Freemason Brent Allcock pieces together his grandfather's story

Friday, 06 December 2019

Across continents

When Brent Allcock traced his grandfather’s roots from childhood through to Freemasonry, he unearthed a fascinating story of brotherhood that spanned continents, wars and friendships

When he was growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s, Brent Allcock didn’t know much about his maternal grandfather other than that he looked different, and that once a month he’d put on a suit and disappear to lodge, not reappearing until long after midnight, an unusual occurrence in the sleepy town of Dunedin. Wilfred Frank Snelleksz, who Brent called ‘Poppy’, died in 1977, but it was not until 2010 that Brent started piecing together the extraordinary story of his life. It began with a trip to Kalimpong, a city in north-east India. 

This is where Wilfred, known as Bill, had arrived in 1906 – presumed to be around six years old – having been rescued from the streets by Dr Harold Mann. Dr Mann, a specialist in tea cultivation, believed that any child could prosper if given the opportunity. Somehow he came upon Bill and his siblings and sent them to Mrs Hutchins’ School for Boys in Pune and then Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong. Dr Graham’s Homes had been founded by Reverend Dr John Anderson Graham, a Scottish missionary, as an orphanage for the unwanted children of Anglo-Indian relationships.

It is assumed that Bill’s parents – Charles Snelleksz and Winifred Hunt (who may herself have been Anglo-Indian) – died, leaving Bill and his siblings to care for themselves until Dr Mann and Dr Graham intervened. Both men remained in contact with Bill throughout their lives, visiting him in New Zealand. 

While it is unknown whether Mann or Graham were Freemasons, it is plausible given that they abided by Freemasonry’s principles of charity, benevolence and equality. ‘My grandfather was given a chance through the principles that Freemasonry teaches, and without them and those principles, I wouldn’t exist,’ says Brent. In 1916, Bill served in the Anglo-Indian Army in Mesopotamia; his brother Edward died at the Somme. In 1921, Graham and Mann sent Bill to a new life in New Zealand. It was here Bill met his wife and made his home. 

Bill joined Lodge Celtic, No. 477, in 1930, serving as Master in 1936 and 1965, and as Deputy District Grand Master for NZ South. For Brent, his grandfather’s decision to become a Freemason may have been driven by a desire to fit in as well as an appreciation of the concepts of Freemasonry. Bill returned to military action in the Second World War. He lost a leg in an accident and subsequently received letters from the king, governor general and prime minister of New Zealand.

Brent feels that his grandfather’s experiences are examples of a true masonic life – people being equal, whatever their background. ‘Lord Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet, was present at my grandfather’s initiation. After his initiation, he went to salute, but Lord Jellicoe stopped him, saying, “Here you are my equal and my brother.”’ 

Brent was so impressed by his grandfather’s quiet dedication that he became a Freemason himself. He is now a member of Lodge St. Andrew, No. 1437, in Singapore. He says, ‘I thought so highly of my grandfather and respect him so much that I thought if Freemasonry was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.’

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