Bond of brothers

Featuring Freemasons who led and served on land, sea and air from the Second Boer War to the end of the Second World War, a new exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall showcases a photographic history of extraordinary spirit, humanity and comradeship, both in war and peace

While showing visitors around the Brothers in Alms exhibition of war photographs he’s curated at Freemasons’ Hall, curator Brian Deutsch was stopped in front of an image of No. 1 Squadron by a Freemason. ‘That’s my uncle!’ the man said, pointing to a figure in a group photograph. This is the sort of reaction Deutsch hopes to inspire. ‘You might see relatives or people who were in your lodge.’ 

The exhibition features more than 200 images covering the war and the home front. The masonic element comes through the presence of prominent military masons such as Haig, French, Kitchener, Jellicoe and Churchill, as well as lesser-known war heroes such as Bernard Freyberg VC. There are also female Freemasons, such as Dame Florence Leach, who founded the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and was a member of Golden Rule Lodge, No 1. Many American participants in World War I were Freemasons, including future generals Patton and MacArthur and a young Franklin D Roosevelt. The Duke of Connaught, who was Grand Master of UGLE during the war, is also featured. But the theme of Freemasonry goes beyond the personalities involved.‘

A lot of them have connections to Freemasonry, but the theme of the exhibition is humanity and caring, which is a banner of Freemasonry,’ explains Deutsch. ‘I wanted to show how the spirit of life will ultimately triumph. A lot of that is because the comradeship during the war carried on afterwards. A lot of soldiers actually became Freemasons following the war after seeing what it meant for their officers.’ 

'Lots of soldiers joined Freemasonry following the war after seeing what it meant for their officers'

The exhibition highlights the charitable work of Freemasons, as well as the importance of Freemasonry to leading wartime figures. Lord Haig espoused the principals of Freemasonry throughout his career, devoting his post-war life to improving the welfare of ex-servicemen.

While the connections to Freemasonry of the war’s leading soldiers are well known, others are more obscure. There are three airmen who were the first to down a German airship on British soil. ‘They had the gavel for their RAF lodge, Ad Astra Lodge, No. 3808, made from metal taken from the airship,’ says Deutsch. Another photo shows soldiers home from the front being treated to tea at the Connaught Rooms by the Freemasons. 

Photographs were selected for a variety of reasons. Many are simply excellent pictures, either in terms of composition or because they capture something particularly interesting or unusual. There are photos of elephants ploughing the Surrey fields in place of the horses being used to serve the military; there are 18,000 US soldiers replicating the Statue of Liberty on a field in Iowa to promote the sale of war bonds; there’s a homesick soldier in his trench, painting street signs for King’s Cross, Love Lane and Devil’s Dyke on Scraps of wood; there are four members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps enjoying a day at the beach. There are also cameos from Sir Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Fairbanks and TE Lawrence.

The royals are a significant presence. George V is seen visiting the front, while The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, is shown on a postcard used to raise money for the war effort. As the heir, he was not allowed to serve at the front, whereas his brother Albert – the future George VI – served at the Battle of Jutland. He was the last king to take part in a battle. All three were Freemasons. As Deutsch explains, ‘the Royal Family’s role was transformed by the war.’

The exhibition runs until November 2019 and is on the second-floor corridor of Freemasons’ Hall. It’s open to the public from 10am to 1.30pm, Monday to Friday. Those unable to get to London can visit www.brothersinalms.org.uk to see the entire exhibition online.

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Seeing the light

The Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture ‘The Possibility of Light’ is being given by renowned portrait and war artist Arabella Dorman at Freemasons' Hall on 16th May 2019, in aid of the charities Beyond Conflict and Age Unlimited

Tickets are £60 per person, which includes a drinks reception and private curated tour of the photographic exhibition Brothers in Alms.

Arabella will speak about the journey that led her from Iraq and Afghanistan as a war artist, to her work with refugees in Lesvos, Calais, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. The lecture will explore universal themes of childhood, loss, exile and hope as she takes us on her search for light in the darkest corners of existence.

Her work for the United Grand Lodge of England includes a portrait of Anthony Wilson, past President of the Board of General Purposes, and a commission to paint a scene from the 2017 Tercentenary celebrations.

Tickets can be booked by visiting the Age Unlimited website, sending a cheque made out to ‘Age Unlimited’ to 28 Westmoreland Place, London, SW1V 4AE, or by calling 07774 164243.

The Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture is at 7pm on Thursday 16th May at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ.

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Freemasons’ Hall had a special guest on 10 December 2018 when UGLE’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, paid a visit to view the ‘Brothers in Alms – Peace Through Sacrifice’ exhibition

The Grand Master was taken around the exhibition by the Curator Brian Deutsch, which showcases a photographic history of war and peace in the first half of the 20th century.

The exhibition, which will run until Summer 2019, is displayed on the second floor of Freemasons' Hall.

Find out more about the exhibition and how to book a viewing.

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Freemasons’ Hall is hosting an extraordinary exhibition to showcase a photographic history of war and peace in the first half of the 20th Century

This exhibition of rare photographs spans the period from the Second Boer War through to the end of the Second World War, and features those who led and those who served on land, sea and in the air. It portrays the great landscape of the conflict across all continents and the diversity of the participants.

It includes those Freemasons who held top military positions and also highlights the great charitable work by Freemasons both during and after the war in building and supporting hospitals and rehabilitation housing, and providing pensions for ex-servicemen.

Brian Deutsch, who has curated the exhibition, commented: ‘Freemasons played a major role in both war and peace throughout the first half of the last century. From the leaders of men to the rank and file, field marshals to privates, they fought valiantly throughout all the conflicts, and supported the afflicted and downtrodden when peace came.’

One in six Victoria Crosses in the Great War were awarded to Freemasons for their valour in the face of the enemy. Deutsch added: ‘Partly as a result of this, many of their comrades in arms joined masonic lodges after the wars. I became fascinated by the stories that the pictures told and remembered many First World War pictures that came up in the research for the exhibition.’

The images illustrate the old war with cavalry and lances, through to the new mechanised war with motor vehicles, tanks and aeroplanes. It celebrates the lives of those who took part in the war – from the Royal Princes and Generals to the ordinary men and women, who served through those extraordinary times.

The exhibition is displayed on the second floor of Freemasons' Hall, and if you are interested in viewing the exhibition you should book a date and time when visits can be made. Click here to book a tour.

The exhibition will run until November 2019.

Visit the ‘Brothers in Alms – Peace Through Sacrifice’ website for more information.

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