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.

Published in Features
Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Behind the Unknown Warrior

Known and yet not well known

Past Grand Chaplain and member of the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree, Rev Dr John Railton explores the origins of the Unknown Warrior

At the west end of the nave of Westminster Abbey, covered by a slab of black Belgian marble, is the grave of the Unknown Warrior. The body was brought from France to be buried here on 11 November 1920 and, in the week after the burial, it is estimated that over one million people visited the Abbey. Now one of the most visited war graves in the world, my father’s cousin David Railton first conceived the idea when he came across a grave marked by a rough cross, which bore the pencil-written legend ‘An Unknown British Soldier’.

David volunteered as an army chaplain when he was just thirty-one. Leaving his position as a curate in Folkestone, he went out to the Western Front on 11 January 1916 and served with the ‘Tommies’ in the trenches for the duration of World War I. His faith, compassion and courage are all evident from what survives of his wartime correspondence with his wife, Ruby. It was in the late summer of 1916 that he was awarded the Military Cross for his part in saving an officer and two soldiers from certain death in the High Wood action on the Somme. A month later, the idea of a tomb dedicated to an unknown soldier was planted in David’s mind and his vision began to take shape.

Divine inspiration

In an article published in Our Empire in November 1931, David describes vividly how the notion came to him: ‘I came back from “the line” at dusk. We had just laid to rest the mortal remains of a comrade. I went to a billet in front of Erquinghem, near Armentières. At the back of the billet was a small garden, and in the garden, only about six paces from the house, there was a grave. At its head, there stood a rough cross of white wood. On the cross was clearly written in deep black-pencilled letters: “An Unknown British Soldier”, and in brackets underneath, “of the Black Watch”. 

‘It was dusk and nobody was near, except some officers in the billet playing cards. I remember how still it was. Even the guns seemed to be resting, as if to give their gunners a chance to have their tea. How that grave caused me to think! Quietly and gradually there came out of the mist of thought this answer clear and strong: “Let this body – this symbol of him – be carried reverently over the sea to his native land.”’

Plans taking shape

The idea stayed with David throughout the war and after the Armistice, but he was reluctant to do anything about it – mainly because he thought that an idea from a humble padre would be unlikely to find favour with those in authority. After the war, David returned to his curacy in Folkestone and was then appointed vicar of St John the Baptist in Margate. For a long time he contemplated writing to General Sir Douglas Haig, but never did. It was with the encouragement of his wife that eventually, in August 1920, David wrote to Bishop Herbert Ryle, Dean of Westminster Abbey. He suggested that the remains of an unidentifiable serviceman be buried in Westminster Abbey as the representative of the thousands of soldiers who had died in the war.

Ryle appears to have embraced the idea and approached both Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. Prime Minister David Lloyd George received it enthusiastically because it fitted so well with his own vision of a ‘national memorial’, which Sir Edwin Lutyens had been commissioned to design and which we all now know as the Cenotaph in Whitehall. 

Once the proposal had been adopted and a formal announcement made on 19 October, a Memorial Service Committee under the Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon was established, arrangements were made swiftly and orders were issued. 

On Sunday, 7 November 1920, four individual parties of soldiers were sent out to the four principal battlefields – Somme, Ainse, Arras and Ypres – to exhume four corpses. They were identified as British by their boots and buttons, but their ranks were unknown. The corpses were sewn into sackcloth, taken to a swiftly built temporary Chapel at St Pol, laid out on trestles and covered with Union Flags under the supervision of Rev George Kendall – an army chaplain who had been sent out from London with two undertakers. 

Brigadier General L J Wyatt had succeeded Haig as General Officer Commanding British Forces in France and Flanders. According to his letter to the Daily Telegraph in November 1939, at midnight on that Sunday night, after the chaplain, the undertakers and the exhumation parties had all dispersed, General Wyatt entered the chapel with a member of his staff, Colonel Gell. He selected one covered body and then, with Colonel Gell, lifted it into a prepared plain deal coffin shell, before securing and sealing the lid. 

The chapel stayed under guard overnight. The coffin shell containing the Unknown Warrior was placed in a coffin of English oak and was prepared for transit back to England by train and a Royal Naval destroyer.

On Thursday, 11 November 1920, the Unknown Warrior travelled by gun carriage from Victoria station via The Mall and Trafalgar Square for the ceremony to unveil the Cenotaph in Whitehall at precisely 11.00am. The Union Flag covering the coffin was the one used by David throughout the war, both as an altar cloth for services on the battlefield and as a shroud at the battlefield burial of soldiers killed in action. After unveiling the Cenotaph, the King laid a wreath on the coffin and then walked in procession behind it to Westminster Abbey. The Unknown Warrior was buried at the west end of the nave and the grave filled with soil brought from France.

