Don't let the armchair get you
Aged 103, Wally Randall is the Tyler for three masonic lodges, turned on his town’s Christmas lights last year and is the UK’s oldest poppy seller. Peter Watts meets the legend of Leighton Buzzard
Resplendent in a suit and jacket, Wally Randall sits on a wooden pew with a military bearing that belies his years. He has been coming to this masonic temple in Leighton Buzzard for 53 years, which sounds like a long time, until you remember he is 103.
One of the country’s oldest masons, Wally is also the UK’s oldest poppy seller, something this World War II veteran is particularly proud of. ‘I go to our local Wilko – they let me sit inside,’ he says. ‘People say they come specially to get a poppy off me. It’s amazing how generous they are. A lot of people give even though they already have a poppy. I collected over £1,000 last year.’
This year’s Armistice Day had particular resonance for Wally. Not only did it mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, it was also 100 years since the death of his father, who served in that war and died of Spanish flu the day before the Armistice was signed. ‘It was rather tragic,’ he says. ‘It might be one of the reasons I started selling poppies. I thought the Royal British Legion did a really good job looking after people who need it.’
Wally is described as ‘a legend’ by fellow Freemasons Roger Wood and David Cato, who are full of stories about his escapades, such as the time Wally fell on to the garage roof while collecting apples from his tree back when he was a mere slip of a man in his nineties. Then there’s the time the doctor warned him his blood pressure was a bit high. ‘That was just before he turned 100. Wally told the doctor, “Well, I did have to cycle here – you can’t find anywhere to park on a Tuesday,”’ laughs David.
With that track record, a spot of poppy selling once a year is not going to get him too out of breath. What’s his secret? ‘Well, it might be a bit dull, but I’ve never been a drinker and I never smoked either – maybe the odd glass of wine during a lodge dinner but I don’t drink apart from that.’
Wally is careful about what he eats as well. At the festive board, he has the starter and dessert, but takes the main course home for his lunch the following day – the kitchen staff are only too happy to wrap up his meal. David thinks Wally is inspiring, ‘On his 103rd birthday he recited the 15-minute traditional history during the rituals, without any notes to read from. He keeps doing things, and tells us, “Don’t let the armchair get you.”’
KEEPING HIMSELF BUSY
Wally lives alone and still drives. As well as selling poppies and masonic activity, he was an active and enthusiastic gardener up until this summer, but now contents himself with directing his granddaughter around the plot. ‘Well, I tell her what I’d like her to do, but she won’t always do it,’ he grins. ‘She doesn’t like slug pellets, so this year I finished up with one runner bean and the slugs had the rest.’ In keeping with his philosophy of staying active, Wally doesn’t just attend weekly masonic events, but acts as a Tyler for three lodges. ‘It’s important to do stuff, you have to keep busy,’ he says. ‘That’s what like about masonry – being the Tyler, I get to meet the candidates and that’s always nice. It’s very interesting and I enjoy getting them ready.’
The esteem in which Wally is held can be seen in the anteroom to the Temple. In a prominent position is Wally’s stout wooden Tyler chair, which was a gift from fellow Mark masons on his 100th birthday. Above it is a large framed ‘Where’s Wally?’ poster, a present from the caterers, with Wally’s face hidden among all the cartoon characters. And his celebrity status extends beyond the lodge. In 2017, he was invited to turn on Leighton Buzzard’s Christmas lights.
Wally became a mason in 1965, but it was only when he retired at 70 that he began to take his involvement up a gear. Wally’s mother lodge is Leighton Cross, No. 6176, but he is also a member of Old Cedarians, No. 8078 and All Saints, No. 8776, the latter of which he founded. ‘When it first started, the subs were only £15 a year,’ he smiles, adding, ‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going.’
Having appeared in newspapers and on the BBC, Wally’s masonic contribution as well as his longevity have been widely recognised. ‘I got a certificate of merit after I’d been a mason for 50 years and another saying I’d been selling poppies for 50 years,’ he says, before declaring that he has no intention of stopping any time soon, even if he does need a break every now and then. Having spent a couple of hours in the lodge being photographed and interviewed, Wally remarks, ‘It’s fish and chip day isn’t it, so I’ll go home and have some scampi and then a little snooze.’
‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going’
Born in 1915, Wally Randall left school at 14 and entered the print trade, working for the local newspaper, the Leighton Buzzard Observer. ‘I was a comp machinist and I did a little bit of reporting, following the football team and so on. I got halfpenny a line,’ he recalls. After leaving print, he moved into transport, but one winter found himself out of work because the roads were blocked by snow. ‘I cycled to the labour exchange to sign on and there were hundreds of people queueing,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to wait, so I biked up to Luton to look for a job. I went to the Vauxhall plant and got a job straightaway. I was there for 40 years.’
Wally served as a magistrate and on the local council, and it was a fellow councillor who got him interested in Freemasonry. At around the same time as he discovered the Craft, he started selling poppies, inspired in part by his own experiences during the Second World War. He’d signed up in 1940 and served in North Africa and Italy. ‘I was in the service corps,’ he says. ‘The nearest I got to combat was at El Alamein. The army was getting ready for the push and we took the 4th Indian Division in there. There was an artillery bombardment, it was like fireworks. That was about as close as I got.’
Freemasons’ Hall will host its second free Organ Concert of the year when renowned organist Darius Battiwalla performs in the Grand Temple on Wednesday 14th November 2018, starting at 6:15pm
Darius will be playing the 1933 Willis III organ, featuring works by Lemare, Scott, Beethoven, Hollins and Bach and others.
Darius has given recitals at a number of cathedrals and concert halls across the country including Westminster Abbey and is a regular organist for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. He has been the music director of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus since 1997 and teaches organ, continuo and organ improvisation at the Royal Northern College of Music.
The concert is expected to last for an hour and is free to attend, with doors opening one hour beforehand – to book your ticket, please click here.
Food for thought
With funding from the Freemasons, Magic Breakfast wants to give underprivileged children in the north west of England the right ingredients to start their day
'In the sixth richest economy in the world, you’d think this couldn’t possibly be happening. But it is,’ says Carmel McConnell, founder of the charity Magic Breakfast.
Nearly one in five children in the UK suffers from food insecurity, according to Unicef, meaning their families lack secure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. ‘And the government’s own figures say that at least half a million children are waking up in homes where there isn’t any food,’ McConnell adds. This means that, until lunchtime, these children are at school without the energy and nutrition they need to learn effectively. ‘That isn’t a good thing for the child, the school or the country.’
McConnell used to run a consultancy in the City of London, but it was while carrying out research for a book that the true extent of food insecurity among British children hit home. She set up Magic Breakfast in 2003 with the goal of providing fuel for learning.
‘In terms of thinking about the world that we want to build, you want people who are going into jobs with the right skills; you want people to have the chance for a good education,’ she says. ‘It seemed to me that a good breakfast would be a small part of the jigsaw that would really make quite a big difference.’
FUEL FOR LEARNING
Magic Breakfast now feeds more than 31,000 children every weekday morning, and partners with nearly 500 schools and pupil-referral units to provide a healthy breakfast that includes porridge, bagels, low-sugar cereals and fruit juice. It’s a meal that meets the school food standards set out by the Department for Education.
In order to qualify to partner with the charity, schools must have a student population in which 35 per cent or more are eligible for free school meals, or in which 50 per cent or more have qualified for free school meals at some point in the last six years. The schools must also contribute some food, such as spreads for bagels and milk to accompany the cereals.
Critical to the work of the charity is that the meals are offered in such a way that the children in need don’t face any sort of stigma. ‘I wouldn’t go and get a bagel if I had to show I was poor to get it,’ McConnell says by way of example. As a result, the breakfasts are available to all students and often run alongside homework clubs. ‘For children who might be coming from very difficult or abusive homes, it’s a welcoming place that means they can have some time to do what they need to do and they’re settled in time for the start of the school day.’
‘Children now start the day having had a healthy breakfast and time to socialise and chill, meaning they are emotionally and physically equipped for the day ahead,’ says Fiona Pickering, headteacher of Windsor Community Primary School in Toxteth, Liverpool. ‘Our free breakfast club is absolutely vital for our school.’
