Wednesday, 14 December 2011 09:54


Single-handedly rescuing his squadron after they were pinned down by heavy gunfire, Paddy Mayne’s life reads like a wartime page-turner. Matthew Scanlan tells the remarkable story of this SAS legend, wartime hero and Freemason

The dark days of the Second World War saw many a hero come to the fore, but none quite as remarkable as Paddy Mayne. Rugby international, commando and a founding father of the Special Air Service (SAS), Mayne was one of the most decorated Allied soldiers of the war, winning the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) four times, as well as the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’Honneur. But while his warrior exploits are comparatively well known, few people are aware that this extraordinary man was also a Freemason.

Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne was born on 11 January 1915 in Newtownards in County Down, Ireland, and showed an early love and aptitude for sport. Excelling in many areas, Mayne not only became the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936, but was also capped playing rugby for Ireland six times, and in 1938 was selected to play for the British Isles Touring Party of South Africa.

Mayne was already a member of the Territorial Army when the Second World War broke out in September 1939 and he soon received a commission in the Royal Artillery. In April 1940 he transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles before volunteering for the newly formed No. 11 (Scottish) Commando, with whom he saw his first action, attacking Vichy French forces in Lebanon. For his courageous and clear-minded leadership, Mayne was mentioned in despatches. However, he soon lost interest in the Commando and in August 1941 joined a revolutionary new outfit that was being formed in North Africa by former Scots Guards officer David Stirling.

The aim of this unit, known as L Detachment Special Air Service Brigade, was to operate behind enemy lines, obtain intelligence, disrupt Axis communication routes and attack enemy airfields. After some initial setbacks, Stirling struck upon the idea of utilising the well-established Long Range Desert Group to transport his force into action with heavily armed vehicles. It was an idea that would establish the new unit’s credibility, and later render them the stuff of schoolboy legend.

On 5 December 1941, Mayne helped to lead a successful attack on Tamet airfield near Sirte in Libya. The raiders destroyed fourteen enemy aircraft and damaged a further ten, and for his part in this audacious attack Mayne received his first DSO. But he did not rest on his laurels, and just three weeks later, as General Claude Auchinleck pushed Erwin Rommel’s forces back past Benghazi to Agedabia, Mayne and his men returned to the same airfield where they then destroyed a further twenty-seven planes.

Over the next fourteen months, as the North Africa campaign ebbed and flowed across the Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian deserts, the SAS mercilessly harried German and Italian airfields, and it is estimated that they either destroyed or immobilised upwards of four hundred enemy aircraft. Mayne reportedly destroyed around one hundred aircraft himself – more than any fighter ace during the entire war – and, on occasion, even resorted to ripping out some of the cockpit controls with his bare hands.

In January 1943, Stirling was captured by Axis forces in southern Tunisia and soon thereafter the 1st SAS Regiment was renamed the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS), with Mayne, now a major, in command. As the North Africa campaign drew to a close, the SRS went on to play a significant role in the Allied invasion of Sicily and on 9 July 1943, in an action somewhat reminiscent of the Hollywood film The Guns of Navarone, it attacked and destroyed two Italian coastal batteries at Capo Murro di Porco to help ease a path for the landing of General Montgomery’s Eighth Army. Two days later, the SRS also spearheaded the amphibious landings mounted at the ancient Sicilian port of Augusta, forty-seven kilometres north of the cliff-top battery they had just disabled, and for his part in this action Mayne received a first bar to his DSO.

In early September 1943, the SRS pushed on and mounted an attack at Bagnara Calabra in Calabria, helping to establish a bridgehead on the Italian mainland for the Allied advance. A month later they also helped to capture the town of Termoli, although at a terrible cost to the regiment.

This capture signalled an end to Mayne’s Italian campaign, and on his return to England the SRS was subsumed into a larger SAS Brigade, with Mayne as its lieutenant colonel. The main focus of the brigade was to support the Normandy landings, what we now know as ‘D-Day’, which eventually took place on 6 June 1944. In August 1944, Mayne was dropped by parachute into occupied France where, deep behind the lines, he harassed the enemy in his inimitable way and for his actions he was awarded a second bar to his DSO.

