Wednesday, 26 April 2006 10:11

Grand Master’s address - April 2006


26 APRIL 2006

An address by the MW The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, KG

I welcome you all to this Annual Investiture today and I offer my congratulations to all those brethren I have had the pleasure of investing with Grand Rank or promoting to higher office. Your appointment today is not however simply the recognition of the service you have given Freemasonry in the past but, just as importantly, an earnest of the work we expect you to undertake for the future.

The Craft has embraced the policy of openness with increasing optimism and the benefits are becoming ever more visible. 

Nowhere has that openness been more apparent than in our charitable activities. 

The amount of money raised and the donations made to both Masonic and non-Masonic charities has been remarkable, and has contributed significantly to the raising of our profile and our increasing acceptance in the wider community. 

Nevertheless, charity is not just about raising money and making donations to good causes, valuable though these are. It has a broader and deeper purpose. Apart from giving alms and providing help by liberality to those in need or distress, charity is also defined as love of one’s fellow man, as kindness, and as leniency in judging others. 

Some of our more thoughtful members have commented recently that our charitable activities are in danger of becoming onedimensional, whereas real charity, as I have just defined it, is multi-faceted. Many of our brethren and their Lodges already give much of their time to practical charitable work, which is entirely laudable, and must continue. 

But, as Masons we should all try to involve ourselves to a greater extent in activities which bring joy and happiness into the lives of disadvantaged people, and not just assume that a cash donation discharges our obligations. 

Helping those in need or distress therefore has practical as well as financial connotations, but of course taking Masonry into the community through charitable activities means providing tangible assistance to those in need, and that requires time, a commodity that is precious to us all. By the use of time freely given we can show real liberality of spirit to those who need our help. 

We should also spend more time in our assemblies considering the excellences of charity and the lessons it has to teach us as Freemasons, remembering that no less an authority than St. Paul placed charity in front of both faith and hope as the greatest of qualities. 

We are also conscious that Freemasonry rests on the basic tenets of friendship, charity and integrity, which we know as Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. 

Friendship is the cement which binds us together, integrity is a characteristic which should be inherent in all Freemasons, but charity in all its aspects is the practical application of Freemasonry to the rest of the world. Through our charitable work and our openness about it the world may know the happy and beneficial effects of Freemasonry. 

Brethren, in speaking at some length today about charity I want to stress that we must not fall into the trap of becoming dominated by financial charity, nor even its extension into the aspects of doing good by some practical means, if that leads us to forget that Freemasonry is a system of belief and principle that offers us a framework for the better regulation of our lives. 

Charity is one of the foundations upon which Freemasonry rests, but we must ensure that the other basic tenets are not forgotten or overlooked, and we must look to what observance of all those principles is going to achieve for us. That is the way that we will receive benefit ourselves for what we do for others. 

Brethren, I should like to express my thanks to the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for the efficient manner in which they have conducted our proceedings today. And also to thank the Grand Secretary’s staff, who work so hard behind the scenes to maintain this magnificent building and to ensure that we all enjoy our Freemasonry.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 27 April 2005 10:33

Grand Master’s address - April 2005


27 APRIL 2005

An address by the MW The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, KG

I begin as always by welcoming you all to our meeting this afternoon, and I offer my warmest congratulations to those brethren I have had the pleasure of investing with Grand Rank today on their preferment.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 10 March 2004 00:00

Grand Master's address - March 2004

10 March 2004


I am delighted to see so many of you here this morning for this Quarterly Communication and I bid you all a very warm welcome. I thank you all for the honour you have done me by re-electing me as your Grand Master and I look forward to another busy and challenging year at the head of English Freemasonry.

I should like to start by expressing my thanks and that of the Craft to two distinguished Brethren who have just retired from high office.

RW Bro Iain Ross Bryce has been a Grand Officer for 21 years, which includes 8 years as Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings and 12 years as Deputy Grand Master. In addition to the extensive duties attached to the offices he has held, Bro Bryce has spent a considerable amount of his time working with and co-ordinating the Masonic charities. His chairmanship of the Committee which decided the future of the Foundation for the Aged and the Sick in 1988, and of the Sick fund in 1989 which later developed into the New Masonic Samaritan Fund, was followed by his work on creating the Charity Festival matrix in 1992. More recently he chaired the Committee looking at the allocation of Grand and Provincial Ranks. He intends to remain active, you will be pleased to know, in Masonry and is currently the founding Master of Bridlington Bay Lodge, No 9778, which was consecrated in November 2003. Bro Bryce will continue in office as Second Grand Principal in the Royal Arch so his experience and advice will not be lost to us.

RW Bro Earl Cadogan has been a Grand Officer since 1969 when he served as Senior Grand Warden. His 34 years as a Grand Officer include 11 years as President of the Masonic Foundation for the Aged and the Sick, 6 years as President of the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys and 4 years as President of the Board of General Purposes. Bro Lord Cadogan first joined the Board as an appointed member as long ago as 1983. He served on the Finance Committee from then until he became its Chairman in 1991, and relinquished this office only when he became President in 1999, having also acted as Vice-President of the Board in 1991 and 1992.