As successful as the charity has been, there is more work to do, with some 300 schools on the waiting list. It’s one of the reasons that Magic Breakfast has been selected by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to receive a £28,000 grant that will be used to provide meals to 400 children at six schools in the Liverpool and Merseyside area.‘
In the same way that we support children and grandchildren of Freemasons when their families are facing hardship, we also work to support disadvantaged children and young people more generally,’ says MCF chief operating officer Les Hutchinson. ‘One thing we became aware of was that getting access to enough healthy food is fundamental to a child’s chances of having a good quality of life and going on to be successful as an adult.’
Two particular pieces of evidence contributed to the MCF’s decision to support Magic Breakfast. The first was a 2017 Unicef report that found that children who are exposed to food insecurity ‘are more likely to face adverse health outcomes and developmental risk’, and that food hardship is also linked with ‘impaired academic performance, and is positively associated with experiencing shame at being out of food, and behavioural problems.’
The second was evidence showing how effective Magic Breakfasts could be. A 2016 study evaluated by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the National Children’s Bureau found that, over the course of an academic year, year-two children in schools with a breakfast club made two additional months’ progress in reading, writing and maths when compared with a similar group at schools that didn’t receive support from the charity.
Furthermore, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition found that 84 per cent of schools reported improved educational attainment among pupils who attended breakfast club. Some 96 per cent reported increased energy levels/alertness and 95 per cent reported improved concentration levels.
McConnell’s corporate background has taught her that statistical evidence is useful in convincing would-be donors that their contributions will make a difference. However, she points out that the wider problem has not yet been solved. If anything, it may be worsening.
AN EYE ON THE FUTURE
About 30 per cent of British children are living in income poverty, according to household data published by the government, and IFS projections suggest this is set to rise to 37 per cent by 2022. The difficulties facing many children all over the country have been highlighted by recent BBC reports in which one teacher spoke about how she saw children ‘filling their pockets with food’ because they didn’t get enough at home. Another noticed the unhealthy ‘grey skin’ and ‘pallor’ of some children relative to their peers from wealthier families.
‘It’s something that I feel strongly about,’ McConnell says. ‘You get people from schools saying: “We had this little boy coming in. He was getting excluded and was always in trouble. We thought he was just naughty, but it turns out that his mum has to get up early and go to work. He’s got a younger brother who he has to get ready for school and there’s no food in the house.” No wonder he arrives cheesed off.’
There are problem areas all over the country, but the situation can be particularly severe in former industrial areas where the economy is weaker. Liverpool, which is the target of the MCF grant, was ranked the fourth most deprived local authority area in the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation. ‘We can’t let these kids be the ones who bear the brunt of these economic problems,’ says McConnell.
To that end, Magic Breakfast will count on the generosity of donors such as the masonic community and seek to build and maintain relationships with any businesses and brands that can lend a helping hand. The case that McConnell will continue making to prospective partners is that it’s not just about the children the charity helps – communities and, indeed, the nation can benefit. ‘We face a stark choice,’ she says. ‘We either get behind this generation of young people, or we will end up squandering a huge amount of human talent.’
Enough is Enough
With the misconceptions surrounding the nature of Freemasonry commonplace, one particular news story in 2018 proved the catalyst for a nationwide campaign that would confront these beliefs head on, as Dean Simmons discovers
The doors to Freemasons’ Hall in London may be open to the public, but this hasn’t stopped rumours, myths and conspiracy theories from grabbing the headlines over the decades. However, it was a news story in The Guardian at the beginning of 2018, which was subsequently covered by other national newspapers, accusing the Freemasons of blocking policing reforms, that proved to be a turning point for the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive Officer of UGLE, rejected the claims as laughable in a letter to the newspapers. With the accusations following a well-trodden path of inaccurate and misleading information about Freemasonry, he called for an end to the discrimination against its members, citing the 2001 and 2007 European Court of Human Rights rulings that Freemasonry was not a secret or unlawful organisation.
