Clocking up the miles in the name of charity
For most 86-year-olds, taking it easy might be par for the course, but for Yorkshire Freemason Jeffrey Long MBE, a veteran paratrooper and serial fundraiser, it’s a different story
Jeffrey has been a busy man in 2017, as a chance encounter with a stranger called Paula Modeste at Windsor train station saw his latest expenditure of walking 86 miles go viral, with a ‘selfie’ photograph grabbing the attention of comedian Jason Manford and helping his fundraising for the Royal British Legion go beyond the £120,000 mark– not bad considering his original target was to reach £1,000.
Alongside interviews with the BBC and ITV, national newspapers have also helped Jeffrey gather plenty of deserved headlines as he clocked up the miles. Jason Manford even drove down to Jeffrey’s hometown of Bingley, West Yorkshire, to meet him, whilst he was invited by Chelsea Football Club to be a special guest and introduced on the pitch before their match against Manchester United on 5th November.
Following walks of 84 and 85 miles the previous two years to coincide with his age at the time, Jeffrey’s latest venture of 86 miles saw him start out at the Thames Barrier and eight days later finish in the dark in Caversham, Reading. He estimates that the time spent walking 86 miles took him a full five days to complete, as along the way he also celebrated his 86th birthday with a meal on the 32nd floor of the Shard and visited the Embassy of Switzerland to meet their Ambassador Alexandre Fasel and Guildhall to meet Chief Commoner Wendy Mead.
Jeffrey, who is on chemo treatment because his body is producing too many platelets, admits that his latest walk was not without its challenges. He said: ‘I also suffered a problem with my hamstring a few months before and by the time I started the walk, it had still not recovered. I didn’t have too much of a problem walking as long as I didn’t stride out, but when it came to going down steps, it really pulled on my hamstring and hurt like mad.
‘I loved the challenge of walking 86 miles and even though many people have said it’s extraordinary to be completing it at my age, it doesn’t really seem extraordinary to me.
‘The truth is that I’ve never really been much of a social walker. I don’t have time to train, so when it came to first preparing for these challenges, I just remember putting on some boots, walking for around an hour outside and then going ‘I’ll be fine!’
So how do you go about topping an 86 mile walk? Simple – Jeffrey is already looking ahead to the challenge of walking 87 miles next year. Not only that, he’s considering walking another 100 miles for a separate challenge and looking for a sponsor as he considers swapping the walking boots for a bike and cycling from London to Paris!
Jeffrey Long was featured in the Summer 2017 of Freemasonry Today – read his interview here.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of W Bro Ken Wilkinson, a Battle of Britain pilot and member of both Worcestershire and Warwickshire Provinces
The service was held in St Alphege Church in his home town of Solihull on 8th September 2017, with dozens lining the streets outside to pay their respects. W Bro Wilkinson’s coffin was carried into the church draped in the British flag, whilst a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire cascaded through the sky above.
W Bro Wilkinson was one of the last remaining Battle of Britain pilots and was described as “a true gentleman” by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust.
W Bro Wilkinson died on 31st July 2017 at the age of 99.
Just Getting Started
Freemason Jeffrey Long MBE has chosen to spend his senior years embarking on epic walks for good causes. Matthew Bowen finds out why he’s not planning on hanging up his boots any time soon
Jeffrey Long’s flat in Bingley, West Yorkshire, is up a steep set of stairs. It’s the kind of place you might advise older relatives to move away from, but at 85, he’s right at home. Not looking a day over 70, Jeffrey has a firm handshake. ‘Excuse the mess,’ he says. ‘I moved into the place in 2009, but am only just finding the time to sort my things out.’
Beyond boxes of crockery and old trinkets, a scrapbook lies open, filled with press clippings and photos. Remarkably, most show Jeffrey as an older man. ‘I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to do when I was working,’ he says, ‘and I’ve never believed in giving up.’