The Craft owes both these Brethren an immense debt of gratitude for their hard work, which they have undertaken over so many years, and their dedication to Freemasonry. We thank them for everything they have done for us and wish them many more happy and rewarding years in Freemasonry.

Brethren, you will know that I normally attend the Craft Annual Investiture and take the opportunity of addressing Grand Lodge. This year however I shall attend the Annual Investiture of the Royal Arch on 29th April and it is my intention to address Supreme Grand Chapter. I want to take this opportunity, therefore, of dealing with some important issues which affect the Craft in particular.

It was a great pleasure for me to be able to take part in the splendid ceremonies at the Royal Albert Hall last October, setting up both the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London. It was a magnificent occasion and reflects great credit not only on the staff of London Management who worked long hours over many months in preparation for the event, but also the volunteers of the London Grand Rank Association. We also owe a debt of gratitude to those in the Grand Secretary’s office without whose dedication and support no great occasion of Grand Lodge would be possible, and in particular to the Assistant Grand Secretary for his work on the complex changes to the Book of Constitutions. Praise is also due also to Bro John Wright who acted as overall Project Manager, and his team of Stewards under the leadership of Bro Andrew Wigram, and of course to the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies, who conducted the ceremonial activities of the day so smoothly.

It will take time for the new structure to bed down because this is the biggest change in Freemasonry for almost 200 years, but there are already welcome signs that a new spirit of co-operation and companionship is beginning to transform the newest Masonic venture into something of which we will be very proud.

The Strategic Working Party, set up by the Pro Grand Master to review the Royal Arch, has worked hard on the proposed revisions, and Grand Lodge has already taken an historic step by adding a paragraph to the “1813 Declaration.” This allows us to recognise, formally, that the Royal Arch is a separate Order of Masonry and will strengthen the status of Supreme Grand Chapter without affecting the relationship of the Royal Arch to the Craft. I know that some of you have expressed concern that this change may tend to weaken those historic ties, but I want very strongly to endorse the phrase used by the Pro Grand Master in his speech last September, when he emphasised that the Royal Arch is to remain “indissolubly linked to the Craft”. There is no compromise here, Brethren: that bond is to remain as strong and as close as ever, and the Royal Arch should be regarded by all as the important final step in pure Antient Freemasonry. I shall have more to say about the future of the Royal Arch at the Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter, but in the meantime I wish to thank all the members of the Strategic Working Party for their hard work.

Support of our Masonic charities has always been one of the Keystones of Freemasonry. It is very important, I believe, that in addition to the great Masonic causes we also reach out to the public and ensure that our charitable giving also extends as well to non-Masonic causes, which indeed is a necessary part of our duty to society. It is vital, nevertheless, that our Masonic Charities have the funds they need to fulfil their primary purpose of looking after our beneficiaries, and that is why I welcome today’s initiative to increase the contribution which we all pay to the Grand Charity.

I have been reflecting on the changes in Masonry since you honoured me 36 years ago by electing me as your Grand Master. Membership during this period has declined, it is true, from its post-war boom back to the levels seen in the interwar years. At the same time the almost obsessive secrecy of the thirty years from the 1950s onwards has been followed by a policy of increasing openness which has encouraged us to be more outward looking.

The consequence of this has been a greater desire to defend ourselves against unwarranted external attack and a willingness to correct malicious falsehoods about the Craft spread by those who do not wish to hear the truth.

The Craft has shown in recent years that it is prepared to adapt itself to the changing circumstances of modern life to a greater degree than ever before in its history. Only thus, as the Royal Arch ritual tells us, can it ‘survive the wreck of mighty empires and resist the destroying hand of time’, and I welcome the flexibility which enables us to react so positively at a time of unparalleled changes in society at large. 

Before closing, I would like as usual, to express our thanks once again to all those who make our meetings run so smoothly, the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team who have conducted today’s proceedings with their customary calm competence, and the Grand Secretary and his staff who ensure that our organisation is administered and serviced so efficiently. Finally Brethren I would like to thank all of you who have attended in such large numbers today.

Published in Speeches

London Masonry's historic day

In one of the most historic meetings in the history of English Freemasonry, the MW the Grand Master HRH the Duke of Kent inaugurated the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London at the Royal Albert Hall on 1st October 2003.

The two glittering ceremonies were attended by a full house that packed the stalls, balconies and galleries of the Royal Albert Hall as the Grand Master installed Lord Millett as both Metropolitan Grand Master for London in the Craft and Metropolitan Grand Superintendent for London in the Royal Arch.

Russell Race was installed as Metropolitan Deputy Grand Master and Deputy Grand Superintendent.

