Guernsey and Alderney Freemasons have donated £2,160 to bring a number of Chelsea Pensioners to the Channel Islands to celebrate Liberation Day on 9th May

On that day in 1945 the towns of both St Helier in Jersey and St Peter Port in Guernsey were inundated by vast crowds of rapturously joyous islanders thronging the seafront to welcome the arrival of British troops.

The subsequent annual celebrations in Guernsey include a parade prior to a church service of Thanksgiving, a cavalcade of military and vintage vehicles of the era and tea dances for liberated islanders. Chelsea Pensioners have been providing a grand spectacle at all of these events for the past 40 years.

Since 2008, lodges in the Province of Guernsey and Alderney have been providing them with substantial financial support to meet the costs involved with their visits.

The Chelsea Pensioners visit the Masonic Centre every year and those who are Freemasons attend a lodge meeting during their stay. In recent years, they have been accompanied on their visits by a party of Ghurkhas.

The visiting party, which was led by Captain of Invalids Royal Hospital Chelsea, Lt-Colonel Johnny Lowe, was welcomed by Past Provincial Grand Master David Hodgetts.

Bromley in step at Royal hospital

Two members of the Chelsea Pensioners – Audrey Merton, 85, and Douglas Hassell, 98 – are sleeping easier after Bromley Freemasons from Mandalay Lodge, No. 9383, Mandalay Chapter and the Mandalay Club dug deep into their pockets to buy two special £3,000 beds for the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Mandalay’s Master, Ron Warren, presented the cheque to Col Laura Bale, director of care services at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

A symphony in red

The gloom of summer had lifted. Twiddling thumbs on idle hands had now been usefully employed in fastening cufflinks and buttoning waistcoats in readiness for the first meeting of the new masonic season. No doubt having travelled, explored and generally sojourned their way through the summer months to relieve the boredom of masonic abstinence, they were now totally charged in preparation to enjoy this, their first meeting, to the full.

The doors of the masonic hall on Adelaide Street in Blackpool had been invitingly swung open and enthusiastic masons, intoxicated by the anticipation of a unique ceremony, had flooded in. After what may be called their forced sojourn, the returning brethren were fairly lapping up the camaraderie of the lounge bar.

Why a unique ceremony one may ask? The exceptionality of the occasion was immediately evident when glancing around the lounge bar, there were the usual smartly attired brethren in dark dinner suits and morning suits. There were the usual gleaming white shirts. There were the usual highly polished shoes. But there was also something most unusual! Two bright scarlet uniforms stood out from the thronging mass. These were the distinctive uniforms of Chelsea Pensioners.

John Gledhill, master of Symphony Lodge No. 4924 is a Chelsea pensioner, unique in itself in the Province of West Lancashire but making the occasion even more unique was that John was to preside over the initiation ceremony of another Chelsea Pensioner, his good friend and colleague Alan Thubron.

An agreeable untemperamental old boy is John. He prefers to avoid the limelight, slipping into the background with quiet dignity and mellow worth, for modesty prevents him from thrusting himself to the front of the queue. But on this very special occasion he proudly brought himself to the forefront. He had met Alan when he registered in at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the two of them had immediately struck up a strong friendship.

Alan, a veteran of the Catering Corp, had been a serviceman for 22 years, being attached to the Queen’s Regiment for 16 years. That he had experienced a colourful career in the army would be an understatement, having served in many campaigns and proudly sporting the medals to prove it. From the moment of his arrival at the masonic hall to the conclusion of the proceedings, his good humoured face wore an expression of delight. It was obvious that he was thoroughly enjoying his day and introduction to Freemasonry.

Attending the initiation ceremony and lending their support to John and Alan was Blackpool Group Chairman Peter Bentham and group secretary David Cook. John, himself a veteran campaigner, wasted no time in demonstrating his military acumen. Having despatched the general business of the lodge with expediency, he proceeded to tactically invite the immediate past master Jules Burton to occupy the WM’s chair and conduct the ceremony. Well, it was by way a respite for John and he obviously welcomed it.