At 19, Jeffrey joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to start his National Service. Duty took him to the Far East, dropping military supplies to British troops. He enjoyed serving – ‘Being fit and flying appealed to me’ – and it prepared him for a career with the Parachute Regiment, which he joined in 1952.
At the peak of his fitness, Jeffrey was battalion cross-country champion. ‘Hills were my speciality,’ he says, ‘and I’d always train in my army boots.’ After two years of service, however, he suffered a life-changing incident – his parachute misfired at 500 feet and, with no reserve chute, Jeffrey fell to the ground.
Unbelievably, Jeffrey didn’t break a single bone, but he did suffer excruciating back pain from then onwards. He stayed in service for a further three years, doing everything he could to get back to fitness. When doctors suggested a steel corset to help his back, he knew the end of his active military service was approaching.
Jeffrey joined a textile company after being discharged and spent much of his working life there, running a sales team. He took a four-year break in 1984 to study management, computing and accountancy, then worked as a project manager for the local council, before joining the British Transport Police.
Alongside his day jobs, he promoted Anglo-Swiss relations as the president of the Federation of Swiss Societies. Eventually, however, Jeffrey became so busy with charities that he didn’t have time to work.
Jeffrey had switched his focus to fundraising in the early 2000s following reports of soldiers being sent into the Iraq war without proper support. ‘I got so uptight with the government that I just had to do something,’ he says. Utilising his Swiss connections, he initiated and secured funding for a charity bike ride from London to Lausanne, Switzerland, in support of the Royal British Legion (RBL).
Despite being aged 75 and not a cyclist, Jeffrey intended to join the ride himself until a training injury scuppered his plans. Never one to admit defeat, he decided to walk the route instead, despite ‘not being much of a walker’. The 650-mile route took Jeffrey 39 days, solo and unsupported, through torrential rain and baking sun. He even walked the English Channel by marching back and forth on the ferry.
Modestly acknowledging the achievement, Jeffrey, who started the walk with a 35kg pack on his back, says: ‘It was quite a big thing to take on, but I knew a 75-year-old doing something like this would generate publicity, and that would lead to more cash for the Legion.’ The combined fundraising total of the walk and ride came to £142,000.
CLOCKING UP THE MILES
Buoyed up by the success of the walk, Jeffrey carried on. In 2009, he joined five firemen on a speed march to York. In the years following, he has undertaken a 90-mile route that included climbing three Yorkshire peaks, walked 127 miles between Liverpool and Leeds, and completed the length of Hadrian’s Wall – 84 miles – in his 84th year. ‘I even delayed a hernia operation to take part in a 12-kilometre [7.5-mile] assault course,’ he adds.
As well as the walks, Jeffrey organised 18 years’ worth of fundraising dinners while working with the St James’s Branch of the RBL, and received an MBE in 2010 for his efforts.
Born and raised in Bradford, Jeffrey’s a proud Yorkshireman who takes great delight in the stunning local landscape. Dressed in full military gear, he walks up the slope to Ilkley Moor’s Cow and Calf Rocks at a brisk pace, explaining that he doesn’t train because he doesn’t ‘have the time’.
So, what do Jeffrey’s friends think of his exploits? ‘People tell me I’ve done enough, that I don’t have to prove anything anymore,’ he says, ‘but it’s not about proving anything, it’s just that somebody has to do something.’
Jeffrey’s friend, 87-year-old Maurice Johnson, thinks he’s trying to wear his legs out completely. While expressing mild concern for his friend’s well-being, Maurice also acknowledges: ‘I could never achieve what he’s done. He’s a wonderful warrior for charity and always finds time to take on extra, when others would say they were too busy, or too old.’ Maurice is Treasurer of Helvetica Lodge, No. 4894, and the man who recommended Jeffrey to Freemasonry.