Westminster dedication

A year later, David carried his Union Flag to the altar in Westminster Abbey where it was dedicated to, and then laid up over, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The flag remained there for thirty-two years until 1953, when it was moved because it was obstructing the view of the cameras filming the Coronation. It has hung in nearby St George’s Chapel ever since.

My father was in the Honourable Artillery Company during World War I, having signed up six months before his eighteenth birthday. However, being sixteen years younger than David, he didn’t get out to France. 

I do know from my conversations with my father that he and David were in frequent touch with each other during the immediate post-war years and met several times, probably during the mid 1920s when David was Vicar of St John the Baptist in Margate and my father was a schoolmaster in Essex. The impression I have is that my father found David to be a role model.

The concept of a Tomb of an Unknown Warrior was picked up almost immediately by France and, later, by the United States along with many other nations. 

But the original idea came from David.

David Railton was born in Leytonstone on 13 November 1884, the second son of George Scott Railton, the first commissioner of The Salvation Army. 


David graduated from Keble in 1908 and was ordained the same year, taking his first curacy at Edge Hill, Liverpool. It was there that he met his wife, Ruby. They moved to Kent in 1910 and their first daughter was born in 1913. David was appointed curate in Folkestone in 1914. He moved from Margate to take up a post as curate at Christ Church, Westminster, then took incumbencies in Bolton, Shalford and Liverpool, before retiring in 1945 at the age of sixty-one. 

Letters to the Editor – No. 29 Spring 2015


As a resident of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution’s Harewood Court, I am passed a copy of Freemasonry Today by one of my colleagues as I appreciate many of the historical inclusions.

I have known the story well of the Unknown Warrior for my father was one of the bearers of the gun carriage in St Pol in 1920. My late husband was a member of City of London Rifles Lodge, No. 5606, and in the late sixties we attended a ladies night at the Russell Hotel. My father was invited to attend, and shortly after arrival he pronounced that he knew one of my husband’s colleagues. The last time they were together was in St Pol in 1920. The colleague was a sergeant in the Royal Engineers burial party. They had plenty to chat about!

Jeanne N H Kick, Harewood Court, Hove, East Sussex

Published in Features

Croydon Freemason Cyril Spackman was a man of many talents, including winning the design competition for the Hall Stone Jewel, as Alan Chard explains

At a special meeting of Grand Lodge in June 1919, the Grand Master, the Duke of Connaught, expressed a wish that a memorial be established to commemorate those brethren who had made the supreme sacrifice in the 1914-1918 war.

It was agreed that this memorial should be a building of a central home for Freemasonry on a site to be selected in London.

The Masonic Million Memorial Fund was then launched in September that year and brethren both at home and overseas were invited to contribute to raise the £1m needed to finance the work.

The contributions from individuals and Lodges were to be recognised by the award of a commemorative jewel.

For the jewel design it was decided to hold an open competition with a £75 prize for the winner, and at the Grand Lodge meeting in June 1921 it was announced that the design selected was that submitted by Cyril Saunders Spackman.

He was initiated into Panmure Lodge No. 720 on 21 January 1918 when 30 years old. The Lodge was to become a Hall Stone Jewel Lodge, although Spackman resigned in February 1923.

But in 1937 he thought there was a need for a new Surrey Lodge to be formed to cater for professions such as engineers, architects, surveyors etc. This led to the founding of Beaux Arts Lodge No. 5707, consecrated at Sutton Masonic Hall on 28 January 1938. Spackman and Sadler, his father-in-law, were both founder members, Spackman being the first secretary, and Sadler the first Master.

With the coming of war, Surrey County Council requisitioned the Hall for use as a rest centre, but Spackman came to the rescue and offered the Lodge the use of his studio for its meetings.

As a result, the Lodge met there regularly from 1939 to 1948. Spackman became Master in January 1940, and had the unique distinction of being installed in a ceremony conducted in his own home.

He remained secretary right up to his death, and even during his year in the chair, he continued to deal with Lodge affairs, although another Brother was secretary by name.

He was a man of many talents – architect, painter, sculptor, teacher, writer, Freemason. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 15 August 1887, the only son of a Welsh Methodist minister the Rev. John and Adele Saunders Spackman.

Educated in schools on both sides of the Atlantic, in 1922 he was commissioned to paint the portrait of a prominent Croydon Freemason, Richard Joseph Sadler.

Mr Sadler had a daughter, Ada Victoria, and romance blossomed, and later that year they were married. The Croydon Times (19 August 1958), in an interview with Spackman, reported:

A high-ranking Surrey Freemason, he recalled that it was Freemasonry that led to his marriage with Miss Queenie Sadler, the well-known Croydon violinist in 1922, and to his coming to live in Croydon. He first met her when he was asked to paint the portrait of her father, who was then a prominent Freemason. “And it was a real Masonic wedding, in St Matthew’s, George Street” Mr Spackman remembered.

