Invictus Games Competitor and British Army veteran Ashley Hall fought back after a terrorist bomb took off both his legs and part of his left hand while on duty in Afghanistan, but even he was unprepared by the callous thieves who stole his specially adapted bike – and his route back to mobility and a more normal life
Now thanks to Essex Freemasons, Ashley, aged 28, is back in the saddle four months after thieves broke into the shed at his Colchester home, taking the bike and most importantly, the special components that enabled him to ride it.
After his story was featured in the Colchester Gazette newspaper, Rodney Bass, Provincial Grand Master for Essex, immediately offered to replace the bike; a task that took four months and the skill of experts from across Europe to fulfil.
'Raising the £8,000 to replace the bike and purchase the modifications was the easy bit,' said Rodney, who officially presented Ashley with his new machine at the St Giles Masonic Centre in Colchester on 19th October.
'We had to approach a specialist company in Austria, the only one that could build the bespoke specification needed and even they had to order and adapt a wide range of additional components to complete the job. It was a long wait but worth it to be able to get Ashley back in the saddle.
'I was particularly appalled by the fact that thieves who have probably contributed little to the community, had deprived a brave Army veteran, seriously disabled serving his country, and my members agreed. I am delighted we could help.'
For Ashley, who was serving in the Royal Engineers in 2007 as part of a bomb disposal team at the time of his injury, it is a dream come true. 'I wanted to do all the things that I had enjoyed before the incident,” he said.
'One of these was riding a bike again on just two wheels, a thing that most people take for granted. The thieves stopped that on the day they broke into my shed.'
Not that Ashley is man who is easily deterred. In 2017, he competed in the wheelchair rugby event in Prince Harry’s Invictus Games and today practices martial arts – he is a blue belt in Brazilian Jujitsu. At the time of the robbery he was in Anglesey in North Wales competing for Team Brit, a racing car event.
Freemasonry on the march
John Hamill, Deputy Grand Chancellor, on how the shared values and camaraderie found in Freemasonry have appealed to members of the British armed forces through history
Retirement has enabled me to spend more time at my home in the Fens. I have been surprised by how often the peace and tranquillity have been disturbed by aeroplanes from the Royal Air Force and American air bases that still exist in East Anglia flying over the area. Given the recent celebrations marking the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force and the commemorative events to honour the closing months of the First World War, I began to reflect on the enormous contribution that members of the services have made to the development and spread of Freemasonry over the last 300 years.
It was the Grand Lodge of Ireland that, in the early 1730s, introduced the practice of issuing travelling warrants to form lodges in regiments of the British Army, enabling the lodge to meet wherever the regiment might be stationed. The idea was quickly taken up by the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges in England and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The travelling military lodges of the Home Grand Lodges took Freemasonry around the globe; its development mirrored that of the development of the British Empire.
The travelling lodges did a great deal to help establish Freemasonry in the North American colonies, Canada, the West Indies and Caribbean, and India.
Constitutionally, the English Grand Lodges would only issue travelling military warrants in regiments in which the commanding officer agreed to there being a lodge. Equally, they were only supposed to take in members of the particular regiment and not initiate civilians. Inevitably, when a travelling lodge was stationed overseas in an area where there were no lodges, they would take in locals. When the regiment moved on, those civilians would usually apply to a Home Grand Lodge for a warrant to meet as a stationary lodge to enable them to carry on their Freemasonry.
Although there are anecdotes of lodge meetings held on board ships, there is no evidence that the Home Grand Lodges issued travelling warrants for lodges to be held on ships. There is, however, a great deal of evidence in the membership registers, from the earliest registers, of many members of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and merchant navy being involved in Freemasonry and helping to spread it overseas.
Indeed, lodges in the ports around the English coast in the 18th and 19th centuries became cosmopolitan in their membership, holding meetings when foreign ships were in port and taking in officers and crew members, often putting them through all three degrees on the same day. Equally, lodges in the colonies would hold meetings or social events when ships came into port. Admiral Nelson himself recorded being entertained at a masonic ball in the West Indies.
One of the problems for seafaring brethren was that being at sea for long periods meant that their masonic progress could be rather slow, as it would be dependent on being on shore at a time when their lodge met. Many naval officers had to wait until they retired before they could fully participate, but others appear to have taken full advantage of every opportunity to do so.