As the Allies pushed into Germany in the spring of 1945, Mayne and the SAS worked in conjunction with the 4th Canadian Armoured Division in the capture of Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. It was during these closing days of the war that Mayne single-handedly rescued a squadron of his men after they became pinned down by heavy gunfire. The incident occurred near the German town of Oldenburg and, according to several sources, Mayne rescued his men by lifting them one by one into his jeep before despatching the German gunners in a nearby farmhouse. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross, which was personally endorsed by Field Marshal Montgomery, but it was controversially downgraded and instead Mayne received a third bar to his DSO – an act seen as a grave injustice by many.

On 27 March 1945, Eklektikos Lodge, No. 542 (IC), held a ballot for Mayne to be initiated as a Freemason. Accordingly, Mayne was initiated on 25 September 1945; the lodge records modestly give his vocation as ‘Army’. After bailing out of an expedition to the South Atlantic due to serious back problems, Mayne returned to Newtownards in 1946 where he received the second and third degrees on 28 May and 24 September, respectively. An enthusiastic Freemason, two years later he joined a second Newtownards lodge, Friendship Lodge, No. 447, and served as Worshipful Master of his mother lodge in 1954.

With his war years now firmly behind him and the SAS officially disbanded, Mayne tried to settle back into the routine of domestic life but with some difficulty. Physically, he was not the man he once was, and he suffered terribly with his back. However, an intelligent and sensitive man, Mayne took up gardening, found solace in books and he greatly loved Irish culture. He regularly propped up the local bars to enjoy singing, storytelling and poetry recitals, just as he had done with his men under the desert stars in wartime, but herein also lay his Achilles heel: he loved to party, often excessively.

On the night of Tuesday 13 December 1955, after attending a regular meeting of the Friendship Lodge, Mayne continued drinking with a masonic friend in the nearby town of Bangor, before finally making his way home in the small hours. However, he never reached his destination. At about 4am he was found dead in his wrecked red Riley Roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer’s vehicle. News of his death reverberated across Northern Ireland and, at his funeral, hundreds of mourners turned out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town’s old Movilla cemetery.

Following his passing, his masonic jewel was preserved for many years by an old school friend, before it was eventually presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it can now be seen preserved in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.

We would like to thank the Mayne family, the SAS Regimental Association and all who helped in the preparation of this article

Friday, 16 September 2011 12:31


In recent years, Freemasonry and Parkinson's UK have built a strong relationship to help deal with this degenerative condition at both a research and community level, as Matthew Scanlan reports

Most readers will have heard of Parkinson’s and know that it is a degenerative condition. It selects its victims at random and affects people from all sectors of society – young and old, rich and poor – including many household names such as Deborah Kerr, Sir Michael Redgrave, Salvador Dali, Muhammad Ali and Pope John Paul II.

Initially described as shaking palsy, Parkinson’s was discovered in the early nineteenth century by an English physician named James Parkinson, after whom the condition is named. The precise cause of Parkinson’s remains undetermined, although it is known that it begins when sensitive nerve cells in the brain die off resulting in a lack of the chemical dopamine. Symptoms typically include the onset of tremors, distorted facial expressions, a difficulty in walking, a distinctive gait, and in extreme cases (when around 70 percent of the normal level of dopamine is absent) sufferers shake uncontrollably. Although Parkinson’s does not directly cause death, there is as yet no known cure and it is a lifelong condition where symptoms get progressively worse over time.

With around 120,000 people currently living with Parkinson’s in the UK, Freemasonry has long been a supporter of Parkinson’s UK (formerly called the Parkinson’s Disease Society). Since 1981, more than half a million pounds in grants has been approved by The Freemasons’ Grand Charity.

