Fraught with fate
Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, considers the impact of the outbreak of World War I on the Craft in England
Britain entered World War I on 4 August 1914. When the Grand Lodge held its regular Quarterly Communications less than a month later on 2 September, French and British armies had delayed the German advance in the south of Belgium, but their success at the first Battle of the Marne was still uncertain. Alfred Robbins, the President of the Board of General Purposes, later described the atmosphere at that meeting as being fraught with fate. ‘Not only for the British Empire and her Allies, but for all that English masons held dear,’ he wrote. ‘Darkness was descending on many a soul.’
Calls for lodges to stop meeting were dismissed by the Grand Lodge, but two of them with the closest German links, Pilgrim Lodge, No. 238, and Deutschland Lodge, No. 3315, both ceased to meet for the duration of the war. Members of both lodges had been faced with the provisions of wartime legislation that had given ‘enemy aliens’ a matter of days to leave the country and forced all those remaining to register with the police. The activities of other lodges were disrupted as members, including the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, went to fight or became involved in the conflict.
By mid-September 1914, Lord Charles Beresford Lodge, No. 2404, based in Chatham in Kent, had all its two hundred and fifty members serving while forty-three of the forty-five members of Alma Lodge, No. 3534, in Hounslow, whose members were drawn from the Royal Fusiliers, rejoined for war service. The lodge meeting scheduled for September 1914 didn’t take place and the lodge members weren’t to meet again until 1918.
Other lodges were forced to move out of their meeting places as buildings across the country were requisitioned. Several London lodges were forced to move from De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment when it was requisitioned for the Military Aeronautics Directorate. The Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester gave its hall to the Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at their premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the lodge’, but it was able to return to its hall in January 1918.
An estimated 200,000 refugees arrived in Britain from Belgium, displaced by the war. The Grand Lodge made an immediate initial donation of £1,000, the equivalent of more than £40,000 today, to the Belgian Relief Fund. The returning refugees were dispersed across the country. Some were sent to Nottingham where they were housed in Chaucer Street properties that had been purchased shortly before the war for the site of a new masonic hall. Funds were regularly raised for them at Provincial meetings until they were repatriated in 1919.
A £1,000 donation was made to the British Red Cross Society, where Sir Arthur Stanley, Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire, Western Division, was chairman of the executive committee.
A ladies committee is born
With many businesses closing down or reducing their activity at the outbreak of war, there were fewer employment opportunities for single women as servants and secretaries. When the Queen’s Work for Women Fund was established, the Grand Lodge requested that the wife of the Pro Grand Master, Lady Ampthill, form a Ladies Committee to raise contributions for the Fund from the wives and daughters of Freemasons. An impressive £2,001 was raised. This was presented to Queen Mary in March 1915, with the funds divided between several bodies providing training and support for women.
Women soon began to replace men in clerical and manufacturing roles as the war continued, especially after the introduction of conscription in 1916, and the need for the Fund was much reduced.
Many organisations and communities established Rolls of Honour in the early months of the war. These were originally intended to record the names of those who had volunteered, but they also quickly became a record of casualties. The idea of a Masonic Roll of Honour was first considered by the Grand Lodge at its meeting in December 1914, its second meeting after the outbreak of war.
Documents sent by the Grand Lodge to lodge secretaries asked for the name, military rank and masonic rank of brethren known to have died. The first list appeared in the 1916 Masonic Year Book – it was thirty pages long with five hundred names.
The Library and Museum has a new, free temporary exhibition called English Freemasonry and the First World War, which opens on Monday, 15 September 2014 and runs until Friday, 15 May 2015. A richly illustrated book to coincide with the exhibition has been published and is available from Letchworth’s Shop at Freemasons’ Hall, priced £15.
Sincerity Lodge No. 3677 is unique in several ways. It has just celebrated its centenary but has actually worked continuously since 1786, that is what makes it unique in English masonic history
Formerly the Lodge of Sincerity No. 486 under the Moderns Grand Lodge it joined the Liverpool and Wigan masonic rebellion of around 1818 and was amongst the lodges in Lancashire which revived the Antients Grand Lodge which became eventually the Grand Lodge in Wigan with the Lodge of Sincerity at its head as Lodge No 1.
The story is a fascinating one which went on for 90 years, but eventually with the wise council of Col James Murray, a Past Grand Treasurer of United Grand Lodge and a Wigan mason, the lodge was re-constituted, all the members re-obligated and it returned to United Grand Lodge on 26 September 1913.
Since then it has continued to work in the Wigan area and now meets at Bryn Masonic Hall, in Ashton in Makerfield, where it is proving to be quite successful with two Fellowcrafts and three Entered Apprentices currently amongst its membership.
The centenary was presided over by the Provincial Grand Master, Peter Hosker, who opened a special meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge for the occasion, assisted by Howard Jones, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Assistant Provincial Grand Master, Tony Bent along with Mark Matthews, Provincial Senior Grand Warden, and Joe Hall, Provincial Junior Grand Warden, and 16 other acting Provincial grand officers.
The Provincial Grand Secretary, Peter Taylor, read the centenary warrant. It was then presented to Ian Dawson the Worshipful Master of Sincerity Lodge by the Provincial Grand Master who remarked that he was delighted to be able to do so on the unique occasion, the like of which we are unlikely ever to see again - that is until the bi-centenary of the lodge.
Peter also presented Alan with a centenary medal which he said could now be worn by all the member of the lodge who were Master Masons.
An oration was then given Rev Graham Halsall by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, who delivered and interesting insight into Lancashire’s boundary changes that had taken place during the lodges history and the effects they had upon the members.
Graham then gave a prayer of rededication.
The evening’s celebrations were rounded off by the promotion of Malcolm Irving Bell Snr to the rank of Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden for his work both in Freemasonry and out of it, especially in the Scout movement. Peter praised Malcolm for his outstanding commitment and hard work in the Craft and the community and said his promotion was very well deserved.
Peter then closed the meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge and returned the gavel to Ian. Ian thanked Peter and the acting Provincial officers for attending the meeting and making it such a special evening. He then presented Peter with a cheque to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity for the sum of £3,677.
After the lodge was closed nearly 100 brethren sat down a very pleasant festive board. Which was followed by the usual toasts. In his response to the toast to his health proposed by Howard Jones, Peter said he was very aware he was following in the footsteps of the previous 15 Provincial Grand Masters since 1826 who had held that office. He said he had looked at the service of Sir Arthur Stanley, who presided at the consecration of the lodge in 1913 and he listed some of his work both in the Craft and the community and said that he hoped that the lodge would celebrate 200 years as a part of the United Grand Lodge of England and that the PrGM who presided over the ceremony would be able to say that the work by Freemasons both in the Craft and community had continued in the tradition set by Sir Arthur Stanley.
Peter concluded by congratulating the members of the lodge on their centenary and said he hoped they would continue their lodges fine traditions, as he firmly believed that we will all be judged by the way we live and the work we do in the community.
Tony Bent then proposed the toast to Sincerity Lodge No. 3677, which was fully supported by all those present.