Reflecting on the decision to respond, David says, ‘It’s something that has been building up over the past 20 years, as we haven’t argued our case or countered the increasingly ridiculous claims of our critics. I think the trouble, as we’ve seen in the past, is that if we don’t answer those critics, the vacuum is then filled by further ludicrous accusations.’
More was to come. In February 2018, The Guardian alleged that two masonic lodges were operating secretly at Westminster. ‘This was on the front page of an award-winning national newspaper and it was complete nonsense,’ David says. ‘Every aspect of that story was deliberately designed to give a false impression of Freemasonry and its influence.’ David again wrote to the newspaper, drawing attention to several inaccuracies, including the fact that the lodges did not operate in Westminster and that their existence is not secret – all of which could have been verified by a quick search on Wikipedia. While the letter led to corrections being made, there was clearly an appetite for these types of stories, and therefore a pressing need for Freemasonry to debunk the myths.
ON THE OFFENSIVE
‘In light of a new approach towards how we manage the media and how we represent ourselves and our members, we needed to go on the offensive – it was a good one to put the gloves on for,’ says David.
Contesting accusations is one thing, putting a stop to them in the first place is another. It was to this end that UGLE responded with a letter from David, titled ‘Enough is Enough’, which ran as a full-page advert in both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers. The letter called for an end to the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000-plus members.
‘We need to open up and talk about what we do; we needn’t be afraid of being both proud of who we are and our membership,’ David says. ‘We are the only organisation that faces repeated calls to publish our membership lists. We are the only organisation linked to a whole host of rumours and conspiracy theories, despite there being no substantial evidence to any of it. It’s important to not allow these myths to perpetuate in the public eye, and take on the critics with the facts.’
In the spirit of transparency, David embarked on a series of interviews with the press. Whether it was laying to rest myths, highlighting community work and charity fundraising or outlining what it means to be a Freemason, no stone was left unturned. ‘I did 24 interviews in one day,’ he recalls. ‘But if you’re portraying yourselves as an open organisation, you need to make yourself available in order to demonstrate that openness.’
With Freemasonry thrust into the spotlight, David believes the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign provides a strong communication platform going forward. ‘We need to be out there, as we have been for the last few months, taking journalists around our masonic centres, introducing journalists to Freemasons and letting them make their own minds up, according to what they see and what they find.
‘The Open Days being held in our Provinces are also important, as they allow us to engage not just with potential members, but also with our critics,’ continues David. ‘We shouldn’t shy away from that – we won’t convince everybody and we certainly won’t change everybody’s mind, but we want to give a true impression of who we are and what we do, and allow people to make up their own minds. Ultimately, we need to be in the public space for the things we should be known for.’
Opening up, inviting in
Freemasons’ Hall in London may have initially taken centre stage, but Provinces up and down the country have now embraced the campaign. Open evenings and interactive Q&A events have been taking place in masonic halls, inviting members of the public to find out more about Freemasonry and ask any questions.
Demonstrating the effectiveness of the campaign, there has been a rise in membership enquiries as people seek to find out more. Philip Bullock, Wiltshire Provincial Grand Master, says, ‘It’s had an effect in raising our profile, which has had a positive effect on the number of enquiries made to our Provincial office and website. Our Sarsen Club for younger members is also proving extremely popular and is growing in terms of membership and activities.’
‘Enough is Enough’ has been an opportunity to further highlight the ongoing efforts of many Provinces. ‘For the past four years we’ve taken a very proactive approach in making ourselves more visible,’ says Philip. ‘At the end of last year, we acquired a new display trailer that will be out and about appearing at county fairs, shows and marketplaces. This will allow us to expand our visible presence in the community.’
Further north, in West Lancashire, the Province has been busy giving the media guided tours of its masonic halls. ‘The reaction across the Province has been positive,’ says Tony Harrison, West Lancashire Provincial Grand Master, ‘and most agree that it’s about time we answered back.’
Cheshire Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank, who also faced the cameras in an interview with the BBC, echoes those sentiments: ‘The reaction from my members has been overwhelmingly positive,’ he says. ‘We’ve always been proactive with our open evenings at masonic halls. We’ll continue to publicise these across the county, alongside our charitable and community activities. I think it’s very important that we continue to react swiftly and positively to any future attacks on Freemasonry.’
