Funds for veterans
As part of the Freemasons’ continuing support for British ex-service personnel, the Grand Charity donated £50,000 to Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan’s). To date, the total donated to the charity is £101,000. The Grand Charity’s latest donation will fully fund a new state-of-the-art bedroom as part of a vital refurbishment project at its Brighton centre.
When thanking the Grand Charity for the donation, Lesley Garven, manager of the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation, training and care centre in Brighton, said that it would enable ‘blind veterans to live comfortably in a supported environment with access to the highest quality nursing’. The continuing support from Freemasons to our ex-service personnel is helping rebuild lives.
A full list of the non-masonic grants that were approved in November 2013 is available to view at www.grandcharity.org
After a life of structure and relationships forged through work, many men feel an absence in their lives once they retire. The RMBI therefore supports residents with a range of activities to fill this void
Maintaining hobbies and keeping up with regular social activities can be difficult for those who are less able to get out and about and whose cognitive functions may be in decline. Taking part in stimulating and enjoyable activities and meeting new people is vitally important for older people in order to combat loneliness, keep active and retain a sense of identity and connection to the past.
Jack MacMurran, a resident of RMBI care home Cadogan Court in Exeter, has been participating in Men in Sheds, an innovative project run by Age UK Exeter. The scheme brings together men over the age of fifty in the familiar surroundings of a ‘shed’ or workshop, for practical activities such as woodworking, while socialising and learning new skills. The renovated garden furniture and equipment is donated to charity, raising funds for worthy causes worldwide.
Jack has been part of the Men in Sheds programme since 2012. During this time, he has made new friends, shared memories and repaired everything from wheelbarrows to birdhouses. Jack says: ‘I’ve made some great friends through Men in Sheds. We enjoy talking about what we’ve been doing that week and it’s nice to have a change of scenery. I used to work on ships and still enjoy making and fixing things; it’s great that I can still do this once a week and nice to know that what I make is put to good use.’
Another Cadogan Court resident, Stan Ashdown, eighty-one, also enjoys making things out of wood – although the furniture he produces is in miniature form. Stan has always loved carpentry, having built stage sets for local theatre productions in his younger years, but it was after his retirement that he became interested in doll’s house construction and miniature furniture, turning a spare room at home into his workshop.
Since moving into the RMBI home with his wife Elsie last April, Stan has continued with his hobby, producing beautifully crafted items such as tiny beds, tables and wardrobes, replicating styles from different periods.
Just like old times
A key aspect of life in RMBI care homes for many male residents is the masonic fraternity itself. Each RMBI home has an Association of Friends formed of local masonic volunteers, who make a vital contribution to residents’ quality of life. They organise events and raise funds to enable the purchase of items such as minibuses and audio equipment, as well as the creation of leisure areas.
Male residents can also enjoy masonic activities through the Good Neighbour Lodge, No. 8378, whose meetings take place in the homes on rotation.
Ecclesholme in Manchester is one of several RMBI homes that now has a bar, recently converted from an old lounge. The bar offers real ales and traditional pub games, and at eighty-six years old, George Hogget is a regular. His daughter says he ‘thoroughly enjoys chatting and reminiscing with the other gentlemen residents over a pint, just like old times’.
‘A key aspect of life in RMBI care homes for many male residents is the masonic fraternity itself.’
What’s in a name?
From rocks in Devonshire and Shrewsbury nymphs to lords who upheld the law on the Scottish border, Caitlin Davies explores the rich history behind masonic lodge names
Names, as Romeo and Juliet knew all too well when considering their family ties, are crucial to identity. When it comes to masonic lodges, they provide an intriguing link to the past. Chosen by its founders, a lodge’s name could be the town in which it is based or the pub where members met, a shared interest or a notable figure, or even a masonic virtue.
‘Lodge names can stem from an element of local history or quirk of the times, but will seldom be arbitrary,’ says Susan Henderson, the United Grand Lodge of England’s Communications Adviser. ‘It can be a fascinating insight into the lodge’s formation. What has struck me is that people have a real emotional attachment to a lodge name.’