Jeffrey became a member of Helvetica Lodge 10 years ago and says it was an easy decision. ‘I’ve always believed in what the Freemasons believe about brotherly love, kindness and doing the right thing,’ he says. ‘I’ve been supporting others my whole life.’ In addition to raising more than £175,000 for charity, Jeffrey has spent time tutoring ex-offenders and volunteering at Bradford Day Shelter.
A few hours spent with Jeffrey is enough to convince you that he will never stop pushing himself physically, and mentally, to help others. He’ll do all he can to make a difference. Gazing over the spectacular views of Ilkley and beyond, he cheerfully remarks: ‘It won’t be long before I’m planning a 100-mile walk for my 100th birthday.’
Support Jeffrey’s ‘85 Miles for 85 Years’ fundraising walk at www.mydonate.bt.com/events/jeffreylongmbe
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 39 AUTUMN 2017
VALOUR AND GALLANTRY
I read with great interest your article on Jeffrey Long, ex-para, and his fundraising [summer issue of Freemasonry Today]. I am a slightly younger (52) ex-para cadet with military parachute wings who jumps out of historic aircraft at 1,000 feet to commemorate veterans, while raising badly needed funds.
On my last jump I had the great honour to represent SAS legend 98-year-old Captain Mike Sadler, who was navigator in the North African desert for Col Sir David Stirling from the early days of the SAS in 1941.
I have been doing these jumps both to commemorate D-Day and Arnhem veterans and to raise money for the Parachute Regiment and SAS charities.
Jon Bridel, Doyle’s Lodge of Fellowship, No. 84, St Martin’s, Guernsey & Alderney
Ambulance service flying high with funding boost from Masonic Charitable Foundation in Bedfordshire
On Sunday 30th April, Bedfordshire Freemasons attended the Icknield Road Club, 2017 Spring Sportive, at Redborne School in Ampthill
During the Family Fun Day, they presented a cheque for £4,000 to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. Anthony Henderson, the head of Bedfordshire Freemasons told us: 'Freemasonry in England is 300 years old this year, and charity is one of the foundations upon which Freemasonry is built. As part of our Tercentenary celebrations, we are giving an additional £3 million to local and national charities during 2017. This is in addition to the £30 million we annually give to charities and good causes. The £4,000 we gave to East Anglian Air Ambulance today is part of the £192,000 Freemasons recently gave to the 22 air ambulance and rescue services in England and Wales. This brings the total Freemasons have donated to air ambulance and rescue services in England and Wales since 2007 to £2.1 million.'
Amongst the Bedfordshire Freemasons was Wally Randal (pictured above holding his walking stick) a 101-year old Freemason from Leighton Buzzard. Wally, a former Desert Rat, a member of the Royal British Legion for over 60 years and the oldest poppy seller in England told us: 'A member of the air ambulance crew told me that the first helicopter flew in 1939 – some 78 years ago – and just one year before I joined the British Army to fight for King and country in the Second World War aged 24.'
Members of Thorpe Bay Lodge in Southend have been making and selling their own bitter to raise money for charity. Imogen Beecroft raises a glass to Lest We Forget
People couldn’t believe it when we told them what we were doing, but I don’t see why it’s surprising. We’ve got so much experience between us – maybe not with brewing beer, but definitely drinking it!’ Gordon Goodall, then Charity Steward of Thorpe Bay Lodge, No. 4803, smiles as he explains how his charity fundraising plan grew into something much larger. Last February, he decided the lodge should brew beer to sell at their Poppy evening in November to support military charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion.
Unsurprisingly, the plan was an instant hit and lodge members Andy Rogers, Stephen Bateman and Paul Bates jumped at the chance to get involved. However, as none of the team had ever brewed a beer before, they knew they would need some expert help. Gordon approached several microbreweries in the area, but finally struck gold with Wibblers Brewery, based in the Essex countryside.
Wibblers head brewer Phil Wilcox says, ‘I have an understanding of Freemasonry through my godfather and have always appreciated the charity work they do. These are both fantastic charities, so we were very happy to help.’