Jules, a natural thespian in person, is a renowned ritualist, performing with passion and sincerity and once in the chair he soon opened negotiations with the candidate with the customary questions to the initiate. In a well practiced manoeuvre, Keith Roberts confidently conducted Alan around the lodge, much to the appreciation of the gathered onlookers. At each phase of the ceremony, excellence was in abundance. Jules was masterly as usual. Granville Coxhill performed the investiture of the badge of a mason with sparkle and perspicacity and Michael Glover presented the working tools without a single slipped syllable.

The highlight of the ceremony was, however, the recital of the charge after initiation. It was at this juncture that John Gledhill proved his worth as master of the lodge. In a delightful and genuine performance, John provided his audience with a memorable show. It was heartfelt, unpretentious and warmly delivered to his friend and colleague. It was a special moment for John and Alan and an unforgettable experience for those fortunate enough to be present on the day.  

The director of ceremonies of the lodge, Alistair Still, who sports the features and aura of a well seasoned regimental sergeant major, was noticeably pleased with the day’s proceedings. The ceremony had been superbly orchestrated, coordinated and performed – exactly what one might expect from a lodge named Symphony!

A rare a special sighting in West Lancashire

One of the most treasured and iconic images of British history and tradition is the distinctive scarlet-plumaged Chelsea Pensioner with its characteristic tricorne hat. Whilst this exceptional species is frequently observed in its native habitat amongst the shrubberies and lawns of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it is an infrequent migratory visitor to the sandy shores of the Fylde coast and, when away from its more familiar surroundings, it sheds its iconic headwear and dons its shako, a less flamboyant peaked hat.

In a rare sighting, believed to be the first of its kind ever in West Lancashire, an extremely fine specimen was spotted perching on the chair of King Solomon in Symphony Lodge No. 4924 in the masonic hall at Blackpool.

Former Coldstream Guard John Gledhill, proudly sporting his Chelsea Pensioner finery, was installed as Master of the lodge with military precision and in magnificent style by installing Master Steve Smith, Mentor for the Blackpool group of lodges. The lodge is proud that since its consecration in 1927 no member has served a year’s tenure as WM on more than one occasion. This has been aided by many joining members volunteering to occupy the exalted position. And so it was with John, another ‘willing’ volunteer!

Adding his dignified presence to the proceedings was Peter Elmore, representing the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. Unscathed by the wear and tear of modern society and its decline in general courteousness and etiquette, Peter is one of those individuals who has retained a consistency of poise and demureness, embodying the perfect gentleman.

The general business of the lodge having been completed with expediency and exactitude by Roy Fenton, the procession of dignitaries bowled in. Shedding further lustre on this already special event were other distinguished Grand and Provincial Grand Officers and acting Provincial Officers. Grand Officers Bill Eardley and Peter Bentham, chairman of the Blackpool group of lodges commanded pole position behind Peter Elmore, followed by John Turpin vice chairman of the group, and supported by acting Provincial Officers Martyn Jones, Gordon Ivett, and Chris Walpole.

Steve Smith, the installing Master, in the course of his masonic career has had many ambitions. As a young mason, he had yearned someday to become Master of a lodge. At one time he had entertained aspirations of being a Director of Ceremonies. Later he leaned towards being Secretary of a lodge. But now having elevated his status to group Mentor, all these desires were cast aside and forgotten. The sole thing that seemed most worthwhile to him now was to install John in the best possible manner and to this task he addressed himself with all the energy and enthusiasm he could muster. The resulting ceremony was delightful, impeccable and entertaining.

Equal to the task in hand too was Alistair Still, the formidable Director of Ceremonies of the lodge who had evidently whipped the company into great shape yet, being the perfectionist that he most certainly is he appeared to be ruminating on whether a few extra lashes may have paid dividends in some quarters.

Of particular note in the ceremony were the brethren who presented the working tools. Kicking off was Bill Snell with a delightful delivery of the tools of an installed Master, followed by Vinnie Carte’s presentation of the third degree tools. David Wilson, a professional magician, thrilled the throng by conjuring up a wonderfully vibrant rendition of the second degree tools and, bringing up the rear, a marvellous recital of the first degree tools by Keith Roberts.