Some are inspired by the landscape in which the lodge was born. Queeselet Lodge, No. 6887, in Birmingham owes its name to two Anglo-Saxon words, ‘queest’ (a wood pigeon) and ‘slaed’ (a wooded valley). Torquay’s Tormohun Lodge, No. 6449, gets its name from the history of the area: Tor(re), meaning ‘top of’, refers to an area inhabited since Saxon times. ‘There was a rock, or tor, standing over the village and that’s how it got its name,’ explains Peter Keaty, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for Devonshire.
Then there are lodges linked to a place or occupation. Tilbury Lodge, No. 2006, in Essex gets its name from the Tilbury Docks. When work first started in 1882, constructional officers who were Craft members decided to form a lodge for fellow employees. Another example, Clavis Lodge, No. 8585, in Oxfordshire is a lodge for church bellringers and takes its name from a 1788 manuscript on the subject, Clavis Campanalogia. Not forgetting Scientific Lodge, No. 840, in Wolverton, Buckinghamshire; its founding Master back in 1860 was locomotive designer James McConnell.
Some masonic lodges are linked to an individual, such as an Earl, Duke or local historical figure. Belted Will Lodge, No. 3189, meets in Cumbria, not far from Hadrian’s Wall in an area steeped in the history of Lord William Howard. Born in 1563, he was an English nobleman and antiquary, sometimes known as ‘Belted Will’. ‘Howard was a romantic figure,’ says lodge Secretary Ron Cameron. ‘He was made a Commissioner for the Border and helped to bring order out of chaos at a time of great bloodshed.’
Other lodge names have been inspired by figures in literature. Philammon Lodge, No. 3226, was founded in 1907 in Devonport. ‘When they were thinking of a name one of the founding members, brother Crang, said, “How about Philammon?” ’ says Peter. Crang was reading Charles Kingsley’s 1853 novel Hypatia, which features a young monk named Philammon (Lover of God), and as a keen churchman, Crang decided he’d found a suitably esoteric name.
Our tour of masonic lodges would be incomplete without mention of figures from myth. Sabrina Lodge, No. 4158, in Shrewsbury is named after the nymph of the River Severn, known as Hafren in Welsh mythology. She was the daughter of Locrin, king of the Britons, and Estrildis, his secret lover and second wife.
Perhaps one of the most unusual names is Light from the East Lodge, No. 4186, in Surrey, founded by brethren who had served in India during World War I. When the lodge was consecrated in 1920, AE Shewring, the Consecrating Chaplain, noted: ‘Lodge Light from the East/What a name to be proud of/What a memory of the past/An inspiration for the present/And a hope for the Future.’
After this whirlwind journey through England’s lodges, it seems that names can point to geography, a love of literature or just where someone once lived.
But they all reveal histories of which masons are proud. ‘There are hundreds more examples just as interesting,’ says Henderson. ‘I hope readers will be inspired to find out about their own local masonic history, and I expect a rash of letters to Freemasonry Today!’
On British soil
With Freemasonry banned in Germany, Jersey’s Past Provincial Grand Master David Rosser explains what the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands in World War II meant for local members of the Craft
The story of Jersey’s occupation by the Nazis is unique not only in masonic terms, but in the history of World War II, because it took place on the only part of British territory to be occupied by German forces during that conflict. It would have been impossible to attempt to defend the Channel Islands, in the case of Jersey just twelve miles from the west coast of France, without incurring an unacceptable level of civilian casualties. It was therefore announced that, as the Islands might be occupied, those who wished to leave would be evacuated. It was an agonising decision, but for Freemasons (and there were more than a thousand each in Jersey and Guernsey) especially so, knowing of Hitler’s persecution of German Freemasons.
Following the fall of Paris on 14 June 1940, the Nazi forces moved quickly westwards and began their invasion of the Channel Islands at the end of the month. The occupation began not without bloodshed as a number of civilians were killed during a brief air raid on St Helier, on the road to the quayside.
Freemasons would have been more apprehensive had they known of the Führer’s order in September 1939 for the creation of a list of British subjects and European exiles, the Sonderfahndungsliste GB (Special Search List GB) – now known as the Black Book – who were to be taken into what was euphemistically termed ‘protective custody’ in the event of an invasion of Great Britain.