One such officer was Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham, KCB (1841–1918), who appears to have joined a lodge in every port he spent any time in or visited regularly. Being stationed in the Mediterranean, he rose to the rank of District Grand Master of Malta. In today’s slimmed-down navy, it is even more difficult for serving members to become fully involved in Freemasonry unless they receive a shore-based appointment.
The attraction of Freemasonry to members of the services appears to be a combination of shared values; the ideals of service and tradition; and the continuation of the camaraderie they have experienced within the armed forces. It was certainly the latter that led to the huge expansion of Freemasonry in the English-speaking world at the end of both World Wars. Long may the connection continue.
‘The travelling military lodges took Freemasonry around the globe’
Those who dwell in the silent cities
With Rudyard Kipling as one of its founding members, how did a masonic lodge created for those serving in the Imperial War Graves Commission in northern France find its way to London?
From Gallipoli, the Middle East and Salonika to the European nations along the Western Front, the sites of many First World War graves were unknown, and in areas where fighting had been heaviest, bodies lay unburied.
The commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross, Sir Fabian Ware, decided that the final resting places of the dead would not be lost. His unit therefore began recording and caring for all the graves they could find. By 1915, this work was given official recognition by the War Office and incorporated into the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission.
With the support of Edward, Prince of Wales, Ware submitted a memorandum on the subject to the Imperial War Conference, and in May 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission, today called the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, was established by a Royal Charter.
Undertaking the reburial of the fallen soldiers of Britain and its empire, the commission was empowered to buy land in order to build cemeteries and memorials wherever required. Its work began in earnest after the 1918 armistice that ended the fighting. That year, some 587,000 graves were identified, with a further 559,000 casualties registered as having no known grave.
For commission members who were masons, creating a lodge was the logical progression – the commission was free from political control and was tasked with caring for the graves of men and women from many religions.
With the commission making its headquarters just outside St Omer in March 1919, Lodge No. 12 was consecrated nearby on 7 January 1922 in both the French and English rites.
Lodge No. 12’s founders included Sir Fabian himself, Sir Herbert Ellissen and Conservative politician Sir Henry Maddocks. But perhaps the most famous founder was Rudyard Kipling, who had joined the commission as literary adviser.
Kipling inspired the eventual name of the lodge: The Builders of the Silent Cities. In the words of the by-laws of No. 12, the name ‘beautifully expresses the vocation of its members, whose sympathetic labour is to construct and maintain permanent resting places and memorials to the glorious and valiant dead of the British Empire who fell in the Great War’.
During the 1920s, No. 12 was an active lodge, holding eight meetings a year and giving an opportunity for the study of Freemasonry without encroaching on Degree ceremonies. According to ‘35 Masters, The Story of the Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge, No. 4948’, the lodge built up ‘an enviable reputation for excellent working’, including a modified version of the Sussex working in the Third Degree. It was the only lodge in France to do so and was carried out as a mark of respect for Kipling, who was a Sussex man.
In 1925, the commission moved to London, and many of the senior members of No. 12 were transferred to England. This naturally led to the need for a London lodge, and on 5 December 1927, the Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge, No. 4948, was consecrated under the English Constitution.
‘O valiant hearts who to your glory came, Through dust of conflict and through battle flame; Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved, Your memory hallowed in the land you loved’ A line from the hymn ‘Oh Valiant Hearts’, which is sung at the end of Lodge No. 4948 meetings
A HALL STONE LODGE
While Ware had been a founder member of No. 12, he was not a member of a lodge in the English Constitution at the time so could not play a similar role in the formation of No. 4948. Ellissen therefore became the first Master and shouldered the burden of most of the work during the lodge’s formative years.
With Freemasons’ Hall a memorial to the brethren who fell in the First World War, it will come as no surprise that Ellissen’s first resolution was that No. 4948 should become a Hall Stone Lodge. Grand Lodge had launched a campaign to raise funds to help in the Hall’s construction, with a target of £1 million. 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 on a collarette. Ellissen was determined that the medal should be attained during his Mastership, so that future brethren should know that every Master from the first onwards had worn it during their year of office.
Since its inception, Lodge No. 4948 has had a number of different London homes, meeting at Andertons’ Hotel in Fleet Street, The Rembrandt Hotel on Thurloe Street, The Mostyn Hotel on Portman Square, the Royal Commonwealth Society on Northumberland Avenue and The Park Court Hotel in Bayswater. In 2001, however, it returned home to Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, where it was originally consecrated and still meets today on the third Friday of January, February, March and November.