A dog can help an autistic child feel less stressed and make everyday activities a bit easier. Aileen Scoular explains how a grant from the MCF to Dogs for Good is allowing more families to feel less isolated
Two years ago, BBC drama The A Word opened viewers’ eyes to the challenges faced by families coping with autism. Children and adults diagnosed with autism will see, hear and feel the world differently from their peers and can struggle to engage. The condition is more common than many realise, with The National Autistic Society revealing that there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, including children and adults of all ages.
Autism touches families, too, and the condition is part of daily life for some 2.8 million people. One charity that fully understands the impact autism has on parents and carers is Dogs for Good. The Oxfordshire charity trains highly skilled assistance dogs to help adults and children with disabilities, as well as therapy dogs to work in communities and schools.
Dogs for Good trained its first autism assistance dog in 2007, and, more recently, the charity has developed a successful programme called Family Dog Workshops. These intimate sessions provide advice and support to parents of children with autism, allowing them to learn how a pet dog could benefit the whole family. As workshop leader Duncan Edwards explains, ‘We want owning a dog to be a positive, energising experience.’
Without specialist support, autistic people and their families are at risk of feeling isolated; autism can also cause severe anxiety that may affect an individual’s ability to engage in daily life. While there is no cure, expert support can help children and their families day to day – something that was backed up in research undertaken by Dogs for Good and the University of Lincoln in 2014. Not only were children with a family dog calmer, happier and less likely to have a meltdown, but within just 10 weeks of getting a family dog, parents also showed significantly reduced stress levels.
‘We have always been convinced that dogs can have a positive effect on the family dynamic,’ explains Peter Gorbing, Dogs for Good’s chief executive. ‘Just being able to take the dog for a walk gives you, as a parent, permission to leave the house and give yourself some space. And the silly things that dogs do can diffuse tension and make the whole family laugh together.’
The experience of parents who have attended Family Dog Workshops is testament to the value of the programme. Jacob’s family had a Labrador called Sam when mum Liz attended her first workshop. The experience was transformative: ‘I just couldn’t believe it when the instructors went through what they could teach us and how it might help Jacob. I sat there and cried because I knew it could be life-changing.’
Teenager Harry’s life has also been improved immeasurably by the introduction of the family dog, Barnaby. Now 15, Harry spends much less time alone, and the most positive result has been the family’s change of focus. Harry’s mum, Ceri, says, ‘Having a dog has benefited all of us – but particularly our daughter, Beth. Our world isn’t all about Harry any more; it’s about Barnaby.’
Kath, another workshop participant, echoes Ceri’s sentiments. Kath’s son, Mitchell, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, and their family life has been transformed by an excitable cocker spaniel called Maggie.
‘Having Maggie has opened up more opportunities for us as a family than I could possibly have imagined,’ says Kath. ‘So much of our life is focussed on Mitchell, who’s an only child, and that puts a certain amount of pressure on him. Having a dog in our lives takes away some of the focus and reduces that pressure.’
From a practical perspective, owning a dog helps children with autism in many ways. Key benefits include companionship and motivation, encouraging children to develop regular routines and empowering them to try new things. Dogs can help in the development of motor skills – throwing a ball or teaching tricks, for example – and can act as a friendly role model. Even learning to say hello can be a big step.
‘Mitchell has never really understood the need for greetings and salutations – like hello and goodbye – so we’ve had to coach him in the past,’ explains Kath. ‘But the first day I picked him up from school with Maggie, he climbed into the car and straight away said, “Hello, Maggie.” That was a huge leap forward.’
‘I was considering an assistance dog, but I quickly realised that what we needed was just a happy family dog’
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Gorbing from Dogs for Good acknowledges that the programme has been a richer source of success stories than he ever imagined. ‘So much credit must go to the families,’ he says. ‘We provide the advice, but it’s up to the families to make dog ownership happen. And I’m delighted and grateful that so many have.’
The success of Dogs for Good brought the charity to the attention of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), and, in December 2017, the Charity Grants Committee awarded a grant of £60,000 over three years.