In 2007, it donated £170,000 for a three-year research programme carried out at University College London, into a gene called PINK1, which when mutated, can cause nerve-cell death and lead to Parkinson’s. This research has helped scientists understand more about why people who inherit faulty versions of the PINK1 gene are more likely to develop Parkinson’s. Researcher, Dr Emma Deas, commented: ‘We believe that understanding how changes in PINK1 function lead to nerve-cell death will allow us to develop new and better treatments.’

In addition to its research funding, the Grand Charity announced a major grant of £250,000 earlier this year, with the aim of aiding the charity across the country at local branch level. As Laura Chapman, chief executive of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity explains, there is a great deal of support for Parkinson’s UK by Freemasons: ‘Many of our members have experience of what it is like to live with Parkinson’s, either through a friend or family connection. Parkinson’s UK has received much support within the masonic community, a key factor for why it was selected for this national grant.’

It is hoped that by dividing this grant between local branches, many people across England and Wales will benefit from additional help. The Grand Charity recognises the important role Parkinson’s UK branches play within the local community, providing dedicated support and services.

‘We were delighted to receive this grant – £250,000 is a huge amount of money,’ says Teresa Forgione, major gifts manager at Parkinson’s UK, adding that it will be divided and distributed to various Parkinson’s UK branches across the country so that grass-root charity workers can make the best use of the funds as they see fit. Parkinson’s UK is allocating the money according to local needs, with decisions being taken by regional groups.

Forgione emphasises that Parkinson’s UK’s mission is not only to discover the initial causes of Parkinson’s and thereby find a cure, but also to improve the quality of sufferers’ lives, which is where this grant can really help. The condition not only affects physical movement but also presents a variety of debilitating problems such as tiredness, pain, depression and constipation.

As the symptoms exhibited and the speed at which the condition develops vary from person to person, so do the treatments differ. Drugs are most commonly used but in some instances surgery may be utilised in order to try and reduce physical shaking through deep brain stimulation, which is done by implanting electrodes into the brain.

Forgione notes that many sufferers find that simple exercise classes help reduce the side effects of Parkinson’s, including refl exology, yoga, Pilates and even Tango classes. Judith Green, 62, from Cornwall, reports that exercise classes have made a hugely positive difference to her life since she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

‘Thanks to Pilates and Zumba classes, I have regained my balance and confidence,’ she says. ‘My consultant couldn’t believe his eyes when I walked into his office without my walking stick. In my experience being active makes such a big difference. I have seen the same benefits for other people with limited mobility and I would recommend exercise classes to anyone with the condition. I only wish I had discovered them at an earlier stage.’

The Grand Charity grant will help to fund classes such as these, as well as patient therapies and other aspects of care, such as help with transportation. The money is also going towards funding new, specially trained Parkinson’s nurses. As Forgione concludes: ‘In short, this major gift will help people live with Parkinson’s and thereby improve the quality of their lives.’

For further information on Parkinson's UK, including how you make a donation, please visit their website.

Published in The Grand Charity
Sunday, 01 May 2011 17:16

Honouring Our Roots

Matthew Scanlan reports on Grand Lodge's sponsorship of students studying traditional craft skills

In 2008 Grand Lodge decided to sponsor three students studying at the City and Guilds of London Art School, where time-honoured craft skills such as stone carving are taught and thereby preserved. And as two of the recipient students are now in their third year and approaching the climax of their courses, Freemasonry Today decided to go and see how they are progressing and to discover more about the work of the school.
The City and Guilds of London Art School is certainly not lacking in pedigree and from its earliest days in mid-nineteenth-century Lambeth, it can boast an illustrious past. Sir Henry Doulton, a founder of the Royal Doulton pottery firm, was associated with the school in its previous incarnation (the Lambeth School of Art) and the manufacture of his ‘Art Pottery’ was begun there by its students. Walter William Ouless studied at the school before going on to become a celebrated portrait painter under the guidance of Sir John Everett Millais (one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) and the gifted French sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou also taught there. In fact, several of the establishment’s students subsequently went to work for Auguste Rodin in Paris as a result of Dalou’s friendship with the great man, and it is even believed that Vincent Van Gogh attended drawing classes at the school during a visit to Lambeth in the early 1870s.
At first glance the complex of buildings that make up today’s modern school look deceptively small. But as you enter through a side entrance located just off London’s busy Kennington Park Road, one is immediately confronted by a warren of passages and corridors that seem to cocoon an interior courtyard fl anked on either side by two large workshops, each echoing to the sounds of pneumatic drills and hammer-chiming chisels.