Wibblers on board, the four men headed to the brewery for a hard day’s work. With Phil’s guidance, the masons finalised their recipe and set to work creating their drink: a classic English bitter with a malty taste and nutty finish. By all accounts, the day passed cheerfully, aside from a slight tussle over who would climb into the hot, cramped mash tun and shovel 300kg of grain out of it.
‘We told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’ Gordon Goodall
Laughing, Andy says: ‘As soon as this job came up, Gordon said, “Oh my back, I can’t go in there.” Steve said he wasn’t feeling up to it, and Paul started complaining about his arm. So muggins here got lumbered with the job of getting into the tun.’
But it wasn’t all hard graft. As Stephen says: ‘The great thing about brewing is that at a certain point you just have to let the beer do its thing. So we got the barbecue out and decided it was time to try some of Phil’s other beers.’ Once the beer was fermented and sent away for bottling and labelling, all the team had to do was sell it.
Aptly named Lest We Forget in honour of fallen servicemen, the bitter was promoted by the brewers in the lead-up to their Poppy night, which they opened up to non-masons. As a result of their campaigning, more than 80 people attended the event, and pretty soon they were receiving regular orders for cases of the beer.
The four masons used their lodge’s social media accounts to sell the beer, crediting the Master of the lodge with reaching out to his connections in the pub trade. But, as Gordon says: ‘It was mainly word of mouth – we told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’
Indeed, Lest We Forget has been a success by almost any measure: they’ve sold 2,000 litres so far, over half of their stock, and are planning on heading back to Wibblers to brew a second batch soon. They have raised £3,000 for the armed forces charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion, and expect to net at least £4,500 in total.
So are the masons surprised by how successful the beer has been? Paul certainly isn’t: ‘Freemasonry is a very sociable pastime, and we do like a beer – so I knew we’d have a reasonable audience to sell to. We’ve been well looked after by Wibblers, and we’ve got a good network of contacts, so I’m not surprised it’s done so well, really.’ Andy is quick to add, ‘I’m not surprised how well it’s sold, but I am surprised that we managed to make such a nice beer!’
‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future – we’re going onwards and upwards.’ Andy Rogers
It seems that the quality of the beer is something everyone can agree on. Andy loves it, although acknowledges, ‘it’s not great for my waistline’, while Gordon gives it perhaps the ultimate accolade: ‘Even my wife, who doesn’t particularly like beer, says she thinks it’s quite tasty.’ And Phil, the expert brewer, admits that he has to keep putting money aside to give to the masons for the bottles he’s sampled.
Although the ultimate aim of this project was to raise money for charity, the team have noticed that it’s had a more far-reaching positive effect for Thorpe Bay Lodge. Gordon explains: ‘We’ve had some struggles as a lodge in the past, but this has really galvanised our members and pushed us to try new things. Of course, the serious message behind the beer is that we must not forget the people who fought for us in conflicts, but there is also the aspect of having fun and trying something different.’
Andy agrees: ‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future, and we’re just going to go onwards and upwards.’
As well as uniting the current members of Thorpe Bay Lodge, Lest We Forget has also secured some new recruits: ‘As a result of this project, and people seeing what Freemasonry is all about, we’ve got four people lined up to join our lodge next year, which is great,’ explains Stephen.
Although they’ve nearly sold their entire first batch, Gordon reassuringly explains that this won’t be the end of Lest We Forget. ‘Because it’s been so well received we’re going to do it again on a bigger scale. We’re hoping to brew it in barrels now we know how quickly it’s selling. It seems like this beer might be the ideal thing to centre our 2022 Festival around, and hopefully some of the other masonic centres will pick it up too.’
With talk of selling at a few masonic centres and even going national one day, the project is a triumph. As Paul says: ‘It speaks for itself: it’s a damned good beer at a damned good price and it’s for a good cause.’ What’s not to like?