Brian de Neut was installed as Second Metropolitan Grand Principal and Ronald Cox as Third Metropolitan Grand Principal in the Royal Arch.

Ten Group Chairmen and ten Deputies were appointed in both the Craft and Royal Arch.

Rex Thorne, formerly Chairman of London Management, which has now been superseded by the new arrangement, was installed by the Grand Master as Past Metropolitan Grand Master and Past Metropolitan Grand Superintendent.

Royal Arch Ceremony

The First Grand Principal, HRH the Duke of Kent, said:

"Companions, in exercise of the power conferred on me by Royal Arch Regulation 26, I have decided to form a Metropolitan Area of London, to comprise those Chapters which until today have been London Chapters as defined in Rules 128 and 129 of the Book of Constitutions, and I have appointed E Comp. the Rt. Hon. Lord Millett, to be the first Metropolitan Grand Superintendent.

"I am confident that he possesses both the ability and the vision required to lead the Metropolitan Grand Chapter as well as its Companions during what will be its formative years.

"Companion Millett is distinguished in public life as well as in the Craft. He was called to the Bar in 1955, took silk in 1973 and was appointed a High Court Judge in the Chancery Division in 1986, receiving the customary knighthood.

"Thereafter he became a Lord Justice of Appeal and Privy Councillor in 1994 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (or Law Lord) in 1998.

"In the Craft, he was made a Mason in the Chancery Bar Lodge No. 2456 in 1968 and in 1977 was exalted into the Royal Arch in the Chapter of Felicity No. 58, becoming its First Principal in 1985.

"He served as Grand Scribe Nehemiah in 1999. He has also found time to be a Member of the Panel of the Commission for Appeals Courts since 1991".

E. Comp Lord Millett, Grand Superintendent in and over London said:

"Companions, this ceremony marks the start of a new era for the Royal Arch in London.

"It is incumbent upon all of us who are Companions of the Metropolitan Area to play our part in taking this Order forward under the new structure, while at the same time preserving and maintaining London's long established and valued traditions.

"I am confident that under the new Metropolitan Grand Chapter, there will be opportunities for many more Companions, as well as the Metropolitan Grand Officers I have invested today, to serve London Royal Arch Masonry and to participate more fully in its future government and direction.

"I know, Companions, that I have your goodwill and support. I know that I have the enthusiastic commitment of the members of my team. I pledge myself to maintaining and promoting the interests of Royal Arch Masonry in London".

Luncheon speeches

In reply to the toast "The MW The Grand Master" and proposing the toast "The Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and the Metropolitan Grand Master," the Grand Master said:

"This is an historic occasion as we meet today to constitute the first - and perhaps it will be the only - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter in the history of English Freemasonry.

"How fitting it is that we should be meeting today at the Royal Albert Hall, which has been the venue over the years for so many Especial Meetings of Grand Lodge, and has therefore a very special place in the hearts and affections of English Freemasons.

"It has a particular resonance for me because the last time Grand Lodge met in this building was the occasion, in 1967, of the 250th anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge, when I was also installed as Grand Master.

"In 1967 we celebrated a quarter of a millennium since the beginning of organised Masonry in London and indeed in the world. Today we mark the beginning of a new era for London - an era of separate existence: still an essential part of the English Craft, but no longer directly administered under my direction.

"Today London is 'leaving the nest' and taking wing on its own. The event is bound to be accompanied by feelings of trepidation, but I know that it is also accompanied by the sincerest good wishes of all those who are gathered here to witness it.

"In its new existence London will be better able to respond to the views of its members, who will thus acquire a greater say in their own Masonic affairs than it had been possible for them to enjoy until now.

"I congratulate Brother Lord Millett on taking over the controls from the Assistant Grand Master, RW Brother David Williamson, who will now be free to devote more of his time in future to the affairs of Grand Lodge and the whole of English Craft Masonry.

"For many years it has been the custom to present each new Provincial or District Grand Master or Grand Superintendent with what has come to be known as 'the Kent Cube'.

"It is a paperweight consisting of a gilt medallion, which was first struck in 1967 for my Installation, set in a cube of clear plastic. On one side of the medallion are the arms of the United Grand Lodge of England in low relief, on the other side is my signature.

"Brother Lord Millett, I am delighted to present you with your own Kent Cube - and I say "your own" deliberately: it is my personal gift to you as the first Metropolitan Grand Master.

"Brother Lord Millett has, I know, the understanding and the vision to enable him to lead London at this critical time so that it will flourish and prosper under his direction".

Lord Millett, replying to the Toast, said:

"Most Worshipful Grand Master, thank you for so kindly proposing the toast to my health and to the success of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London.

"I am proud that the second Masonic gathering you have attended at the Royal Albert Hall should be the Inauguration of London and my own Installation.