At the end of every meeting of Lodge No. 4948, ‘Oh Valiant Hearts’ is sung, a hymn specially written for a War Anniversary Intercession Service held in Westminster Abbey in August 1917. Originally titled ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’, the hymn is a fitting tribute to those who dwell in the silent cities.
Thanks to ‘35 Masters, The Story of the Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge’ and ‘The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge’. For more information about the Imperial War Graves Commission, now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, go to www.cwgc.org.
A mile in my shoes
For Freemason Mark Ormrod, the battlefield injuries he sustained proved to be a springboard to reinvent his life. But not all veterans respond the same way. Peter Watts finds out how, thanks to masonic funding, Combat Stress provides psychiatric support for ex-personnel
Christmas Eve in 2007 began with an ordinary patrol for Mark Ormrod, a Royal Marine on tour in Afghanistan. It ended with Mark in a coma and undergoing a life-saving operation after an improvised explosive device was triggered, leaving him without both legs and an arm.
As a triple amputee, Mark found that Freemasonry provided some of the support he needed to get on with his life, having been initiated into the Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, in 2008 while in a wheelchair. Today, Mark has prosthetic limbs and is an author, mentor and motivational speaker. He credits Freemasonry with providing invaluable support at a difficult time.
‘It’s a really important part of dealing with stuff in life, having people around you as friends and brothers,’ he says. ‘It was very reassuring to know I had people who were encouraging and empowering, and as I progressed through the lodge it helped in terms of confidence and leadership. It’s helped holistically, in all areas. I also like the fact that we work with charities. That’s very fulfilling – being able to help other people is very rewarding.’
One of those charities is Combat Stress, an organisation that supports veterans with mental health issues. With increased pressure on the NHS and more former servicemen and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following gruelling experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has awarded a £60,000 grant to Combat Stress to fund a community psychiatric nurse operating in the southwest of England, where Mark now lives.
For David Innes, the Chief Executive of the MCF and himself a retired British Army officer, there is a vital need for masonic support. ‘One of the core areas that the MCF supports on behalf of Freemasonry is helping as many people as we can who are suffering from social isolation and social exclusion – people who are not able to participate in society for a wide variety of reasons,’ says the former member of the Corps of Royal Engineers who reached the rank of Brigadier.
‘If we can help those suffering from PTSD or mental health issues come to terms with the challenges they face, it gives them a chance to make something of the rest of their lives. Combat Stress does some fantastic work in this particular field.’
MENTAL HEALTH FOCUS
The MCF was particularly impressed with the focus Combat Stress gives to veterans with mental health issues, operating dedicated services from three regional hubs. ‘They are very focussed on helping those suffering from mental health issues – that is their core business. It’s what they are particularly good at, and they have a very good structure,’ says Innes. ‘The statistics they produce show that, in the vast majority of cases, they allow individuals to make significant improvements so they can get on with their lives.’
Combat Stress will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019, having been founded after the First World War to support soldiers returning from the trenches. Today it offers clinical care so former servicemen and women have the tools and mechanisms they need to cope with their conditions. Care comes in a variety of forms, from occupational therapy and group counselling to a six-week residential course.
The community psychiatric nurse funded by the MCF grant will provide support to around 500 ex-personnel. ‘The nurse will cover Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Bristol,’ explains Kirstie Tong, the trusts and foundations manager at Combat Stress. ‘In 2017, in the southwest, the community psychiatric nurse did 72 assessments for veterans with combat stress and 10 other assessments, and had 47 one-to-one appointments, 90 group contacts and 51 support-group contacts. The MCF grant will contribute towards a large part of the salary of this nurse until 2020. We are hugely grateful for the MCF and its continued support, which makes our work possible.’
Mark Ormrod didn’t require the support of Combat Stress as he recovered but recognises the importance of this type of work, particularly for former members of the armed forces, who may see mental health issues as a sign of weakness. ‘Although I’ve not worked with Combat Stress, I know it offers counselling, residential care and therapy,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of stigma in the military with regard to mental health. People don’t always like going out and asking for support, but if it’s serious, you can point them towards the professionals at Combat Stress.’
