Eve 2007. The Royal Marine was serving in Helmand, Afghanistan when he triggered an improvised explosive device. In the explosion, he lost an arm and both legs, and only stayed alive thanks to the skill of the medical response team. He was the first British serviceman to survive a triple amputation in Afghanistan. The doctors told Mark he would never walk again, but he was determined to defy medical opinion, and did so six months after sustaining his injuries when he walked across the parade ground to collect his operational medal.
Since then, he hasn’t stopped, using his experiences not to hold him back but spur him on to ever greater achievements. He’s been a motivational speaker, written a book, won 11 medals in two Invictus Games, carried the torch at the 2012 Olympics, raised thousands of pounds for charity and been an active Freemason. So what has been his greatest accomplishment?
‘It’s hard to find a single thing as it’s all part of my personal journey,’ he says. ‘I am constantly striving to improve myself and help other people along the way. As a result of that, a lot of cool things have happened.
‘However, in March 2020, I was very fortunate as I was awarded an MBE, which feels like the icing on the cake for all the other things that have happened along the way. It’s like a culmination, although it’s exciting to think that there is so much more to come.’
This includes plans to publish a second book, write a children’s title, get his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and raise money for communities devastated by COVID-19.
Much of 2021 will be occupied by the film being made about his life. Mark is assistant director and will be on set throughout; he isn’t worried about suffering flashbacks during some of the bloodier scenes. ‘I’m there to help to guide filming and make sure it’s accurate,’ he says. ‘I will probably end up asking for more blood and more screaming. I’ve spent eight years as a speaker travelling around the world telling my story, so I have seen all the graphic slides of me chopped up in a tent in Afghanistan. It doesn’t bother me now.’
One thing that got Mark through those first few months was Freemasonry. He believed this would replace some of the camaraderie he would no longer get from the military. His interest in Freemasonry started before he was deployed to Afghanistan, when he was approached by a relative who suggested he become a Freemason. Mark was sufficiently attracted by the principles to want to join the Royal Marine Lodge in his hometown of Plymouth. Then came the injury.
‘After what happened on Christmas Eve, I thought that would end my chance of joining the Freemasons because of the things that are required in initiation ceremonies,’ he says. ‘But the lads in the lodge were determined. They spoke to people higher up the Province and adapted the ceremony.
‘I did my first degree in a wheelchair, my second degree on a short set of prosthetics called stubbies, and my third degree on full-length prosthetics. I’ve since managed to progress to the Chair and held every office in the Craft. After my medical discharge, knowing that I was joining the Royal Marines Lodge was very comforting, but the more I’ve learnt about Freemasonry the more I realised it didn’t matter what lodge it was. All these people were similar to the people I was around in the military, which was one of the biggest reasons I didn’t want to leave.’
Mark remains connected to the military, working full-time for the Royal Marines Charity, and he intends to continue his Freemasonry adventure. ‘Every time you do that there are all those offices to go through again,’ he says. ‘And that means forcing yourself to grow, getting outside your comfort zone and moving forward as a person. I am a big advocate of personal development and that’s something the military and Freemasonry are good for.
‘I have been through moments in my life and around people where negativity can get into your head, but I am now into the idea of surrounding myself with good people. And that’s what Freemasonry does for me. It’s being around good people with similar interests, morals, ethics and values, and wanting to help make them even better people.’