"I wish to thank those Brethren who have contributed - in many cases behind the scenes - to the arrangements for today. In particular I wish to mention:

"RW Bro. Rex Thorne, Chairman of London Management, his Deputy, VW Bro. Brian de Neut, and W Bro. Andrew Henderson and the staff of London Management for the work they have done in bringing London to this stage in its development;

"W Bro. John Wright, who has acted as "Project Manager" for today and VW Bro. Andrew Wigram who has organised the Masonic Stewards;

"VW Bro. Jonathan Spence, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and his Deputies for overseeing the splendid ceremonial;

"VW Bro. Graham Redman, Assistant Grand Secretary, for co-ordinating the necessary changes to the Book of Constitutions as well as Grand Lodge's ceremonial and other arrangements for this meeting;

"VW Bro. Andrew Pearmain, the Craft and Royal Arch Grand Organists and the Choir, for providing the music which adds so much to our enjoyment of today's meetings;

"VW Bro. Russell Race, my Deputy, for his quiet and effective support over the last few months;

"and not least the MW Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, for being the guiding inspiration behind the formation of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Chapter.

"I should also like to express my thanks to all those individuals and Lodges who have contributed to the Lodge and Chapter furniture and regalia, which have helped to make this such a splendid occasion.

"These, and all who are here at the Royal Albert Hall have seen to it that we receive a rousing send-off. Our task is now to carry forward the work into the future, and that I and my team will endeavour to the best of our ability to do".

The Grand Master said:

"Brethren, in exercise of the power conferred on me by Rule 60 of the Book of Constitutions, I have decided to form a Metropolitan Area of London, to comprise all but five of those Lodges which until today have been London Lodges as defined in Rules 128 and 129, and I have appointed RW Bro. the Rt. Hon. Lord Millett to be the first Metropolitan Grand Master.

"The Lodges which I have decided should not be included in the new Metropolitan Area are the Grand Stewards' Lodge, Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4, Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No. 12 and Royal Alpha Lodge No. 16.

"This is a singular and most important occasion, because the formation of a Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London is unique and represents a departure from the way that Freemasonry in London has been organised for over 280 years.

"I know that those chosen to lead the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge are united in determination that the enterprise shall thrive and prosper, and I know that you will support them today with your good wishes and, at the appropriate times, with your voices".

Lord Millett, Metropolitan Grand Master, said:

"Most Worshipful Grand Master, I am deeply conscious of the honour you have done me by appointing me as the first Metropolitan Grand Master for London, and I thank you not only for that appointment but also for finding time in your very busy schedule to install me today.

"My thanks extend also to your team of Grand Officers - and in particular the Grand Director of Ceremonies - who have supported you so ably and helped to make today an occasion which I, and I am sure all here for this and for this morning's ceremony, will remember for the rest of our lives.

"We have many other visitors from England and Wales as well as overseas, and they are far too numerous for me to be able to welcome them individually.

"But I should like to express my personal appreciation to the District Grand Lodge of Hong Kong, who have shown me such great hospitality on my annual visits to the territory and have made me an Honorary Member of a local lodge.

"London has always been at the very heart of English Freemasonry, and as a London Mason for some 35 years I am very conscious of the trust that has been laid upon me to preserve and maintain it in that position along with its long-established and valued traditions.

"To that trust has been added the challenge of developing Freemasonry in London, to ensure that it fits comfortably in this 21st century both with the whole of the English Craft and also with society at large in London. "The greatest challenge will be to open up the Craft so that it is no longer seen by outsiders as a secret and sinister society. We should be proud to acknowledge that we are Masons - and London Masons at that.

"The establishment of this Metropolitan Grand Lodge will, I am confident, give opportunities not only to me, my Deputy and the ten Metropolitan Group Chairmen, but to many others as well - not least the Metropolitan Grand Officers I have invested today - to serve London Masonry and to participate more fully in its future government and direction.

"I do not pretend that the task before us will always be an easy one, and I know that all of us will need to adapt and adjust to our changed status under the United Grand Lodge of England, and that will take time, and perhaps patience as well.

"We have been given a tremendous send-off today in this great gathering; it is now for us ourselves to build upon that sure foundation, to carry forward the work and to produce an edifice of which we may be justly proud.

"I know, Brethren, that I have your goodwill and support. I know that I have the enthusiastic commitment of the members of my team. I pledge myself to see that the work be duly and faithfully executed".

Wednesday, 30 April 2003 01:00

Grand Master's address - April 2003

30 APRIL 2003


I start by welcoming you all to our meeting this afternoon and I offer my warmest congratulations to all the Brethren I have had the pleasure of appointing to or promoting in Grand Rank today. I know they have all worked hard to further the interests of the Craft, but in recognising their achievements we do of course look to them for even greater exertions in the future.