This was brought home after obtaining a copy of the Last Will and Testament of the Provincial Grand Master of Jersey in those days, Charles Edward Malet de Carteret. Significantly, the Will was signed on 1 July 1940, the day enemy forces landed in Jersey. So far as we are able to gather, he had never previously made a will. Charles must have wondered what might have been in store for him and other members of the Craft still in the Islands. In poor health, Charles died in January 1942.
Life on the ground
The atmosphere was more relaxed than had been expected, mainly because the German troops were in high spirits; they were convinced that the occupation of Great Britain was but a few days away. And while some restrictions were harsh – for instance, remaining Jewish shops had to display notices to this effect – proclamations issued by the occupying authorities were conciliatory if not, in some respects, almost bizarre.
For instance, islanders were allowed to say prayers for the British Royal Family and the welfare of the British Empire. Likewise, while the National Anthem was not to be sung without permission, it could be listened to on the radio. For Freemasons, the future seemed uncertain. Charles was anxious that nothing be done to make life more difficult for his members and was informed by the German military authorities that, provided no further meetings were held and the masonic temple locked up, the building and its contents would be left alone.
Relying on this, and the proclamation issued on the first day of the occupation, which stated that ‘in the event of peaceful surrender the lives, property and liberty of peaceful inhabitants is solemnly guaranteed’, Charles complied. Furthermore, he instructed that all the beautiful furnishings in the temple, as well as the thousands of priceless items in the library and museum, should remain in situ. Unfortunately for Freemasons, the proclamation proved untenable. Soon after the establishment of the regular German troops (the Wehrmacht), the Sturmabteilung, or SA, were also despatched to Jersey – more sinister forces bent on pursuing the Nazi official policy against Freemasonry.
The first indication that something was afoot was the unannounced arrival at the masonic temple on 19 November 1940 of the Geheime Feldpolizei – the Secret Field Police – who demanded all keys to the building and proceeded to place seals on every door. Then, on Thursday, 23 January 1941, a squad of special troops from Hitler’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg arrived and proceeded to take an inventory of the contents and to photograph the main rooms, including the temple.
‘What was remarkable was that, having taken such drastic action against the physical attributes of Freemasonry, no action was taken to persecute individual masons.’
The investigations led to the despatch of further squads of Einsatzstab from Berlin, who commenced the systematic looting of the building on 27 January 1941. All the main pieces of furniture, the many beautiful furnishings, and the contents of the library and museum were stripped out, loaded onto lorries and shipped off the island. Anything that the looters did not want was either smashed and left lying around or piled in great heaps and burnt. Photographs taken when the building was repossessed by masonic authorities in 1945 reveal the scale of the devastation inflicted.
It subsequently came to light, from articles published in the local newspaper, which was under the control of the occupying authorities, that the reason for the removal of furnishings from the temple was to transport them to Berlin for use in an anti-masonic exhibition. Likewise, the photographs were taken to enable exhibition managers to replicate the layout of a lodge room.
Exhibitions were also staged in Paris, Brussels and Vienna using artefacts stolen in similar fashion from French and Belgian lodges; another was held in Belgrade. It is known that artefacts were also taken from masonic buildings throughout the Netherlands, so there was little shortage of suitable material with which to stage such exhibitions.
Thankfully, the main fabric of the building remained undamaged and for the remainder of the occupation it was used to store liquor and confiscated wireless sets. What was most remarkable was that, having taken such drastic action against the physical attributes of Freemasonry, and given the purpose of the notorious Black Book, no action was taken to harass or persecute individual masons, full details of whom would have been ascertainable from the stolen masonic records.
The situation becomes more astonishing given that in 1942, and again in 1943, Hitler ordered all high-ranking Freemasons to be deported to Germany. The orders were sent directly to the Commander-in-Chief, but no action was taken to identify, locate and deport these senior masons, of whom there were many. This opens up the intriguing line of speculation that some of the most senior military commanders had masonic connections or sympathies, or may even have been members of the Craft at some time.