Phil Wilcox explains the art of brewing
Malted barley and warm water are mixed in a mash tun. It sits for an hour and a half while the starch in the grain turns into sugar. The grain is removed and the solution is boiled with hops, for bittering. At the end of the boil, more hops are added for flavour and aroma. The liquid is chilled and placed, with yeast, in a fermenter: it’s left while the sugar turns into alcohol. After a week (lager takes around seven weeks to ferment, while cider can take up to three months) the beer is ‘crash chilled’ and bottled.
A microbrewery has helped Freemasons in Essex create a special Remembrance beer to raise money for military charities
Wibblers Brewery lent their expertise to create the Lest we Forget beer for members of Thorpe Bay Lodge at their annual Lodge Poppy evening on November 11.
Wibblers, which has just opened a new brewery in Southminster, helped create the Lest we Forget beer.
The bitter was the idea of members of Thorpe Bay Lodge who created the beer to keep the members happy at their annual Lodge Poppy evening on November 11.
'Wibblers were fantastic but the beer has been so well received that there is real talk that it could qualify for a CAMRA award and we are now thinking that we could offer it to Freemasons across Essex with all profits going to local charities and other good causes.'
Read the full article here: http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/13923895.Microbrewery_helps_create_beer_to_raise_money_for_military_charities/
Life and soul
With a bit of ritual, special outfits and a strong sense of camaraderie, Northern Soul is a music and dance passion for Dave Stubbs that perfectly complements his Freemasonry. Sarah Holmes finds out more
Leafing through a red leather box of vinyl, Dave Stubbs suddenly jumps to his feet. ‘Ah! This one! This record is magic,’ he beams. Turning to an old-fashioned record player, he carefully places the unsheathed disc on the turntable and drops the needle. A crackled silence is followed by the stomping bass of John Leach’s 1963 track Put That Woman Down. The music rumbles through the two-up, two-down terrace in Shrewsbury as Dave bounces on the spot, face to the ceiling and arms open wide, crooning in time to the gravelly vocal.
It’s the kind of passion usually reserved for the front row at a music festival, but here in the humble setting of his living room, Dave’s exuberance practically bursts through the walls. He is a music fan, quite obviously, but with a particular taste for the B-side American soul tracks of the 1960s.
Unlike the populist songs of Motown, this music was harder, grittier and less palatable for mainstream audiences. Even so, it found a devoted fan base in the Mod-inspired subcultures of northern England. From 1970 onwards, journalists such as Dave Godin referred to it as Northern Soul, and underground clubs like Twisted Wheel in Manchester and The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent began hosting Northern Soul all-nighters.
Like so many, Dave Stubbs first came to the music as a teenager in his local youth club. ‘It was the older lads, the ones sneaking into the Northern Soul all-nighters, who introduced us to the music,’ remembers Dave. ‘That’s how we learned to dance; we just copied what they were doing. It was all experimental.’
Thanks to the genre’s athletic dance style, Northern Soul fashion was dictated by the need for practicality. Loose-fitting clothes such as baggy Oxford trousers, Ben Sherman-style shirts and sports vests became the accepted uniform. Dave looks every inch the genuine article in Wrangler Bluebell jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. ‘It’s not a costume for me. I walk around in these clothes every day,’ he says. Although vintage shops are the main source of his authentic 1970s wardrobe, his most prized possessions have been passed down to him by fellow ‘soulies’.
The only incongruity in his outfit is the masonic ring on his right hand. As a member of Salopian Lodge of Charity, No. 117, Dave balances his time between Northern Soul and Freemasonry. ‘My great grandfather was a Freemason, so it was something that always interested me,’ he explains.
A military man for most of his youth, Dave served in Iraq in the early 1990s and his living room is adorned with paraphernalia of his time there, including a framed certificate of commendation for his work with Operation Desert Storm. But it wasn’t until leaving the army that Dave became involved in the Craft.