I turn first to the most important issue to have exercised Grand Lodge during the past twelve months, namely the future of Masonry in London. The process of providing a new constitutional structure for London Masonry, which has been in progress for some years, culminated in an historic vote in Grand Lodge last month, following the most extensive consultation exercise ever undertaken in English Freemasonry. This process is not yet complete because Supreme Grand Chapter still has to make its decision on these proposals tomorrow. I recognise the widely differing opinions held on this matter, but have been impressed by the wholly Masonic spirit in which the debate was conducted. I am certain that the increased opportunities offered to London Masons by the new structure will enable them to play a more active part in their Masonry in the future.

Our “Freemasonry in the Community” week, which was such a success throughout the country, was more than the additional effort to raise money for charity which in some areas it became. It gave our Masonic centres and individual Lodges an opportunity to reach out to the “popular” world and put our strategy of openness into practical effect, so bringing Masonry closer to the communities in which our Lodges function and flourish, and from which we draw our members.

This special week showed clearly that Masons are part of their local community and that they work for it in many different ways. It also demonstrated to the country that we are a society with principles which we are determined to put into action for the good of our fellow men, and especially the less fortunate.

Although “Freemasonry in the Community” week was not planned as a charity event, it gave Provinces and Lodges in England and Wales additional opportunities to raise funds for, and make further donations to, non-Masonic charities in their own communities. Everyone taking part in these activities throughout the country enjoyed the experience enormously and many have resolved to continue their efforts in subsequent years.

Continuing in the theme of Charity, Charitable activity, which forms such a large part of Masonic life, in the form of fundraising has continued unabated during the year with the result that we gave approximately £17m to Masonic Charities. I know how hard the Councils work which administer those Charities, and I wish to thank them for all their efforts on our behalf. I am very pleased indeed that the work of the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys has been recognised by the award of Royal status, and with effect from tomorrow it will be known as the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. It is also very good news that during the year donations to non-Masonic charities totalling in excess of £4m have been made by Masons under our Constitution throughout the world. This is a highly creditable achievement, and we can take satisfaction from it, but we must nevertheless remember that our Masonic Charities need our continued help, and should remain at the core of our charitable giving.

One of the effects of “Freemasonry in the Community” week has been to encourage many men to make enquiries about possible membership. In mentioning this I return to a topic which I last raised five years ago, namely the three “Rs,” — recruiting, retaining and retrieving. Recruiting is both acceptable and desirable, so long as it does not put undue pressure on potential candidates. Having succeeded in recruiting new Brethren it is clearly important that we make every effort to retain them. We all recognise the career and family pressures faced by younger men, so it is imperative that Lodges work to harness the enthusiasm of the new recruit and make him feel welcome. Retrieving lapsed members is initially a task for the Lodge Almoner, especially where financial or health difficulties have caused a brother to resign; but there is an increasing body of Masons who resigned from their Lodge because of business, career or family pressures, who may have found those circumstances have now eased or disappeared. Here we can all make a difference by encouraging them to rejoin their Lodge, or another Lodge, and once again become active in their Masonry.

I can assure you, however, Brethren, that in looking to you all to promote greater active membership of our Antient Institution, both new and old, I am not suggesting that we should ever contemplate the kind of mass recruitment which has recently been a feature elsewhere in the world. We are hardly going to strengthen our institution by relaxing the principles which we have established and maintained throughout our long history; rather we should respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing society, and show that our values have stood the test of time and are as relevant today as they have always been. This is the example we have set to other Grand Lodges around the world, that the quality of our Masonry should always take precedence over the quantity of our membership.

In this connection I should point out that English Freemasonry recognises 156 Grand Lodges throughout the world, all of which adhere to the same landmarks as does this Grand Lodge. Maintaining good relations with them and responding to approaches from other Grand Lodges seeking recognition from us, is an important part of the work of the Grand Secretary and his staff. I was particularly delighted that, as a result of such efforts, we were able to resolve our difficulties with, and re-recognise, the Grand Lodge of India during the year. Inter-visiting is an important part of Masonic activity and I am certain that our members in India and elsewhere will be gratified that they are able to resume official contact once more with Brethren in the Grand Lodge of India.

Brethren, in conclusion, I should like to thank all those who have worked so hard throughout the year to ensure that we enjoy our Masonry. I wish to mention in particular the Grand Director of Ceremonies, who retires today after eight years. He has been a tower of strength during that time and has directed our ceremonies not only with efficiency but also with good humour and a light touch. I extend our thanks to his Deputies, who have helped him to make today run like clockwork. I also wish to thank the Grand Secretary and all the staff of this building especially the maintenance staff and porters, who look after this magnificent building so well, and finally, Brethren, I thank all of you for your attendance and support in such large numbers at this Investiture.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 24 April 2002 11:16

Grand Master’s address - April 2002


24 APRIL 2002

An address by the MW The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, KG

This has been an exciting and successful year for the Craft, which will culminate in our Freemasonry in the Community initiative. 

I have been delighted and greatly encouraged by the enthusiastic way in which the Provinces, Districts and London have taken up the challenge of communicating to the general public and the media what a substantial contribution the Craft has made to society for well over 300 years.

