The heart of the hall

With 11 November 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry looks at how a record of the masons who gave their lives in the First World War came to be immortalised in bronze and stained glass

Walking up the grand staircase in Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street, you may have noticed a casket sitting beneath a stained-glass window. It contains the Roll of Honour for the masonic dead of the First World War and, in the area known as the ‘Shrine’, sits at the heart of this art deco landmark that began life as the Masonic Peace Memorial.

First considered in a meeting of Grand Lodge on 2 December 1914, the Roll of Honour was described a year later by Sir Alfred Robbins as ‘a permanent memorial of active patriotism displayed by Freemasonry in the momentous struggle still proceeding’. The Roll of Honour would give the names of brethren of all ranks who had laid down their lives in the service of their country, based on returns made by lodge secretaries. 

On 27 June 1919, an Especial meeting of Grand Lodge was held at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the peace. A message was read from the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught, in which he appealed for funds, 
to create a perpetual Memorial of its [i.e. the Craft’s] gratitude to Almighty God…[to] render fitting honour to the many Brethren who fell during the War. I desire that the question of the Memorial be taken into early consideration… 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, dedicated to the Most High, … would not be the most fitting Memorial.

Following an international architectural competition in which 110 schemes were submitted to a jury chaired by Sir Edward Lutyens, a design by HV Ashley and F Winton Newman was chosen and building work began in 1927. The new Masonic Peace Memorial was dedicated on 19 July 1933, with the theme of the memorial window in the vestibule area outside the Grand Temple being the attainment of peace through sacrifice. Its main feature is the figure of peace holding a model of the tower facade of the building itself. The lower panels depict fighting men from ancient and modern times, civilians and pilgrims ascending a winding staircase towards the angel of peace.

SHRINE TO THE FALLEN

Five years later in June 1938, the Building Committee, in its final report, announced that it had given instructions for a Memorial Shrine and Roll of Honour to be placed under the Memorial Window. At the Grand Lodge meeting on 5 June 1940, by which time the country was again at war, it announced that the work had been completed. 

The Memorial Shrine was created in bronze by Walter Gilbert (1871-1946). Its design and ornamentation incorporated symbols connected with the theme of peace and the attainment of eternal life. It takes 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 shows the hand of God set in a circle in which rests the soul of man. At the four corners of the Shrine stand pairs of winged seraphim carrying golden trumpets, and across the front are four gilded figures portraying Moses, Joshua, Solomon and St George. 

The Roll of Honour is guarded by kneeling figures representing the four fighting services at the time it was designed (the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Flying Corps). On either side of the Shrine are the bronze Pillars of Light decorated with wheat (for resurrection), lotus (for the waters of life) and irises (for eternal life) with four panels of oak leaves at their base. The Roll of Honour displayed at the Shrine on a parchment roll includes more than 350 names not included in the Roll of Honour book and additional lodge details for about 30 names already known.

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry provides regular guided tours of Freemasons’ Hall, offering visitors the chance to see first-hand the beautiful craftsmanship of the Roll of Honour and the Shrine.

Published in Features

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.

COSMOPOLITAN MEMBERSHIP

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.

COMMON IDEALS

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’

Published in Features

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.’

OPENING UP

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.’

Standing proud

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.

Published in Features

Plymouth honours Royal Marines

A charity fundraising evening in support of the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines saw a cheque for £5,150 presented to Jonathan Ball, chief executive of the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, on behalf of Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, Province of Devonshire. The Royal Marines have been on many peacekeeping and disaster assistance operations, as well as seeing active service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among those at the event was Mark Ormrod, who lost both legs and an arm in a Taliban bomb blast. The masonic contingent was led by Provincial Grand Master Ian Kingsbury.

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