‘After the liberation by British forces on 9 May 1945, the massive task of restoration confronted the masonic authorities... it took several decades to complete.’
We know that none of those appointed to govern the Channel Islands was a Nazi, and that Commander-in-Chief of the island Rudolf Graf von Schmettow came increasingly under suspicion in Berlin. Chief-of-Staff Baron Hans von Helldorf also came under suspicion for his leniency towards civilians, and for failing to carry out orders he received from Berlin – he was banished to the island of Herm, pending court martial. Meanwhile, the wife of Baron Max von Aufsess, who was still in Germany, was declared an enemy of the state and arrested by the Gestapo. Von Aufsess had been tasked with handling the liaison between the military government and the Jersey authorities.
After the liberation by British forces on 9 May 1945, the massive task of restoration confronted the masonic authorities. Since the last meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge in October 1939, the Province had lost its Provincial Grand Master, his Deputy and many other senior members. Despite this, Provincial Grand Lodge was convened on 16 August 1945, just one month after the masonic authorities repossessed the building.
All the furnishings needed replacing, and to meet the cost the Province had to rely almost entirely on its own resources and the generosity of friends worldwide, although they did receive a donation of £5,000 from Grand Lodge. By early 1946 the temple had been restored to some kind of normality, although it took several decades to complete the full restoration. With the anti-masonic exhibition staged in an area of Berlin that suffered almost total destruction at the end of the war, it is likely that the building in which it was housed was destroyed. So sadly, and despite endless enquiries, none of the stolen treasures except for some two hundred and fifty library books have been recovered.
There is a happy ending to this story. As those who are able to recall and compare will readily testify, the present splendour of the Jersey masonic building even exceeds that which existed prior to the traumatic events of January 1941. This is a tremendous tribute not only to those on whose shoulders fell the enormous burden of restoration, but also to their friends worldwide who contributed so much and so generously to this massive task. Thanks to them, Freemasonry in the Channel Islands is alive and well today.
Making an impact
The RMTGB has given a grant to Helping Hands, which coordinates local volunteers to improve the quality of life for sick children
As part of its Stepping Stones scheme, the RMTGB awarded a £30,000 grant to Helping Hands, a scheme established by the charity WellChild in 2006 to provide practical support to severely sick children and their families. The children supported by the scheme have a range of conditions such as learning difficulties, mobility problems or visual or hearing impairments.
Many family homes are unsuitable or unsafe for children with such conditions. Four-year-old Mustafa was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in his heart, an underdeveloped lung and epilepsy. He needs twenty-four-hour oxygen therapy to help him breathe and has serious learning disabilities. He is constantly seeking sensory stimulation, but his garden had many trip hazards and it wasn’t safe for him to play outside with his family.
WellChild’s Helping Hands scheme aims to give sick children like Mustafa the opportunity of a better childhood by coordinating teams of local volunteers to carry out small home improvement projects. Mustafa’s garden was transformed in just one day as volunteers from a local business installed a new artificial lawn, a large play mirror, colourful murals, and a specialist swing and support seat. These small improvements will have a dramatic and lasting impact on Mustafa’s childhood and daily life.
The Helping Hands scheme relies on donations and volunteers giving their time. To lend your support, go to www.wellchild.org.uk
Hertfordshire launches appeal
The Province of Hertfordshire has launched its 2019 Festival Appeal for the RMTGB at a series of dedicated events. The five-year appeal will see the Province’s five thousand six hundred Freemasons aim towards a final Festival target of £3 million.
The donations will be used to fund the RMTGB’s core work of supporting around two thousand children and young people from masonic families in financial hardship each year, in addition to grants made through its Stepping Stones scheme. In Hertfordshire alone, more than one hundred and seventy children have been supported during the past five years.
Launching the appeal, Provincial Grand Master Paul Gower said: ‘I hope that the Freemasons of “Happy Hertfordshire” will produce a sum worthy of our Province, and so enable the RMTGB to continue its work of relieving hardship in the families of our less fortunate brethren.’