Published in Speeches

In an exclusive royal interview, Michael Dewar talks to the Duke of Kent, particularly on the future of Freemasonry in his role as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England

Good Morning Sir, it is a great privilege for us that you have agreed to be interviewed for the inaugural issue of MQ Magazine. With all the emphasis in recent years on communication and information, do you think there is any reason why the United Grand Lodge of England has not up to now had its own in-house magazine?

There are probably very good reasons why it has not been possible. After all, we have a very large membership of over 300,000 people and simply finding them and keeping a record of where they all are would have been quite a task. With modern techniques of building databases, this has become possible at relatively low cost. This is a wonderful opportunity and I am delighted that we are now going to have this vehicle for communicating with all our members and, indeed, with a great many other people. I understand the magazine is not exclusively for Freemasons, so I warmly welcome this initiative. I hope it will be a great success.

The idea is that MQ will be part of the mechanism for reintegrating Freemasonry into the community. Its timing is quite apposite, as its launch is just before Freemasonry in the Community Week this summer. It is part of that process, and I hope that you feel it is a sensible way to go.

I think it is, and it will be most interesting to see the way it develops. But it must not be seen as just a way of telling Freemasons things that we want them to know, because it obviously needs to be broader and less exclusive than that. I think there is a scope for a magazine that allows Masonic issues to be freely discussed in a way they have not been in the past, together with a great many other subjects. I hope it will be as broad as possible.

You've had an extremely interesting and varied life; what is it that has encouraged you to include Freemasonry in it?

Like so many people, I grew up in almost total ignorance of Freemasonry, except that I was conscious of a strong family link, because my father was initiated when he was in the navy, and later became Grand Master, but not for long, because he died very early. Also his father and two of his brothers were Masons. Many people who join Freemasonry know very little and need to be inducted into it gradually. That's what happened to me. I found that as I learned more and more about it I became more interested and enthusiastic.

I know Sir that you were a soldier, and that you were commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys.

There was little choice in the matter. Those were the days of national service. I would have been required to do some sort of military service, but the army was not originally mt first choice. I wanted to be an air force pilot, but my maths and scientific abilities were not up to that standard, so in the end I settled for the army. I never regretted it, always enjoyed it. It was suggested to me at quite an early stage that it might not be a bad idea to look at the army as a career, and not just as a thing to do for a couple of years. That is why I decided to go to Sandhurst and do the thing properly, and I thought it was a good choice. It's a marvellous life, especially for a young person. Perhaps in those days there was rather more variety available than now, and perhaps the fun element was a little more prominent thirty or forty years ago. I think it is still a career that is very attractive.

Of course, your father was in the Royal Navy.

He was in the navy originally and then left after about 10 years. When the war broke out, he was called back to an Admiralty job and then eventually was asked to take over Royal Air Force welfare, which he did for about two years.

You may remember, Sir, that we shared an office in Victory College at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst a long time ago. Did you enjoy teaching young cadets?

Yes I did. Of course, it was a huge challenge teaching these young people, young men they were then almost entirely. Very varied material appeared at Sandhurst wanting to be officers, and lots of them came from overseas. I found it enormously stimulating thinking of ways of generating their interest and enthusiasm and trying to pass on some of the things one had been taught oneself.

Because one taught so many cadets one doesn't always remember them, but they tend to remember you. I'm always bumping into people I taught at Sandhurst. Does this happen to you occasionally?

It certainly does. Frequently I meet people who say "Oh yes, I was in your platoon", and of course, as you say, 99 times out of 100, I haven't the faintest notion who they are and I have to believe them when they say they were in my platoon. Just occasionally one can luckily remember the person. But it is rather fun to think that there is some sort of network of people whom one has known. I often also find that some people say to me that we were in the same intake at Sandhurst, but that is altogether an earlier vintage and stretches the memory even further.

Is there any particular highlight in your army career that you would like to recall?

There are probably quite a lot of highlights, but I suppose, in a way, commanding my squadron of the Greys and taking them to Cyprus, where we served for six months with the United Nations force, was certainly a highlight that I remember very clearly. That was in 1970. We were in Nicosia and had a nice little camp at the then airport, which later closed down after the Turkish invasion. This was before that, and we had the good fortune to have responsibility for patrolling the whole of Cyprus, which was quite a task for one small unit equipped with reconnaissance vehicles called Ferrets. We drove all over Cyprus and visited every village, and our soldiers made themselves known to every part of the island, and we were made very welcome. They found it a rather wonderful experience to be able to do that.

To turn to Freemasonry, was it relevant in your military career?

I don't think I would honestly say that it featured. I was aware that there were a number of army lodges - sometimes regimental lodges - but I didn't encounter one when I was serving in the army, so I can't say that there was any direct connection. But I do think that army life and Masonic ideas fit together fairly well; the ideas of discipline and integrity are perfectly complimentary.