Two highly experienced masons, Tom Bullen and Brian Sharples then gave exemplary addresses to the WM and wardens respectively. Following quickly on the heels of excellence, came brilliance. Peter Elmore rose with his customary dignity and delivered the address to the brethren in the most eloquent and articulate of fashions.

On occupying the chair John felt and looked quietly happy. He seemed to have brought sunshine with him from Chelsea. All eyes were now upon him and, being a chap of a demure and unassuming disposition who never seeks attention and shies away from limelight, he had acquired a complexion that perfectly complemented his splendid scarlet tunic.

But the Coldstream guards train their sons well. Once John had digested the fundamental fact that his installation had been concluded, he grasped the role of master with the tenacity of a lithe mongoose pouncing on a dastardly king cobra and adopted a stance of supreme efficiency. He seemed to be so energised that, should he have had any desire to do so, he could have felled a two ton hippopotamus with a single blow of the gavel. One may pontificate, with a degree of reluctant trepidation, that even the ubiquitous Steve Smith was reduced to a meagre shadow of his former resplendence by John’s alluring performance. 

During his years in the Coldstream Guards John had served in Kenya, Aden, and Bahrain. He was stationed at Gilgil camp in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952 to 1960. Posted to the camp in 1959, it is rumoured that John’s arrival there was the sole reason that the Mau Mau surrendered the following year, although, being the modest man that he is, John refuses to take full credit for the regiment’s success.

The Coldstream Guards is the oldest regiment in the regular army in continuous active service and dates back to the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell gave Colonel George Monck permission to form his own regiment as part of the New Model Army. The Monck’s Regiment of Foot was formed in August 1650 and less than two weeks later it took part in the Battle of Dunbar at which the roundheads defeated the forces of Charles I. After Richard Cromwell’s relinquishment of his position as Lord Protector, Monck gave his support to the Stuarts and in January 1660 he crossed the River Tweed into England at the village of Coldstream from where he made a five-week march to London. He arrived in London in early February and helped in restoring Charles II to the throne. Such is the glory of the regiment that John is so proud to represent.

And this was one of the points that Peter Elmore spoke of in conveying the best wishes of the Provincial Grand Master. Adding further glitter to the dazzling ceremony, John presented Peter with handsome donations to charities, including £1,400 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £200 to Prostate Cancer research, £200 to the Blackpool Group Sponsored Walk, £100 to Violet’s Light, and £100 to the Children’s Hearing Service.

The day was an occasion to celebrate and remember. The rare sighting of a Chelsea Pensioner alighting the chair of King Solomon in West Lancashire was made extra special by the endearing, modest and enigmatic personality behind the tunic. 

Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, visited the Royal Hospital Chelsea to open a newly refurbished berth funded by a £50,000 donation from the Grand Charity made in 2009

This grant was approved by the Grand Charity in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the installation of the Duke as the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, who also serves as Grand President of the Grand Charity.

The Duke opened the berth prior to taking part in the Chelsea Pensioners’ 322nd annual Founder’s Day Parade on 5 June as Reviewing Officer – an event  that commemorates the founding of the Royal Hospital by King Charles II in 1682. 

‘I was most interested to learn of the enormous efforts made to establish the Royal Hospital as a beacon of excellence in the domain of care,’ said the Duke. ‘Most impressive are the new berths in the Long Wards, which now enable In-Pensioners [full-time residents] to enjoy accommodation that’s been built to the highest modern specifications, and yet remains in keeping with its historic surroundings.’

The Chelsea Pensioner who will reside in the ‘Freemasons’ berth’ is 77-year-old Gordon ‘Sandy’ Sanders. ‘I’ve been moved from the 17th to the 21st century,’ he said. ‘My new accommodation is nothing short of fantastic!’ 

Freemasons have contributed to the Royal Hospital Chelsea charity over a number of years, including donations for the recently opened Margaret Thatcher Infirmary, which provides 24-hour nursing care. 

‘I was most interested to learn of the enormous efforts made to establish the Royal Hospital as a beacon of excellence in the domain of care.’ Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent

Published in The Grand Charity

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