Having become a county standard bearer with The Royal British Legion, he got talking to a Freemason while on duty at the Shrewsbury Flower Show and was proposed as an initiate. ‘I know a lot of lads from the military who are involved in Freemasonry,’ says Dave. ‘It’s something that we look for after a military career – that sense of belonging.’
It didn’t take long for Dave to introduce his brethren to the belting world of Northern Soul. Every month, he organises a Northern Soul night at the masonic hall on Crewe Street, the proceeds of which go towards maintaining a World War I memorial commemorating the Shrewsbury Freemasons. Simon Curden is a regular attendee and, like Dave, has a passion for the Northern Soul scene: ‘It’s fun, keeps you fit and is part of a fantastic social world. It’s not so different from Freemasonry.’
It’s not just members who benefit from Dave’s musical interest. This summer, his friends and family will get a glimpse into the Craft when he hosts his Northern Soul-themed wedding reception at the masonic hall in Shrewsbury. ‘My fiancée Polly is a Freemason and a Northern Soul fan too, so it’s a place that’s close to both of our hearts,’ says Dave. ‘It’s not surprising that so many people who enjoy Northern Soul are Freemasons too. I find the two interests very complementary. On the Northern Soul scene, we’re often called soul brothers and soul sisters, and just like a masonic lodge, we all stick together.’
Watching Dave cut his way across a dance floor, it’s no surprise he was cast as an extra for Elaine Constantine’s 2014 film, Northern Soul. In celebration of the premiere, Dave hired out the local cinema, selling the tickets to family and friends, and giving the proceeds to the local Freemasons’ memorial.
It was his involvement in this BAFTA-nominated documentary that won him the starring role in a national Shredded Wheat advert last year. A mini film showing the ritual leading up to a Northern Soul night out, it captured every moment of Dave’s meticulous routine as he got ready. ‘The ethos is all about turning out smart,’ explains Dave. ‘So from the moment you wake up on a Saturday morning you’re ironing shirts, shining shoes and listening to records. It’s a whole-day ritual.’
For three days, a film crew camped out in Dave’s front room, interviewing his friends and family on his lifelong devotion to the Northern Soul scene, and the philosophy behind his passion. ‘They could have hired an actor,’ he says, ‘but I think they chose me because I actually live the lifestyle. It’s in me as a person, so there was no need for pretending.’
Luckily, Dave’s brush with stardom didn’t go to his head; he didn’t even keep the lifetime’s supply of Shredded Wheat that he received after the advert. ‘We tired of it pretty quickly, so we gave it to the homeless shelter down the road,’ he says, keen to add that money was never going to be a motivating factor: ‘Northern Soul is my passion and I wanted to show other people what it is like, and hopefully share the joy with them.’
While Northern Soul was predominantly the preserve of Suedeheads and Mods in the 1970s, over the years its following has diversified; nowadays you’re just as likely to find youngsters tearing across the dance floor as the original soulies. ‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul,’ explains Dave. ‘It’s all about the shared love of the music. You can completely lose yourself in it, and it feels amazing.’
Such is the adrenaline rush of the Northern Soul all-nighter that often, Dave says, he’ll return home at 7.30am only to head back out to an all-dayer by noon. ‘It becomes a lifestyle, I suppose,’ says Dave. ‘Just like Freemasonry, it’s not about money, and it’s not about connections. It’s about camaraderie, and living in a way that makes you feel good.’
‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul.’ Dave Stubbs
Out on the floor
Starting off in venues such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel in the late 1960s, Northern Soul’s unique brand of fashion and dance quickly spread to other UK dancehalls and nightclubs like Chateau Impney in Droitwich, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton, the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca, The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent and Wigan Casino. With the beat becoming more uptempo, Northern Soul dancing became more athletic and started to feature spins, flips, karate kicks and backdrops.