‘Autism appears to be much more prevalent than it used to be because the rates of diagnosis have changed,’ explains Andrew Ross, chairman of the Charity Grants Committee at the MCF. ‘My guess is that nearly every family within the masonic community will have some contact with autism, even if it’s not within their own family.
‘Parents of children with autism are working hard to deal with a very challenging condition, so the simple idea that owning a dog can really help many families – by having a calming effect or by helping a child to engage with the outside world – rather caught the committee’s imagination.’
For a small charity like Dogs for Good, the grant will go a long way. ‘We have to deliver on what we promise and meet our beneficiaries’ expectations, so a significant grant like this allows us to plan ahead with confidence,’ Gorbing says. ‘In future, we hope to offer Family Dog Workshops to even more parents. We’re thinking about how to offer online learning opportunities. We’re hugely grateful to the MCF for enabling us to continue what has turned out to be a genuinely groundbreaking programme.’
The three-year grant from the MCF means that a committed, sustained relationship can develop between the MCF and Dogs for Good, and the Charity Grants Committee will receive regular reports on how the money has been used. ‘It’s good to know that we’ll be able to look back in three years’ time and see the difference we have made to a large number of families,’ says Ross.
Kath explains how autism affects her family’s life, and why a cocker spaniel called Maggie has changed things for the better.
‘Mitchell is cautious by nature, but since we got Maggie a year ago, he has become much more confident – it has been incredible to watch. Throwing a toy for Maggie means he now understands the concept of taking turns, and that has helped him to become more relaxed around other children. His teachers are noticing the positive changes, too.
‘Originally, we were concerned about logistics, and that was where the Family Dog Workshops and the after-care support were so helpful. My husband, James, and I love dogs, but we knew we had to get it absolutely right. Initially, I was considering an assistance dog for Mitchell, but I quickly realised that what we needed was just a happy family dog.
‘For example, where Maggie really helps is with transitions. Even a simple transition from the TV to the dinner table is hard for Mitchell, and he needs some sort of activity in between. Now, Maggie acts as a welcome distraction. She has also boosted Mitchell’s confidence in open spaces.
‘Up until last summer, we were having to carry Mitchell around – he’s nearly six now, so that was becoming physically difficult. But when Maggie’s with us, Mitchell often runs ahead with her. Having a family dog has been great for me, too. I was driving everywhere and doing very little exercise. Now, I take Maggie for a daily walk, which gives me some head space and blows the cobwebs away.
‘The Family Dog Workshops were so comprehensive and relaxed, but the most important thing I learned is that there are no rules – different things work for different families and different dogs. I originally thought I’d do lots of puppy training and have this calm, placid dog, and instead we’ve ended up with a complete whirlwind! But that is perfect for Mitchell. Having Maggie bouncing around is ideal for a little boy who just needed to be brought out of himself. I honestly can’t imagine family life without her.’
A Freemasons-funded project at a children’s hospice in Hampshire has been featured as part of a BBC show about disability and video games
Over the past year, the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight has provided significant funding to the charity Lifelites so it can provide life-changing assistive technology to children at a local hospice.
The ability to play video games can be beneficial for young people with disabilities. As many have very limited movement and are often unable to control anything for themselves, the technology Lifelites donates can help them to regain this ability. It can also help them to communicate with friends, encouraging social development and relieving isolation, as well as create the opportunity to play and have fun.
Escaping German capture many times, Sam Derry went on to aid the rescue of thousands of Allied soldiers from occupied Italy
Samuel Ironmonger Derry was born in Newark, Nottinghamshire on 10 April 1914. He embarked on his army career in 1936 at the age of 22. While serving in the Western Desert in 1942, he was captured by the Germans but managed to escape by hurling himself into a ravine. Ironically, some five months later and 800 miles away, Major Derry was recaptured near El Alamein by the same German unit. Alas, this time there would be no quick escape and he was transported to Italy to be interned with 1,200 officers at Chieti (Camp 21).