In due course you retired from the army and became the vice-chairman of the Overseas Trade Board, and in that role you represented British industry on missions abroad and provided encouragement at home. How did you see that role?

One of the principal tasks of the Overseas Trade Board was promoting our exports. I attempted to further that objective by visiting many countries around the world, talking to their authorities and to British companies working overseas. At the same time I visited firms in the UK to see how they were tackling export business, or even to encourage them to take up exporting if they were not already doing so. I am not in a position to say whether my own efforts were at all effective, but I hope they had some effect. I certainly found it intensely interesting to see the really big change that occurred in the 25 years or so that I did that sort of work. From a perhaps slight complacency - one could generalise - that one found in the early 1970s there was a very much more determined and professional approach that developed in subsequent years. During that time, the UK did succeed in substantially increasing its exports, overseas and inwards investments, so the trends did move quite favourably.

In the past several decades the balance between the manufacturing and the service sector has changed in favour of the latter. Do you think that matters?

Yes, it's true that the total share of our economy and therefore of our exports taken by manufactured goods has been quite steadily falling over a long period. There is always arguments as to how much this matters. I don't like to see it declining, but I think that economic pressures make this largely inevitable. There is a constant movement of manufacturers to be based where costs are lower, say in the Far East or Eastern Europe. You can't prevent this happening, but you can try and create the best possible climate for manufacturing in the UK. You can also ensure that you do the things that really demand skill and brain power, as opposed to simply cheap labour, and this is something that we can still manage to do. We may find the things that require intensive brainpower and really seriously high qualifications are something that we can retain here, but we have, as you said, been developing our services sector and we do have a very strong position, especially in financial services. London is one of the great financial centres of the world, so there are pluses and minuses and one has to look at it as a whole.

Do you think London will remain for the foreseeable future the premier financial centre in Europe?

At present it certainly is, but I don't think one should be complacent about this. More banks and more investment houses seem to want to come and be established here. Partly it's a sort of rolling stone effect: because so many of the big American companies and banks and brokerage houses are here, others feel they must be here too. I hope that will continue, but we have to keep working at it and not assume that it will always be the case; that would be very dangerous and unwise.

Whilst you were travelling, either as Vice-Chairman of the Overseas Trade Board, or when you were in the military, were you able to visit lodges abroad and meet other Freemasons, particularly members of the English lodges abroad?

Whenever I could, yes I did. Sometimes simply by getting together with a group of them at a social occasion, other times by visiting their Grand Lodges. The English constitution exists in many other countries, and we need to show our support and encouragement for them throughout the world. The only time that I've attended a lodge meeting, I think, was in Gibraltar some years ago, when I went to the bicentenary of the Royal Lodge of Friendship there.

Do your duties as Grand Master take you abroad?

They have not taken me abroad specifically except, I think, for that one occasion in Gibraltar. But I've been fortunate to have been able to call on successive Pro Grand Masters and indeed other senior Masons over the years to represent me, and they've been very good and very active in doing that all over the world. All my Pro Grand Masters have been ready to travel to Africa, to India or Australia, usually to install other Grand Masters or senior figures. This maintains the connection and it shows our interest and faith in those lodges.

Another of your many roles is President of the All England Tennis Club and, until recently, of the Football Association. Does sport still play an important part in national life?

All these sports seem to have a large following, but how many people are active in sport is entirely another matter - perhaps not as many as there should be. We all regret that more children at school are not able to take part in sport, although I know it is officially encouraged. You only have to look at television programmes to see how much coverage is given mainly to football - and other sports as well - which is excellent. I handed over the presidency of the Football Association about 18 months ago to the Duke of York. I was president for about 28 years, and I've been President at the All England Club at Wimbledon since 1969. So that's a good many years as well, and although I'm deeply interested in the club at Wimbledon and those championships, I have to admit that I have not been a close follower of tennis around the world. I don't go off to the Australian Open or the USA Open, or wherever, simply because of a lack of time.

You will be pleased to hear that one of the articles in this issue of MQ covers this year's Wimbledon hopes for Tim Henman and all he's doing for British tennis.

Yes, he's a splendid ambassador for British tennis, and I would love to see Tim Henman win a Grand Slam Championship, which he hasn't quite managed to do yet. We all hope he will. But what we desperately need is more young Henmans and female equivalents coming along, and we don't seem to have very many of those at the moment. But a lot of effort is going into financing young people and much of that comes from Wimbledon, which produces many millions every year, which goes back into tennis.

One can't conduct an interview without referring to your royal duties, which have taken up a large part of your life, and which have been superimposed on all your other duties.

