During the past year English and Scottish Freemasons have found themselves serving together in Iraq. Vern Littley, of Dormer Lodge, No. 7294, in Worcestershire, a Staff Sergeant with the Royal Artillery, based in Basra, has teamed up with Stuart (‘Connie’) Taggart and John McGlen, Scottish Freemasons, both of the Royal Artillery and Terry Wing, a Captain of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment and a Master Mason of Lyndhurst Lodge, No. 8012, in Hampshire. Vern Littley is in charge of a 12-man detachment responsible for talking to the local population about their concerns and warn them about the dangers of unexploded ordnance and the importance of reporting any terrorist or suspicious activity to the local Iraqi Police and security forces. What made this friendship special was that between the four there were differences in rank and military experience and that these factors were not an issue.The majority of Vern’s duties have involved talking to the local population. He and his team have distributed thousands of leaflets and many goods promoting the new Iraqi emergency services. Products have ranged from small leaflets to carrier bags for children full of information leaflets, crayons, colouring books and other items of useful information helping to improve the local population’s safety and general awareness. However, because they were carrying ‘goodies’ the patrol has been mobbed by many a child shouting ‘Mister, mister give me pen, mister, mister give me dollar!’ as they distributed these and various other products.
During their tour they have briefly been able to visit the desecrated Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery located in Basra. The cemetery contains a memorial wall, commemorating 2,551 officers and soldiers killed during the First World War and a further 365 Second World War burials. Opposite the cemetery is the Basra Indian Forces Cemetery containing Indian forces burials from both World Wars. Sadly, both cemeteries have now been desecrated and what remains is neglect, smashed headstones and piles of rubbish. Their Iraqi interpreter tried vainly to place the pieces of a smashed headstone back together so that he could read the serviceman’s name and inscription.
At the Memorial to the missing, which bears the names of 40,500 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in Mesopotamia (Iraq) from the Autumn of 1914 to the end of August 1921, John McGlen, a renowned Piper, played the lament ‘Flowers of the Forest’ as a tribute.
Their time in Iraq has not passed without incident; they have had stones thrown at them and recently the vehicle Vern was travelling in was targeted by an explosive device on the outskirts of Basra, where luckily only one soldier received minor injuries and there was only superficial damage to the vehicle.
During their time in Iraq, their responsibilities have included providing training for the newly developing Iraqi Police Service and Iraqi Army, hoping that one day they will be able to take full control of the security of Iraq. Connie Taggart’s main duties were the issuing of weaponry and stores to these new organisations and the running of the Battery’s vehicle fleet, whereas John McGlen’s duties have included being the Regimental piper and vehicle top cover sentry duties during vehicle moves between military locations. Both have also been involved in the storage of confiscated weapons from warring Iraqi factions.
They all feel that during the last 6 months the British Army has made a positive contribution to a new and safer Iraq, and their fraternal interest has made made thelow points and other aspects of the tourgo easier. They hope that perhaps someone on the outside looking in on their masonic association may finally take ‘that first step’ now.