For more information about the 2019 Festival Appeal, go to www.rmtgb.org
All at sea
It is no coincidence that the same man who invented the life preserver and received a mistaken knighthood also had a wholly unique relationship with Freemasonry. John Hamill considers the life of Francis Columbine Daniel
On 21 July 1806, crowds thronged to the River Thames in London to view an exhibition of Francis Columbine Daniel’s patented life preserver. Made from leather and silk, it was the forerunner of today’s inflatable life vest. A report of the demonstration cites people floating down the river playing musical instruments and smoking pipes – even loading and firing sporting guns.
Daniel was born in King’s Lynn in 1765, his father hailing from Edinburgh and his mother from Norwich. After education at a grammar school, Daniel was apprenticed to a surgeon and apothecary at Wapping in East London in 1779. Nine years later he set up his own practice and became a Freemason. It was possibly a foretaste of his later, somewhat eccentric masonic life that he was initiated twice: first in a lodge under the Antients Grand Lodge and then in one under the rival Premier Grand Lodge (the Moderns), both in Wapping.
The area was a hive of naval activity and it was Daniel’s observation of many drownings that led to his resolve to find a means of preserving life in and on the water. His 1806 exhibition brought him to the attention of the Lords of the Admiralty and a further display in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of York, Cambridge and Cumberland gained him celebrity status. His invention won him gold medals from the Royal Humane Society and the Royal Society for Arts, and brought him to the attention of the Court, which was to lead to a certain notoriety.
Daniel’s celebrity led to his being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 1820. Joining what he believed was the receiving line to be introduced to the king, he was surprised when asked to kneel and a sword was tapped on both his shoulders. Having been dubbed a knight he could not be ‘undubbed’ and so left the event as Sir Francis Columbine Daniel.
‘A prominent member under both Grand Lodges, Daniel had made enemies because of his sometimes high-handed, if well-intentioned, actions.’
Life in lodges
Led by William Burwood, members of Daniel’s Antients’ lodge, the United Mariners, had formed a charity in 1798 ‘to cloathe and educate the sons of indigent or deceased Freemasons’. Daniel had been a great supporter, but had made enemies because of his sometimes high-handed, if well-intentioned, actions. The members forced the Antients Grand Lodge to open its eyes to Daniel’s prominent membership under both Grand Lodges. Daniel refused to choose between his affiliations and, in 1801, was expelled from the Antients.
In 1808, Daniel retired from his medical practice to concentrate on Freemasonry and charity. He persuaded his Moderns lodge, Royal Naval, to form a boys’ charity to assist the sons of impoverished or deceased members. The Premier Grand Lodge had founded a girls’ school in 1788 and the move was successful. In 1813, the two Grand Lodges united and their boys’ charities were then amalgamated in 1817, becoming the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys, now part of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.
Daniel seems to have run Royal Naval Lodge as his personal fiefdom, alternating between being its Master and Treasurer, and introducing seafarers into the lodge. It was undoubtedly a success, but Daniel was not good at making returns of new members to Grand Lodge or paying their registration fees. In 1810 he was suspended from the Premier Grand Lodge until the debt was cleared. That happened in 1817, and he was welcomed back into the Premier Grand Lodge.
Rather like a shooting star, Daniel had a brief blaze of glory and then disappeared. There is no record of him in Freemasonry after 1821 and he must have died shortly after as in 1825 his daughter, who had fallen on hard times, applied to lodges in Somerset for assistance on the strength of her late father’s membership. Turbulent as his life may have been, he left an indelible track through both his life preserver and his work for the sons of Freemasons in distress.
One mason and his dogs
Connaught Lodge has been uniting dog lovers, Freemasonry and The Kennel Club throughout its hundred-year history. Tabby Kinder traces the social bonds that connect Crufts with the Craft
Graham Hill has an interest in the animals that has, he admits, somewhat taken over his life. ‘I started exhibiting dogs in 1965 – Russian wolfhounds known as borzoi – and I’ve won breeding and showing achievements at championships for years: top dog, top breed...’ he beams proudly as his well-trained borzoi calmly gaze into the camera lens.
