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.
When the lights went out
Along with much of the country, Freemasons’ Hall was plunged into darkness on 4 August as the lights were turned out to mark the day that Great Britain declared war on Germany 100 years ago.
A single candle illuminated the Memorial Shrine, which commemorates the 3,225 brethren who died on active service in World War I and in whose memory the building was raised. Behind the shrine is the stained glass memorial window, the theme of which is the attainment of peace through sacrifice, with the Angel of Peace carrying a model of the building’s tower. The bronze memorial casket, designed by Walter Gilbert, contains the memorial roll, which features gilt figures representing the fighting services. The Hall’s lights were turned off by technician Damien Nolan, a process that took nearly two hours.
Along with much of the country, the lights went out and Freemasons' Hall was plunged into darkness at 10pm last night to commemorate the moment that Great Britain declared war on Germany one hundred years ago
A single candle illuminated the Memorial Shrine, which commemorates the 3,225 brethren, who died on active service in the First World War and in whose memory the building was raised.
Behind the shrine is the stained glass memorial window whose theme is the attainment of Peace through Sacrifice, with the Angel of Peace carrying a model of the tower of the building.
The bronze memorial casket, which was designed by Walter Gilbert, contains the memorial roll, at the corners of which are gilt figures representing the fighting services.
Images courtesy of Colin Clay Photography
Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014
Men of honour
My grandfather was initiated on 9 November 1908 into Royal Rose Lodge, No. 2565, a military lodge formed by officers from the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment).
He appears on the masonic roll of honour.
Charles Arthur Murray was a volunteer soldier who fought in the Boer War for the Royal Fusiliers and subsequently in the Great War, where he was killed in 1915. Apart from his campaign medals, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal just before he was killed by shrapnel. This was awarded as a result of his actions in preventing the slaughter of German troops who had surrendered when his battalion engulfed a German trench.
As a result of an email discussion with my cousin (sharing the same grandfather), we visited his grave last June. As part of the tour we had a personal trip to his marked grave in Windy Corner, Cuinchy, the Guards Cemetery in Northern France and we laid a wreath. We think we were the first family members to do so. It was very moving, as you can imagine.
This trip to France stimulated me to make further enquiries and I contacted the very helpful Secretary of Royal Rose Lodge, Colin Woodcock. His records also produced my grandfather’s brother, Henry Murray, who I discovered had been initiated and passed on the same dates as his brother, and who became Master in 1922. Colin Woodcock invited me to attend Royal Rose, which I did on 13 November in the company of eight members of my lodge, Sunbury Lodge, No. 1733.
What a special occasion that was – to make the link going back over ninety years.
A wonderful welcome was given to all of us by Royal Rose, which subsequently granted me the great privilege of honorary membership. My request to give the visitor’s speech was granted, as I wanted the opportunity to record how Freemasonry benefited me.
As a result of my grandfather being a Freemason, his three sons were enrolled in the masonic school and received a good education. This enabled them to become professionals in their employment and, in turn, give their own sons a good start in life.
I would not be in a good position today if it were not for that.
We at Sunbury hope to welcome brethren of Royal Rose to our April meeting, where they will be gladly received.
John Murray, Sunbury Lodge, No. 1733, Staines, Middlesex
Charles Arthur Murray, 1915