As the establishment’s Principal Tony Carter explained, the school teaches its students everything from art history to the hands-on practical skills required to find work in a number of craft traditions, including the modern discipline of conservation. And it is in this latter area that two of the three sponsored students are currently training. Now both in their third and final years, Suzanne Grasso and Steve Needlestone are both hoping to graduate this summer with a BA Hons degree in Conservation Studies, which involves a wide range of disciplines, from the study of gilding to understanding the compositional make-up of stones commonly used in architecture.
Having worked in the field of graphic design for some years, Suzanne Grasso realised that her heart was no longer in her work and she decided to make a change to the world of conservation. ‘I’m so glad I did it,’ she exclaimed, ‘it’s just fantastic!’ Similarly, Steve Needlestone completed an art foundation course and a degree in economics and economic history at the University of Manchester, before working in an office. ‘But,’ as he recalled, ‘I’ve always been creative and I’ve always made things with my hands, and so I found myself in completely the wrong place.’ After some soul searching, he too came to realise that conservation was the career for him; it was evident that both students were extremely grateful to the Grand Lodge for its financial support.

The third student being sponsored, Florence Glasspool, who is currently in her second year of a three-year BA Hons degree in Stone Carving, has already achieved a measure of success, in that one of her pieces – an abstract carving of a dormouse in limestone – has recently been selected to adorn the fifteenth-century perpendicular masterpiece that is St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. However, somewhat remarkably, unlike many of the carvers who she regularly studies alongside, Florence had never actually carved before joining the school. With an art school background, Florence wanted to but as she explained, ‘I was told it was not advisable and so I went off to university and did something proper. But after studying product-design engineering for two years, I realised that I had to change’. She subsequently looked around for carving courses and, in her own words, ‘quickly realised that this was really the only one’, and so she applied and was accepted.
‘It’s brilliant’, she said. ‘I’m a complete novice really and I was terrified at first because most of the other people on the course are ex-masons and really know what they are doing. I had come from an art school background, but here they sort of go, “there’s your hammer and chisel, now make something”. ’ She laughs, ‘So at first I was very slow, but this year I’ve got a lot quicker’.
‘Obviously it would take a lifetime to become as good as the masons who worked on the medieval cathedrals, but I would just like to thank the Freemasons for sponsoring me and thereby giving me a chance to pursue a career that I love’.


Published in Features
Sunday, 01 May 2011 16:11

Lending a helping hand

Matthew Scanlan reports on a pilot scheme

The comedian Bob Hope once quipped, ‘If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.’ And as every Freemason knows, Freemasonry places great emphasis on a generous heart and charitable giving, even though not every member is aware of the charitable help that is available to both himself and his loved ones. Therefore, in the wake of a recent pilot scheme which was specifically launched to help raise awareness of the work of the masonic charities, Freemasonry Today decided to speak with those involved to see how the initiative went.

In September 2009 the four main masonic charities – the Freemasons’ Grand Charity, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Masonic Samaritan Fund – launched a joint pilot scheme called Freemasonry Cares to try and better inform members about their work.

For seven months the provinces of Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Durham and Yorkshire West Riding piloted the scheme, which focused on informing members and their dependents, as well as lapsed members (those who may have fallen on hard times or who have become too infirm to attend meetings), about the wide range of charitable help and support that they are eligible to apply for in times of need. And in all instances the message was simple: if you have a masonic connection and you are experiencing financial or healthcare problems, contact Freemasonry Cares.