Graham is Secretary of Connaught Lodge, No. 3270. Set up for Freemasons with an interest in dog fancying, the lodge now has fifty-five members from across Britain involved in all facets of the dog world, from showing at Crufts and other dog shows through to field trials, agility, breeding, owning and judging.
The lodge has a history inextricably linked with The Kennel Club that goes back more than a hundred years.
Connaught was founded by a group of six like-minded men in 1907 and named in honour of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (son of Queen Victoria), who was, in the early twentieth century, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and also president of The Kennel Club.
‘Each Connaught Lodge member must belong to The Kennel Club, a requirement that has created a close-knit brethren of varying expertise and specialist knowledge.’
As a ring commentator at Crufts and a secretary of the Welsh Kennel Club, Graham’s commitments mean he doesn’t exhibit much anymore but still owns the borzoi, a couple of whippets and a Cardigan Welsh corgi. ‘I’ve had corgis all my life, being from Wales and part of the farming community. Our Cardigan was once a working dog but now all of them are household pets.’
For Graham, the philosophy behind Connaught Lodge is simple. ‘It’s for Freemasons with a common interest in the canine world,’ he says. ‘All of us are associated with dogs, and Connaught members are involved in organising and taking part in all disciplines of canine activities.’
Though the lodge meets just four times a year (at the temple on Duke Street before walking to The Kennel Club on Clarges Street), its members routinely meet informally as they are senior officials in dog fancying across the UK. ‘We’re a whole cross-section of canine enthusiasts,’ Graham says of this niche interest lodge. It’s a philosophy that truly espouses two key aspects of masonry: socialising and brotherhood. Many members are glad of the social aspect, counting Connaught as their mother lodge.
‘Niche interests and Freemasonry go hand in hand,’ explains Jimmy Keizer, Connaught Lodge Almoner and a tour guide at The Kennel Club in London. The club’s art gallery houses the largest collection of dog paintings in Europe, and its exhibitions, open to the public by appointment, are popular in the dog world.
The Kennel Club is an ideal partner for Connaught Lodge, which holds its Festive Board there each year. Indeed, to this day, each lodge member must belong to the club, a requirement that has created a close-knit brethren of varying expertise and specialist knowledge. Jimmy, a member of The Kennel Club since 1989, became a lodge member in 1996 after a lifetime of dog fancying in both a professional and leisure capacity.
Acting as a governing body for dog shows and other canine activities, and also operating the national register for pedigree dogs, The Kennel Club is the oldest recognised body of its kind in the world. And much like Freemasonry, its practices are steeped in tradition.
Of course, an appreciation of dogs is not restricted to making them trot around dog show rings – something that Connaught Lodge Master David Sowerby is keen to explain. Initiated into the lodge in 2005, becoming Master in October 2013, he says: ‘I’m the oddity in Connaught. Everyone else tends to be of the show world, the Crufts element, but I’m firmly a part of the working side, field trials and hunting dogs.’
David’s five cocker spaniels hunt and retrieve game in the shooting field, and he regularly ventures to grand manor grounds and estates in the British countryside to compete. ‘They’re fit for the purpose for which they were originally bred and that’s important to me,’ he says. The joy David finds in his love of dogs encapsulates how lucky he feels to be alive, especially following a recent battle with cancer: ‘It’s a privilege to be involved in dog trialling – if it wasn’t for the dogs, I wouldn’t get to experience the beautiful views and nature.’
David believes Connaught Lodge will grow steadily in membership numbers. ‘It’s a good thing,’ he says. ‘The lodge isn’t run by The Kennel Club and the club isn’t run by the lodge. Instead, one enriches the other. Connaught brings different views, experiences and expertise from different locations together, while the practices of their niche, specialist interests add to the beauty of masonry.’
Hounds for heroes
Each year, Connaught Lodge raises funds for a different charity, nominated by the serving Master. Last year, approximately £3,500 was raised for Hounds for Heroes, which provides trained assistance dogs to injured and disabled people from the UK Armed Forces. This year, the lodge is focusing on fundraising for the United Grand Lodge of England’s tercentenary.