After the Italian armistice in September 1943, the camp was taken over by the Germans, with Derry put on a prison train for transportation to Germany. However, en route between Tivoli and Rome, he managed to escape for a second time when, in broad daylight, he evaded a German paratrooper guard and jumped off the moving train. Badly bruised, he headed for the hills and was taken in by an Italian family.
While hidden 120 miles behind enemy lines, Derry discovered there were another 50 Allied prisoners living in conditions of extreme hardship, and so, with winter setting in, he decided to obtain help from the neutral Vatican in Rome, some 15 miles away.
REFUGE IN THE VATICAN
Derry wrote a letter to the Vatican asking for money and clothing to ease the plight of his adopted men. The communication reached the desk of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who had toured prisoner of war (POW) camps during the early years of the conflict seeking news of prisoners who had been reported missing in action. If he found out that they were alive, he tried, through Vatican Radio, to reassure their families.
When Italy changed sides in 1943, thousands of POWs were released but remained in grave danger of recapture when Germany forced occupation. Some, remembering O’Flaherty’s visits, managed to reach Rome to ask for his help. Instead of waiting for permission from his superiors, O’Flaherty promptly set up an underground movement to assist them. Looking for someone to bring a little order to the growing number of escaped soldiers, the Monsignor decided that Derry should be brought into Rome.
On 19 November 1943, with the Germans established in the district, Derry journeyed to Rome at great personal risk. O’Flaherty requested that he stay in the city and assume control of the Rome Escape Line, which was helping Allied escapees but only operating in a small way at that time.
Under Derry’s leadership, the organisation grew, and the German authorities became aware of the existence of the Rome Escape Line as early as January 1944, which meant that there had been a great danger of infiltration. Yet by April 1944, a total of 3,975 escaped Allied POWs were under Derry’s care.
After the liberation of the city, Derry was granted an audience with Pope Pius XII, who had been totally unaware that the young officer had been his ‘guest’ in the Vatican for many months. In recognition of his work with the Rome Escape Line, the now Lieutenant Colonel Sam Derry was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Following demobilisation in 1946, Derry returned home to Newark. He was a prominent Freemason in Newark and was initiated into Corinthian Lodge, No. 5528, on 13 January 1949, remaining a member until his death on 3 December 1996. In June 1970, he was a founder member of Newark Lodge, No. 8332, resigning on 30 March 1993.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE
In 1963, Derry was surprised by Eamonn Andrews and his big red book outside the BBC Television Theatre, where he became the subject of This Is Your Life. While a national television audience watched, old colleagues and former POWs came forward and spoke about the occupation of Rome and the escape organisation to which most of them owed their lives.
As the tributes came to an end, a surprise guest was announced and O’Flaherty walked falteringly from the wings to embrace his old friend. This was to be the last time the two men would meet. Eight months later, O’Flaherty died peacefully at his home in County Kerry, Ireland.
Did you know?
Derry escaped from his German captors by leaping out of a moving prison train in broad daylight
Words: Tony Narroway
Further to the recent news coverage in the national newspapers relating to Freemasonry and Police Federation Reforms, Dr David Staples, Chief Executive Officer of the United Grand Lodge of England, has been interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme
You can listen to the interview here, which starts at 02:46:21.
Clocking up the miles in the name of charity
For most 86-year-olds, taking it easy might be par for the course, but for Yorkshire Freemason Jeffrey Long MBE, a veteran paratrooper and serial fundraiser, it’s a different story
Jeffrey has been a busy man in 2017, as a chance encounter with a stranger called Paula Modeste at Windsor train station saw his latest adventure of walking 86 miles go viral, with a ‘selfie’ photograph grabbing the attention of comedian Jason Manford and helping his fundraising for the Royal British Legion go beyond the £120,000 mark – not bad considering his original target was to reach £1,000.
Alongside interviews with the BBC and ITV, national newspapers have also helped Jeffrey gather plenty of deserved headlines as he clocked up the miles. Jason Manford even drove down to Jeffrey’s hometown of Bingley, West Yorkshire, to meet him, whilst he was invited by Chelsea Football Club to be a special guest and introduced on the pitch before their match against Manchester United on 5th November.