This stigma is slowly beginning to disappear. Tong says that while veterans of the Falklands War take an average of 15 years before contacting Combat Stress for support, a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan will do so in three years. That is unquestionably a positive thing, but it also means that Combat Stress faces increasing pressure on its services. ‘We have seen a 143 per cent increase in referrals in the last decade,’ says Tong. ‘We now support around 3,000 veterans across the armed forces each year and have 2,000 referrals. Around 80 per cent have PTSD and have experienced multiple traumas in their combat career.’
As Innes acknowledges from his own experience in the Corps of Royal Engineers, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly traumatic: ‘Many of the men and women we are supporting now will have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the intensity of those operations was ferocious.
‘People will have been exposed to events that, to be honest, are simply horrific,’ he says. ‘We are seeing an increase in PTSD as a result of those operations. Providing support to organisations like Combat Stress is vital. We are lucky today, because more is known about mental health than 40 years ago when I joined the army. It is discussed more widely, but soldiers still don’t tend to talk about things like that.’
Mark has found he can talk about his experiences with the Freemasons, who have provided him with an important support network after he left the friendship of the Royal Marines behind. ‘It filled that space, very much so,’ he says. ‘It’s the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the sense of belonging. Having that other family outside of your own, good people that you can rely on. I’m a little bit surprised at how important it’s become. What I love is that I have three children, I have three limbs missing, I have a full-time job, I travel a lot, and if I can’t make a meeting, I never get made to feel bad. They always say family first, then work, then lodge. That has allowed it to become a big part of my life. It’s never felt like hard work.’
A veteran’s story
David is a Royal Air Force veteran who started experiencing stress after leaving the armed services. After he had a stroke, he began to have anxiety attacks.
Eventually, David contacted Combat Stress for advice and began to attend community group sessions.
‘The groups are great,’ David says. ‘We are all different ages and from different walks of life, but in many ways we are all the same and experiencing the same things. ‘It’s made a huge difference to my happiness. The Combat Stress sessions help me better understand why I feel the way I do.
‘In the military community we tend to think “just get on with it”, and unfortunately this might put people off seeking help. I’d say to others: listen to those close to you. You owe it to them to at least make that call to Combat Stress. You can be anonymous, but just talk to someone.’
Mark Ormrod is still feeling the effects of the landmine he stepped on 11 years ago.
Quick action from his fellow Marines, and an innovative procedure carried out aboard a Chinook helicopter en route to the hospital, saved his life.
Mark woke up in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, with both legs amputated above the knee and his right arm amputated above the elbow. The first triple amputee in the UK to survive the Afghanistan conflict, Mark was told by doctors he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Mark, however, decided to use his setback as a springboard for growth and reinvention.
He is now a motivational speaker, a peak performance coach and the author of the autobiographical Man Down. He has not used a wheelchair since June 2009.
Despite having raised money to give one boy life-changing facial surgery and more to build an orphanage in Africa, Wayne Ingram doesn’t spend much time considering his role in improving the quality of people’s lives. ‘I don’t really think about my involvement,’ he says. ‘I’m just glad it happened'
Wayne’s fundraising fervour began while stationed in Bosnia. He heard about Stefan Savic, a boy of four born with a facial cleft. Wayne organised a football match between the British Army and local nationals to raise more than €6,000 (£5,288).
Stefan’s first surgery in 2003 was a success but he has needed a series of lengthy operations since, all of which were funded with money raised by Wayne, which opened the door to other fundraising efforts.
When working in Nouadhibou, Africa, in 2012, Wayne was asked to conduct a health and safety audit on an orphanage. ‘There were 40 children sleeping on the floor, in a room with no lights, open sewage and rats running around. They had nothing at all.’
True to form, Wayne set about raising money for the children, intending to cycle 900km across the African countryside. When this was thwarted because of the potential of a kidnap threat, he altered the challenge to have expats and locals cycle in a gym for 24 hours under the banner ‘Ride a Mile and Make a Smile’, raising £67,000.
Wayne’s commitment and compassion sit well with his membership of the Craft. His father a mason, Wayne joined All Souls Lodge, No. 170, based in Dorset, in 2007. ‘At first, I enjoyed going to the events and didn’t want to seek progression. But it’s an amazing lodge: most of them are ex-servicemen and there’s a great family atmosphere.’
What does the Tercentenary mean to you?
‘It’s an amazing achievement for UGLE. I was extremely lucky to be part of the Tercentenary Interprovincial Banner relay, where the Provincial banner was relayed to every masonic hall in Dorset by masonic motorcyclists.’