In a way it was quite an adjustment from being a full-time professional soldier to leaving the army and then doing a whole lot of other different things, but now it's a matter of working out a programme and just doing what needs to be done. I'm extremely lucky that people have asked me to be connected with different charities and a whole host of different organisations. I'm Chancellor of two universities, and I'm connected with schools and scientific bodies like the Royal Institution and medical charities and others, so there is a great variety of different things. No two days are quite the same. Recently, for example, I spent the day in Guernsey where I visited a concert hall which I opened about 15 years ago. I then met a group of Guernsey business men at lunchtime and in the afternoon I went to the Guernsey Lifeboat, because I happen also to be the president of the Lifeboat Institution. So that shows you the sort of variety that one can fit into a day's visit.

Turning back to Freemasonry, how has your role as Grand Master fitted into your life?

It's probably true to say that Freemasonry has taken a more prominent part in my life as Grand Master visiting groups of Masons around the country - on the whole not individual lodges - because I decided a long time ago that it would be very difficult to choose particular lodges. What I like to do is to go to Provinces and meet groups of Masons there, because one gets a better idea what they are thinking about. I try to meet as many as possible in an afternoon or evening. Another aspect is being involved in policymaking and talking to senior Masons about the future of Freemasonry and about problems as they occur; all in all it has consumed quite a large part of my life. But, I have been extremely fortunate in that I have been able to leave most of the day-to-day operations of the whole business of Freemasonry to my Pro Grand Masters. I've been extremely fortunate to be served by some wonderful people who have given a huge amount of time and energy to it, and by successive Grand Secretaries (the senior official who works full-time at Freemasons' Hall).

You mentioned that you were involved in policymaking. What do you think is the future for Freemasonry in a changing world - does Freemasonry need to change?

There have already been considerable changes. Most notably we have worked hard over these last few decades to encourage the idea that Freemasonry is not something entirely closed and secret. There is no doubt that principally during the Second World War - and in the years following - that the habit of secrecy and of withholding information had become very ingrained. That did Freemasonry a lot of damage because it also allowed this idea to grow up that we were a secret society, and that did imply that we had guilty secrets that we wanted to keep to ourselves, which made us the object of great suspicion. This undoubtedly did us a great deal of harm because once that sort of idea takes root, it is extremely hard to get rid of it. One still, unfortunately, encounters articles in books and even television programmes which suggest that we've been up to all kinds of malpractice such as shady financial dealings, where one Mason protected the interests of another. Such practices are strictly prohibited. So one of my main preoccupations along with my senior helpers has been to promote a more open climate and habit; this will take a long time to develop, but I believe we have moved quite a long way. We do now, for example, encourage people who are Freemasons to be completely open about the fact that they belong to the craft. We don't intend to publish lists of people. I don't think that's in any way necessary, and certainly it is wrong to force people in public office to declare that they are or are not Masons. We object to that, because we regard that as an intrusion on personal privacy, but we do encourage people to be completely open about their membership. The only thing that we seriously regard as secret and the proceedings in our own lodges, as these are entirely private matters which are not the concern of anyone outside. It's a matter of privacy rather than secrecy.

Do you think that the change in attitude which you've talked about to try and encourage more Freemasons to be more open will be a difficult task to accomplish?

It is never easy to change attitudes in a large organisation. You have to remember that within our membership of more than 300,000 there are many who have grown up with the tradition of regarding anything Masonic as a subject that was never discussed outside, and to expect them to alter that approach is something one needs to work on with patience but I'm confident that over time we can produce a change in attitude. In particular we need to work on the relationship between Freemasonry in the Community Week which we are launching this year. It is designed to make much clearer to people that the ideas of Freemasonry, of good works, honesty, integrity and charitable activities, do benefit society and are generally a force for good in the world. This is something that we can encourage all our members to devote time to.

Are the charitable aspects of Freemasonry important?

Our charitable work is very extensive. The Masonic charities last year raised £20 million, but the effort is not devoted entirely towards Masons or Masonic objectives. The amount given to non-Masonic causes is also very large. The Grand Charity exists very largely to make donations and grants to causes which are nothing to do with Freemasonry. It gives money to a whole range of charities and charitable activities. It amounts to millions of pounds every year and I would like that to be better publicised. I hope that this new quarterly magazine may find space to do this.

Do you see Freemasonry in the Community Week as a watershed in Freemasonry's relationship with the community?

It could well become so, yes. This is purely an experimental week. We hope that it will have beneficial results. It is a very important step for us, and something that could never have happened even perhaps 10 years ago, and certainly longer back would have been really unthinkable. It is something I personally strongly encourage, and I have great belief that it will be to our advantage and to that of society generally.

So what part will you be playing in the week?

There's an important service taking place in St Paul's on 18 June, which is designated to be multi-denominational, and I'm hoping to come to that. I think it will make an excellent start to the week.

Thank you very much indeed, Sir, for this inaugural interview in MQ Magazine, which is going to be the flagship for Freemasonry in the United Grand Lodge of England. It is excellent that we have your support.

Published in UGLE
Page 16 of 16

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