Message from madras
Among the more unusual items in the archives of Grand Lodge is a fragile letter written in Persian, attached to an illuminated English translation
In 1778, a letter was written in Madras by Ghulam Hussainy, Umdat-ul-Umra, the eldest son of the 8th Nawab of the Carnatic in southern India, to George, 4th Duke of Manchester, Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England (the Moderns). This followed his initiation, when Grand Lodge had presented to him, as the future Nawab, a masonic apron and finely bound Book of Constitutions.
The importance of this letter was recognised in 1836 when it was displayed at Freemasons’ Hall at the time of the initiation of Mohamed Ismail Khan, ambassador to India’s King of Oudh. But it was then deframed and so, by the early twenty-first century, the letter, written on fragile Indian paper, was in poor condition (as illustrated above left).
A specialist conservator has been able to preserve the document and the Library and Museum has commissioned photographs of it, which can be used to study the letter’s contents. In addition, a transcript has been attached to the catalogue record to enhance access to the information it contains. The conservation work was funded by the Association of Independent Museums’ Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme.
The Library and Museum is open Monday-Friday, and admission is free.
In the line of fire
Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains how, unlike its successor, World War I saw Freemasonry tolerated, if not encouraged, by the enemy
Over the coming months we will be reading and hearing a great deal about the events leading up to World War I, its progress and final outcome. Unlike previous wars, this ‘Great War’ was the first to have a major effect not only on those involved in the fighting but also on those left at home. We all know about the Blitz during World War II, but how many today remember the Zeppelin raids dropping bombs on London and coastal areas during World War I? And, of course, the attrition in the trenches meant that there were very few families unaffected by death or serious casualties.
Regular Freemasonry has always stood apart from politics and did so throughout the war, refraining from making any comment upon it. Indeed, reading through the printed proceedings of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter during that time, it would be difficult to realise that a major conflict was taking place. Small changes were made to the rules to enable those on active service to maintain their membership, dress codes for meetings were relaxed, and there were regular reports from the Board of Benevolence about sums donated to various relief bodies. But there was no comment on the war at all.
Such was the determination of the Craft to continue life as normally as possible that they even managed a muted celebration of the bicentenary of the formation of Grand Lodge at a special meeting at the Albert Hall on Saturday, 23 June 1917.
‘Regular Freemasonry has always stood apart from politics and did so throughout World War I, refraining from making any comment upon it.’
Honour among men
Despite its horrors, World War I has been called the last ‘gentleman’s war’ because of the way in which it was conducted and the honourable treatment accorded to prisoners of war. We have all heard of the unofficial Christmas truces in the trenches when troops from both sides met in no-man’s land to play football together. There are also examples of masonic activity continuing in prisoner-of-war camps with the passive agreement of the enemy.
The Grand Secretary must have been very surprised when, on 18 December 1914, he received a letter through the post signed by one hundred and twelve brethren who were civilians interned in a camp at Ruhleben near Berlin, sending Christmas wishes to the Grand Master and Grand Lodge. When read aloud in Grand Lodge, their letter led to immediate calls for a fund to be raised by which food and comforts could be bought and sent to them, an act of mercy that the German authorities allowed to continue for the rest of the war.
Under the terms of the Hague Convention, service personnel who fell into German hands were encamped in neutral Holland. Among them were many Freemasons. With the connivance of the German authorities, the Grand East of the Netherlands consecrated two lodges – Gastvrijheid at Groningen and Willem van Oranje at the Hague.
After the horrific debacles at the Dardanelles, there were many British and Empire prisoners of war in Turkey. Records exist of them working Lodges of Instruction at camps in Yozgat, Busia and Afium Karasia. At the British Base Reinforcement Camp at Rouen, more than one hundred soldiers of all ranks petitioned the National Grand Lodge of France to have a lodge at the base. They were consecrated on 16 December 1916 as Jeanne D’Arc Lodge, No. 5.
How different the enemy’s attitude to the Craft was at that time compared to the years leading up to and during World War II, when fascist dictators openly persecuted Freemasons, many thousands of whom perished in prisons and labour and concentration camps.