Following walks of 84 and 85 miles the previous two years to coincide with his age at the time, Jeffrey’s latest venture of 86 miles saw him start out at the Thames Barrier and eight days later finish in the dark in Caversham, Reading. He estimates that the time spent walking 86 miles took him a full five days to complete, as along the way he also celebrated his 86th birthday with a meal on the 32nd floor of the Shard and visited the Embassy of Switzerland to meet their Ambassador Alexandre Fasel and Guildhall to meet Chief Commoner Wendy Mead.
Jeffrey, who is on chemo treatment because his body is producing too many platelets, admits that his latest walk was not without its challenges. He said: ‘I also suffered a problem with my hamstring a few months before and by the time I started the walk, it had still not recovered. I didn’t have too much of a problem walking as long as I didn’t stride out, but when it came to going down steps, it really pulled on my hamstring and hurt like mad.
‘I loved the challenge of walking 86 miles and even though many people have said it’s extraordinary to be completing it at my age, it doesn’t really seem extraordinary to me.
‘The truth is that I’ve never really been much of a social walker. I don’t have time to train, so when it came to first preparing for these challenges, I just remember putting on some boots, walking for around an hour outside and then going ‘I’ll be fine!’
So how do you go about topping an 86 mile walk? Simple – Jeffrey is already looking ahead to the challenge of walking 87 miles next year. Not only that, he’s considering walking another 100 miles for a separate challenge and looking for a sponsor as he considers swapping the walking boots for a bike and cycling from London to Paris!
Jeffrey Long was featured in the Summer 2017 of Freemasonry Today – read his interview here.
In an unprecedented move, Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons opened the doors to several of their Masonic Halls across the region on Saturday 9th September 2017 for everyone to see inside as part of the National Heritage Open Days and to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England
Over 600 people wanted to see and know more about Freemasonry and took the time to visit one of the Halls.
At Freemasons’ Hall, London Road, Leicester, Dale Neal from BBC Radio Leicester did a live outside broadcast as part of the Monica Winfield show. His reaction when he saw the decorative Holmes Lodge Room live on air was priceless, similar to those of other visitors and was just simply “Wow!” Dale spoke on air to the Provincial Grand Master David Hagger about Freemasonry and organiser of the event David Turner, who described some of the history surrounding the historic building which has been the Provincial Headquarters since 1910.
Other Masonic Halls which opened their doors were Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Hinckley, Lutterworth, Market Harborough and Syston.
At Hinckley Masonic Hall, amongst the many visitors was the Deputy Mayor of the Borough, Councillor Jan Kirby with her consort Mike Kirby, who were delighted to learn about the building and its historical past. After the visit the Deputy Mayor said: 'It was a pleasure to be shown around your lovely Masonic rooms and told the history of the Masons within Hinckley.
'It was explained to us that you are all just people who are like minded from all parts of our community who want to help others. Many people do not realise the charitable works that the Masons do for our community.'
Another visitor was Mrs Shirley Ashmore who was only too pleased to view the large board recording the names of the Past Masters of the Knights of Malta Lodge No. 50 which occupies a prominent position within the Lodge Room. This board was presented to the Lodge in 1967, by her mother, Mrs Hipwell, in memory of her late husband Cecil Hipwell who was the Master of the Lodge in 1948.
Andy Hardy-Smith, organiser at Market Harborough, said: 'The reaction from the public was good and it has been suggested that perhaps we should open our doors again in the future. It was an opportunity for one of our potential new members to come along and is now intent on joining.'
Malcolm Talbot from Ashby-de-la-Zouch said: 'The day proved a great success and started with visitors queuing outside before we even opened our doors. We had a steady stream of visitors appearing throughout the day.'
Victor Petrie from Lutterworth said: 'We had several visitors including a couple who were passing through Lutterworth while on holiday and two members from Rugby, Warwickshire. All the visitors were greatly impressed with the facilities available at the centre and asked many questions when they were shown round the Lodge Room.'
The Provincial Grand Master David Hagger said: 'We are thrilled that so many took the opportunity to come and have a look around our Halls and we hope that it helped them better understand the history of our Halls and Freemasonry in general.'