Key initiatives

In the words of Eric Heaviside, the Provincial Grand Master of Durham, ‘One of the most surprising things we discovered with Freemasonry Cares was just how many brethren and their families were totally unaware of the potential guidance and assistance available to them. Many simply go to their lodge and afterwards put away their regalia, and that’s it. And many in the province didn’t realise what they were entitled to; for some it never occurs to them to even seek advice in this regard.’

To tackle this shortfall in knowledge, a specially produced booklet was distributed throughout the four pilot provinces to members and widows of deceased masons. The booklets addressed commonly posed questions relating to both eligibility and the type of help available; help that typically ranges from purely financial related issues such as funeral costs or education support, to healthcare and family support, including hospital treatment, respite care and child maintenance. And in every province the booklets seem to have proved an unqualified success.

A key initiative of the scheme, information about which was also featured in the booklets, was the setting up of a confidential helpline number and this also appears to have won universal approval. For as Eric Heaviside once again explained, ‘One of the problems we frequently encounter is that a lot of our people are very proud people and they don’t want to call on charities. But we have tried to explain that it’s Anyone who wishes to contact Freemasonry Cares should ring the confidential helpline number: 0800 035 6090 more of an entitlement and not charity as such, and that appears to have helped somewhat’.

John Clayton, the Provincial Grand Master of Yorkshire West Riding, also noted that because calls made to the helpline number are dealt with in strict confidence, a greater number of masons have been encouraged to come forward and enquire about possible help, far more than was the case in the past.

He also pointed out that in the case of Yorkshire West Riding where there were already wellestablished charities such as Provincial Grand Master’s Fund, which in 2009-10 donated £425,662 principally to non-masonic charities, they have noticed an upturn in charitable applications by as much as sixty percent since the launch of the Freemasonry Cares scheme in the autumn of 2009. Therefore it was generally agreed that even in provinces such as this, the new initiative can not only better inform masons and their dependents about the good work of the charities, but it can also provide a boon for public relations.

The conclusion of the Provincial Grand Master of Cambridgeshire, Rodney Wolverson: ‘the initiative was very good, well presented and well thought out, and overall it was received very well, but most importantly, it also shows that Freemasonry really does care’.

This optimism is also borne out by the facts. For during the pilot year the number of grants awarded in the four test-case provinces saw an increase of thirty-six percent on the previous year, compared to a thirteen percent average increase across the rest of the country. Consequently, the initiative is now being rolled out nationally and over the next eighteen months provinces across England and Wales will be invited to introduce Freemasonry Cares in the hope that the pilot success can be repeated across rest of the country.

Published in Freemasonry Cares
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 13:10

KGB Archives Reveal Masonic Secret History

New revelations about the history of Freemasonry will be presented at an international conference to be held this autumn at the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre (CMRC), Islington, North London.

The conference will include at least two speakers who will cast light on their researches into the former KGB archives in Moscow that contain millions of masonic documents stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Dr. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted of Harvard University, an expert of international renown in this highly specialised field, will deliver a keynote lecture entitled War on the Freemasons: the fate of Nazi and Soviet seized books and archive.

She will provide an overview of how these vast archives were first stolen by the Gestapo and other branches of the Third Reich’s security and intelligence services between 1939-1945, and how they were subsequently shepherded back to Russia by the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB – now the FSB.

Other revelations to be unveiled for the first time at the conference will include recently deciphered diplomatic correspondence from the close of the eighteenth century which provides fresh insight to the mind of Prime Minister Pitt the Younger and his attitude towards Freemasonry and various kindred societies of the day.

Other speakers will explore the phenomenon of anti-masonry in Turkey and the Arab world as well as under the Fascist dictatorships of twentieth-century Europe. One keynote lecturer will expound upon the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery that tragically helped to pave the way for the Holocaust.

CMRC Conference organiser Matthew Scanlan explained: ‘The conference promises to be one of the most interesting the CMRC has organised and I feel that this subject, perhaps more than most, will demonstrate the importance and relevance of the study of Freemasonry to mainstream history’.

The conference will take place on 30-31 October and further information and full details of how to register can be found on the CMRC’s website:

Published in Features

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