Friday, 07 December 2018 00:00

When masons met in a mosque

Brothers beyond borders

A chance discovery of a 100-year-old piece of paper has revealed a masonic meeting in Jerusalem and a fraternal bond that brought together men of all ranks and religions

Found in an old leather regalia case, a typed document has surfaced reporting on how New Zealand Freemasons held a masonic meeting in a mosque on the site where King Solomon’s Temple had once stood. It tells the story of how ‘a great sheikh’ not only allowed the masons to hold a meeting in the mosque, but also that the sheikh was a Freemason. 

The scrap of paper belonged to Thomas Jackson, who had been raised in Star in the East Lodge, No. 650, and the Freemasons mentioned in his story were members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Masonic Association. Formed in France by Colonel George Barclay in 1917, the association’s objective was to hold meetings to promote fraternity among its members, with branches formed in various camps, depots and hospitals. 

MEETING IN TROUBLED TIMES

One branch was formed in Egypt and Palestine in May 1917 by Brigadier-General William Meldrum (1865-1964), with the meeting referred to in Jackson’s account likely taking place in April 1918 in the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Standing on Mount Moriah, this is where Abraham is said to have prepared to sacrifice Issac, and where Muhammad ascended to heaven, making it a holy place to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Believed to have been built around 1,000BC on the same site, King Solomon’s Temple has influenced masonic symbolism for centuries. 

More than 100 years after the meeting, the piece of paper was passed to Peter Brooks, Lincolnshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master and husband of Jackson’s granddaughter, Jackie. ‘The Star in the East Lodge is still active, and we sent the paper back to them in Harwich, along with a centenary booklet from 1955 and a summons dated 1934 – all of which they were delighted to receive,’ says Peter.

On conducting further research into his lodge’s archives, Colin Ruffle from the Star in the East found that Jackson was initiated into the lodge on 9 April, 1915, passed on 11 May and was raised on 23 July. The raising was one of dozens of emergency meetings during the First World War, completed outside the usual May to September period to get candidates in before they were posted abroad. ‘We read out the minutes of meetings from 100 years ago at our corresponding meetings and found they did first, second and third degrees at a single meeting, sometimes with multiple candidates,’ says Ruffle. ‘It must have gone on all night!’

For Jackson, the meeting he witnessed in the mosque showed the ‘universality of the order’, bringing together soldiers of all ranks from around the world, and with a great sheikh acting as one of the guards.

Thomas Jackson's report on the masons in a mosque

‘Ancient rites observed on the site of Solomon’s temple

Freemasons in Palistine [sic] have held a masonic meeting on the historic site of King Solomon’s Temple where Freemasonry is supposed to have originated about 1,000BC. This meeting was organised by members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Palistine. The Mosque of Omar being on the site of the Temple, the Newzealanders [sic] approached the Great Sheikh in charge of the Mosque for permission to hold a meeting. Then occurred an incident showing the universality of the order. The Sheikh listened to what the strangers had to say, and then to their amazement asked if there were any Freemasons among them. The rest was easy. He declared himself a mason and at the meeting acted as one of the guards of the lodge. The place within the mosque where the meeting was held is known as the cave of the Rock of the Dome and is believed to have been the Holy of Holies of the old Temple as it is today of the Mosque of Omar. Soldiers of all ranks were present, and after a lodge had been duly const tuter [sic] and opened, resolutions were passed conveying fraternal greetings and good wishes to the various Grand Lodges in New Zealand and the brethren in France.’

The star in the east

The Star in the East Lodge, No. 650, meets in Harwich, Essex and was consecrated in 1855. The centenary meeting took place two years after a flood had left the masonic hall under six feet of water. The most famous member was Captain Fryatt, who was arrested by the Germans in 1916 after trying to ram a German sub with his ship. He was executed and his body was one of only three to be repatriated after the war, in the same railway carriage that brought Edith Cavell and the Unknown Soldier back to the UK.

Former Harwich Freemason to be commemorated

Charles Algernon Fryatt was born in Southampton in 1871 and followed his father by becoming a merchant mariner in the employment of the Great Eastern Railway Company when the family moved to Harwich in Essex in the late 1880’s, from where GER operated a ferry service to the Continent.

The young Fryatt joined the Company as an Able Seaman in 1892 and worked his way up through the grades to become a Master in 1913, but it was in May 1906 that, as a First Mate, he was initiated in to the Star in the East Lodge No. 650 of the Freemasons in his home town of Harwich.

The GER continued to operate ferry services to Holland during the whole of the Great War, throughout which the Masters were regularly at the mercy of the German Imperial Navy. It was in February 1915, just two days after the start of the German U-boat campaign, that, whilst in Command of the Colchester, Fryatt had his first encounter with a U-boat but made an easy escape. In early March, this time whilst in command of the Wrexham, he encountered a further U-boat, but this time he had only a narrowly escaped capture by out-running the U-boat. But it was in late March 1915 that he had his most famous encounter, with U-33 whilst in command of the Brussels.

On this occasion, Fryatt, following instructions from the then First Lord of the Admiralty, one Winston Churchill, attempted to ram the U-boat, forcing it to crash dive and, thereby, enabling Fryatt to make an escape. The Germans were not to forget this and, in June 1916, they captured him and the Brussels at the start of a return voyage he was making from Hoek van Holland with foodstuffs and Belgian refugees. He, and many of his crew, were then sent to a concentration camp in Ruhleben, to the west of Berlin but, before long, he was sent back to Bruges to be court martialled as a franc tireur, sentenced to death and executed at 7.00pm the same day, 27th July 1916.

His execution caused outrage among the allied nations, who described it as judicial murder. Feelings about this remained so strong following the war that a campaign was launched to have his remains repatriated, and this was completed in July 1919 in a series of six ceremonies in Bruges, Antwerp, Dover, London, and Harwich, where his remains were reburied. A year later, a further ceremony was held in Harwich for the unveiling of a tombstone above his grave.

As July this year will see be the centenary of Fryatt’s death, a special exhibition is being held in the Masonic Hall in Harwich, where Fryatt was a member, and will run for nine days, from Saturday 23rd July to Sunday 31st July, and will be open from 10.00am to 6.00pm every day (the centenary itself will be on the intermediate Wednesday).

Through a series of displays, the exhibition will tell the whole story of who Captain Fryatt was, how he came to be executed, and the events that followed. It will be copiously illustrated with photographs and other documents from the time as well as featuring the largest display of Fryatt related artefacts ever assembled, these having been brought together from a number of collectors from around the country. Anyone wishing to visit the exhibition and see for themselves the wonderful array of items there gathered may find further details on the Historico web site at www.historico.co, where tickets may also be purchased.

 

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