Hertfordshire Lodge of the Legion No. 9827, based in Cheshunt, ensures that as many war memorials as possible throughout Hertfordshire have a poppy wreath laid on Remembrance Sunday each year
In all, members of the lodge lay more than 60 wreaths each year. The first wreath-laying ceremony for this year took place at the Liberator Memorial, by Lt Ellis Way, Cheshunt, on November 2. This was attended by civic leaders, local MPs and councillors, in addition to the Royal British Legion, USAF guard of honour and a three-gun salute from USAF Mildenhall, along with the new Hertfordshire Provincial Grand Master Paul Gower, who laid the wreath on behalf of the Lodge and numerous brethren.
On the 12th August 1944, what was then the small town of Cheshunt was saved from a catastrophic disaster that would have cost many of the local citizens their lives.
An American B24 'Liberator' aircraft from the 392nd Bomber Command, based in Wendling, Norfolk, on route to Germany was involved in a mid air incident above the town.
The aircraft, under the command of Lt John D. Ellis, fell from the sky and was steered away from Cheshunt, crash landing just outside the town. The B24 Bomber was fully laden and exploded on impact, killing all ten crew members on board.
The memorial was constructed and unveiled on the 22nd January 2011 at Lieutenant Ellis Way, named after Lt John D. Ellis, through the tireless work and commitment of Ernie Havis a veteran and Royal British Legion local representative.
At a ceremony on the 12th August this year two flagpoles with the Union flag and Stars and Stripes were erected and dedicated to the site by Col Travis A. Willis, USAF Air Attaché from USA.
The Lodge of Legion is instrumental in ensuring that the ten crew members are honoured each year.
This winter witnessed the successful completion of the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Expedition to the South Pole comprising two teams, each team including three serving members of HM Forces.
One such serving member of the British Army was Warrant Officer Kevin Johnson. His team retraced the longer 900 mile plus route undertaken by Captain Robert Falcon Scott from Cape Evans.
Like the intrepid Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton before him, Kevin Johnson is a Freemason. He is a relatively new Master Mason of Cantilupe Lodge No.4083. On successfully completing the Antarctic expedition, Bro Kevin Johnson proudly unfurled the blue and gold Masonic Flag, given to him by the Brethren of his Lodge, at the Geographic South Pole – a true celebration of past heroic achievements. Bro Kevin is, at 43, the same age as Captain Scott in 1911.
All members of the Expedition attended a royal reception at Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London Friday 26th April. In attendance were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Prince William is patron of both the Expedition and the Royal British Legion – the expedition has raised vital funds for the Royal British Legion’s £30 million commitment to the Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall to help wounded, injured and sick Service personnel on their journey of recovery.
Is it possible to belong to a gang of leather-clad bikers and stay true to the principles of Freemasonry? Adrian Foster summons up the courage to meet with the Widows Sons on their own turf and find out for himself
In a bleak, concrete-walled car park at the rear of the Masonic Hall in Goldsmith Street, Nottingham, a group of leather-clad bikers are relaxing next to their silver steeds. They have not stopped off for a break on their way to a rock festival, they are in fact Freemasons who have just presented a cheque to The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. They call themselves the Widows Sons.
For the uninitiated, the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association (WSMBA) is an international association that is open to Freemasons who enjoy motorcycling and have a desire to ride with their fraternal brethren. Though not a masonic order, the WSMBA serves as a recruiting drive to help raise awareness of Freemasonry while attending public motorcycling events, supporting Craft lodges and actively raising funds for charities and good causes.
Among the motley crew assembled today is Peter Younger, President of the Northumberland Chapter of the Widows Sons, together with Justin ‘Jay’ Waite and Chris Bush Jnr, Vice President and President of the National Chapter of the Widows Sons, respectively.
