World War I story of Freemason and theological student Captain Horace Edward Griggs

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The company you keep

The story of Captain Horace Edward Griggs, fighting and dying in the World War I trenches, reveals a young Freemason who was keen to expand his religious horizons. Richard Burrell looks back

Horace Edward Griggs was born on 23 August 1890 at 208 Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, London. His father was a grocer and cheesemonger, and he had two elder brothers and an elder sister. At the time of Horace’s initiation into Tilbury Lodge, No. 2006, in June 1912, his family had moved to Cranbrook Park, Ilford. Expected to take holy orders, Horace gave his occupation as a theological student and he was active in the local church as a reader and server, as well as teaching Sunday school.

Horace was passed in Tilbury Lodge in October 1912 and raised in April 1913. He was only able to attend two more meetings before war broke out, but it seems that he must have thought highly of Freemasonry. His two older brothers, Albert and John, were initiated into Tilbury Lodge on the same day as each other in May 1914, passing to the 2nd Degree one month later. Albert and John were Masters of Tilbury Lodge in 1921 and 1923 respectively and they remained members of the lodge until their deaths in the 1950s.

In October 1915, John was serving in the Dardanelles and Albert was likely away from home. For that reason, the lodge minutes do not record the death of their brother Horace.

‘Expected to take holy orders, Horace gave his occupation as a theological student.’

In the trenches

While at university, Horace had been a member of the Officer Training Corps. He joined the 9th Battalion of the Essex Regiment as a Temporary Lieutenant, meaning he would not be able to use the rank when the war was over. Horace left for France from Folkestone on 31 May 1915.

From 14 June to 10 July, the battalion was instructed in trench warfare. On 10 July the men were considered ready to take over the trenches held by the 7th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment at Ploegsteert in Belgium. Between 10 July and 26 September, the 9th Battalion alternated in the trenches roughly every six days with another battalion, usually from the Suffolk Regiment. During this time, nine reconnaissance patrols were made.

Horace had his 25th birthday on 23 August 1915 and the following week he is mentioned in dispatches for a reconnaissance raid made by him and two other men on a disused German trench; from the spent cartridge cases found during this raid, they deduced that the Germans probably had a sniper position there. On 27 August 1915, Horace was promoted to Captain.

Over the next month, the battalion had nine men killed, 70 wounded, 19 slightly wounded and one accidentally shot. On 26 September, the battalion left Ploegsteert and after an eight-and-a-half hour march arrived at their billets for the night. On 28 September they were moved south in buses, marching to La Bourse to take over the second line of defence from the Scots Guards.

It was on 5 October, with enemy shelling as usual, that Captain Horace Griggs was shot by a rifle bullet. The following is an extract of a letter sent to his brother Albert:

Dear Mr Griggs,

It is with the deepest regret that I write to inform you that your brother was killed in action on the 5th October. The loss to the company is enormous and felt by all the officers and men.

I joined the regiment two days after he did and miss his cheery presence in the mess and in the trench.

We had moved to an important part of the line. In the early morning he stood up in the place where he had been sleeping and was immediately shot through the head. He became unconscious and an hour later he died without regaining consciousness. The same night we buried him near the trench, erecting a mound over his grave, with a slip of wood marking
it. No cross was available at the time, but I am having one made and I will try and take it or send it to the spot as we have now moved on from there.

All his belongings I have collected and they will be forwarded in the usual manner. His ring I enclose with this letter, everything else being in his valise.

Please accept my deepest sympathy with you and his other relatives in this almost inconsolable bereavement.

Believe me to be yours sincerely,

P Brook
Lieutenant 9th Essex Regiment BEF

Horace’s body has never been recovered; it is believed that the grave markers were probably lost in artillery fire in subsequent fighting.

However, his church, St Andrew’s in Ilford, keeps his memory alive. The building wasn’t completed until 1924 after many years of fundraising, but before his death Horace had worked as a carpenter and completed all the oak furniture, including the altar and the lectern, later transferred into the finished church. Visit today and you will see stained-glass memorial windows to Horace, with square and compasses in the far right panel.

Thanks to Canon Marie Segal of St Andrew’s Church in Ilford for permission to photograph the stained-glass windows and to Worshipful Brother Eddie Gibbs and Mike Newbury for obtaining the photograph of Horace in uniform

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