They had one daughter, who became a writer, and a son who became an RAF pilot, and who then flew with British Overseas Airways Corporation. Then he became a designer and test pilot with Miles Beagle Aircraft. Tragically he was killed during a flight at the age of 35.

At their home in East Croydon, Cyril Spackman had a splendid studio built to his own design in which he could exhibit his own works and hold meetings.

Hall Stone Jewel

The Masonic Million Memorial Fund Commemorative Jewel, issued to individual subscribers. The design was described at the time as follows:

“The jewel is in the form of a cross, symbolising Sacrifice, with a perfect square at the four ends, on the left and right squares being the dates 1914-1918, the years in which the supreme sacrifice was made. Between these is a winged figure of Peace presenting the representation of a Temple with special Masonic allusion in the Pillars, Porch and Steps. The medal is suspended by the Square and Compasses, attached to a ribband, the whole thus symbolising the Craft’s gift of a Temple in memory of those brethren who gave all for King and Country, Peace and Victory, Liberty and Brotherhood.”

In 1930 he was elected a Licentiate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Although he trained as an architect he had always wanted to be a painter, and in 1913 he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition at the age of 26.

The work accepted was Westminster Abbey – the West Front. In 1916 another work was accepted – Crickhowell Bridge, Wales and the following year The Edge of the Coppice was approved.

One commission he must have enjoyed was for Queen Mary’s Doll’s House. Queen Mary had always been an enthusiastic collector of antiques, especially miniatures, and the Doll’s House was intended to be not just a gift, but also to promote the work of leading British artists, designers and craftsmen.

Built on the scale of 1:12 it was completed in time to appear at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. After the exhibition closed it was taken to Windsor Castle for permanent exhibition, where it has remained to this day.

The architect of the house was Sir Edward Lutyens – one of the three assessors for the design competition in 1924-1926 to select an architect for the new Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, London.

More than 1,500 craftsmen and artists were invited by him to participate in the construction of the house and its furnishings, including Spackman, who contributed Fir Trees against a Sunset Sky.

Honours now came to Cyril Spackman, and in 1916 he was elected a member of the Royal Miniature Society and the Royal Society of British Artists (RSBA).

For Freemasons, his most important commission was the design in 1921 of the Hall Stone Jewel for the United Grand Lodge of England, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1922.

He was very proud that the jewel is a main feature in the central panel of the stained glass window behind the shrine on the first floor vestibule at Freemasons’ Hall.

However, there is one interesting change in the jewel in the panel. When he designed it in 1921 this was prior to the architectural competition for the new building.

When the window was designed several years later, the façade was now known, so the winged figure of Peace, instead of holding a model of a classic temple – as in the jewel itself – is actually holding a model of the Tower façade for the building.

The Duke of Devonshire was Grand Master 1947-1950, and in 1950 Spackman exhibited at a Winter Exhibition of the RSBA a bust of the Duke, and in December that year he presented it to Grand Lodge.

In 1944 he was admitted into the Worshipful Company of Masons, which had its origins in the operative guild formed to control the stone trade in London.

Spackman was generous with his time and talents and was a well-known and active figure in the local community. He was chairman of the Croydon University Extension Committee, the Committee of the Croydon Writers Circle, an Honorary Vice-President of the Croydon Symphony Orchestra and a Vice-President of the Croydon Camera Club.

Not only were Lodge meetings held at his home, but he let it out to local cultural groups, and in the studio he took private lessons and held classes in architecture, painting, sculpture and drawing.

He had an international reputation, and his works were widely exhibited from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool to the Cleveland Museum of Art in the United States. As a writer his one major publication appears to have been Colour Prints of a Dream Garden and Old World Garden, a collection of prints taken from original drawings, some of which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Some of his work has been left to posterity. There are prints in the British Museum, drawings in the permanent art collections in some City Art Galleries, and works in private collections in the UK, USA, France, Holland and Sweden – and, of course, the Hall Stone Jewel.

Cyril Spackman died of a heart attack on 16 May 1963 at the age of 76.

Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank the National Art Library, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Arts Commerce and Manufacture, the Royal Institute of British Architects, Croydon Local History and Archives, Westminster Central Reference Library and the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. Particular thanks are due to Dr Susan Owens (Royal Collection Trust), Peter Clark (Worshipful Company of Masons), Stephen Freeth and Juliet Barnes (Corporation of London), Stephen Briney (Panmure Lodge No. 720), Douglas Burford (Beaux Arts Lodge) and James Nye (Remigium Lodge No. 7343).

Published in Features

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