‘My association with them started when I was on the internet and I googled “Freemasonry and motorcycling” to see what came up,’ explains Jay. ‘I discovered a website that Widows Sons’ founder member Jon Long had set up, emailed them and we arranged to meet. I went out on a ride with them, had a really enjoyable day and saw that they were involved with a lot of good work for charity, so I asked there and then whether I could join them. Foolishly, they accepted me, so here I am today,’ he laughs.
MERGING MASONIC INTERESTS
Jay emphasises that the WSMBA is not a masonic lodge, although it has aspirations to form one in the future. ‘What we are is an association of bikers who are all Master Freemasons. We all belong to different lodges and we carry masonic insignia on our leathers and clothing. But when we attend our lodge meetings we all dress as you’d expect us to and wear our normal lodge regalia. Widows Sons has members as far afield as Land’s End and Aberdeen and it would be very difficult to get us all together in one place for meetings.’
Peter Younger reveals tentative plans to establish a bikers’ lodge and that the Northumberland Chapter of the Widows Sons is building up funds to enable this in the next two to three years. ‘We have had informal discussions at Provincial level and they have no objections to the idea. I started the Northumberland Chapter, so this could be my next project. I can see Freemasonry swinging more in the direction of shared interest lodges. The article in Freemasonry Today about the Morgan Lodge is a good example of this.’
But is the notion of bikers as Freemasons a contradiction in terms? ‘I’m sure people would think we’re worlds apart because I’m here dressed in biking leathers, not a suit,’ answers Jay. ‘But motorcycling is a fraternal pastime and in the biking world we refer to one another as brothers, and the two associations build bonds of friendship between their members. Both bikers and Freemasons do a lot of charitable work and I’m certain there are other overlaps too.’
Chris Bush agrees, adding: ‘It was my father who introduced me to motorcycling and Freemasonry. We are two of the remaining seven founding members of the Widows Sons (UK), which had its first meeting in February 2004 here in Goldsmith Street.’
Peter Younger admits that there is still work to be done in convincing some of the non-biking masonic fraternity. ‘It’s been a bit of a learning curve,’ he says. ‘If we’d tried to set up the Widows Sons fifteen years ago it might not have had the positive reception we get today. But the benefit is that it’s providing a new, younger face. Freemasonry is very good at hiding itself away – we hide behind doors that you have to knock on to get in, but if more people had a clearer idea of what we do they’d be queuing up to become masons.’
Peter believes that Freemasonry needs to be far more open. ‘There’s no good reason why it can’t be – I don’t think anyone in Freemasonry would say they are ashamed of what they do. I proudly wear the square and compasses on my lapel as a Freemason and I am glad to be associated with the Widows Sons,’ he says, making the point that there are golfing, fishing and shooting societies, so why not a motorcycling society?
‘We’re ordinary people who have pastimes and hobbies just like anybody else. I once heard a great saying by Woody Allen that “tradition is the illusion of permanence”. Tradition has for too long been the scapegoat for people in Freemasonry who don’t want things to change. People hide behind tradition because they’re not willing or courageous enough to try something new. I feel we need to break that pattern and new associations should be formed. Giving a public, modern face to Freemasonry is one of the most important things Widows Sons can do.’
Force to be reckoned with
The Widows Sons chooses to raise funds for The Royal British Legion (RBL) because many of its own members are forces veterans. ‘It’s a charity that’s very close to our hearts,’ says Jay, who approached Bob Privett from the RBL’s Poppy Appeal in Nottinghamshire in 2010.
‘We raise over £500,000 each year for the Poppy Appeal and spend a similar amount on the welfare of ex-servicemen and their dependents,’ explains Bob. ‘The RBL will be spending £50m over the next ten years on a new Battle Back Centre for injured servicemen returning from military operations.’
Bob admits that The Royal British Legion tends to conjure up images of old soldiers on parade. ‘This perception leads the public to assume that we are there only for old soldiers,’ he says, ‘but already this year we have dealt with 20,000 cases from the Afghan and Iraq war zones.’
Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.17 - Spring 2012