On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s ill-fated maiden journey, the Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Diane Clements, investigates the stories of the Freemasons on board
With 2012 marking the centenary of its first and only voyage, the RMS Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history. After setting sail from Southampton for New York City on 10 April 1912 with 2,223 people on board, the ship hit an iceberg four days into the crossing, at 11.40pm on 14 April 1912, and sank at 2.20am the following morning.
More than 1,500 people died – the high casualty rate due in part to the fact that, although complying with regulations of the era, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people. The Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world at the time and the loss of this ‘unsinkable’ ship was a major news story around the globe and covered by masonic newspapers.
The Freemason’s Chronicle wondered whether Grand Lodge itself would ‘vote a considerable sum… to one of the funds now being raised in different parts of the country’. This didn’t happen but the Chronicle recorded lodge donations, at the suggested rate of one guinea, to a Freemasons Titanic Fund, which the paper established, and which were then sent on to a larger fund set up by the Daily Telegraph.
Among the English Freemasons who died on the Titanic was Howard Brown Case, aged 49. Case was the managing director of the Vacuum Oil Company (part of the Standard Oil Company), based in Rochester, New York, and was establishing the company’s operations in the UK. He lived at Ascot with his wife, two sons and two daughters and was described as ‘an exceptionally hard worker’ with a ‘magnetic personality’. Case had been travelling in a first-class cabin and some survivors recalled that he helped women and children into the lifeboats and finally stepped back to meet his fate. He had been initiated in America Lodge, No. 3368, in June 1909.
Percy Cornelius Taylor, aged 32, was a Past Master of Musgrave Lodge, No. 1597, at Hampton Court, and a cellist in the ship’s orchestra. The band famously kept playing as the Titanic went down, with all eight members sadly perishing.
Two Liverpool-based stewards, Robert Arthur Wareham, aged 36, from Toxteth Lodge, No. 1356, and Arthur Lawrence, aged 35, a member of Neptune Lodge, No. 1264, also died.
Henry Price Hodges was a 50-year-old salesman of musical instruments from Southampton who was travelling as a second-class passenger en route to Boston. He had been initiated in Caulsentum Lodge, No. 1461, Woolston (Southampton), before joining Royal Gloucester Lodge, No. 130. Pierre Giuseppe Bochet, meanwhile, had moved to London from Aosta in Italy where he worked in the catering trade. He joined the Titanic at Southampton as a waiter, aged 43. He was a member of Loggia Italia, No. 2687 and also Columbia Chapter, No. 2397.
Officer and gentleman
One Freemason was known to be among the survivors. Herbert John Pitman, aged 34, was third officer on the Titanic. He helped to load and lower one of the lifeboats and row it towards the nearby ship Carpathia. Pitman went back to sea with other liners and served in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. He had joined Abbey Lodge, No. 3341, in Hatfield in 1909 and remained a member until his death in 1961. A letter from the lodge congratulating him on his rescue was sold at auction in October 2011.
As the Titanic was bound for New York there were many American passengers. The condolences of several grand lodges, including Hungary and Cuba, to the Grand Lodge of New York are recorded in the proceedings of that Grand Lodge in May 1912. Three New York casualties were also recorded. Henry Harris was a New York theatre manager and a member of Munn Lodge, No. 100. Frank Millet was vice chairman of the Fine Arts Committee, based in Washington DC, and member of Kane Lodge, No. 454. Alexander Holverson was a member of Transportation Lodge, No. 842. Another Freemason casualty was Oscar Scott Woody, a clerk in the on-board post office. He was a member of Acacia Lodge, No. 16, in Virginia.
The passengers on the Titanic were drawn from all walks of life so it is no surprise that the Freemasons, casualties and survivors, were too.
Letters to the Editor - Freemasonry Today No. 18 - SUMMER 2012
Your article, ‘Final Voyage’ in Freemasonry Today, Spring 2012, highlights some known Freemasons who were on board the Titanic. One officer’s actions, on that fateful night, have also become legendary. Harold Godfrey Lowe brought 118 passengers to safety and he was the last to leave the lifeboats on being rescued by the Carpathia. Fifth Officer Lowe was subsequently hailed a hero by some of the survivors for his actions that night, which he simply put down to doing his duty. What may not be known, but of interest to brethren, is that Lowe was initiated into St. Trillo Lodge, No. 2569, in the Province of North Wales, on the 6 May 1921. Unfortunately, he didn’t occupy our master chair, but seemingly remained a member of this lodge for the rest of his life.
Tony Young, St. Trillo Lodge, No. 2569, Colwyn Bay, North Wales
I read with great interest your article on Freemasons and the Titanic. Unfortunately, you made no reference to a young brother of the Cambrian Lodge, No. 364, lost on that fateful voyage. He was Robert William Norman Leyson, a mechanical engineer aged 24.
Norman Leyson came from a respected Neath family. His father was a Freemason and he was proposed by Henry Pendrill Charles, who later became Deputy Provincial Grand Master. He was initiated on 16 January 1912. On 28 March 1912, the Minute Book records that a Lodge of Emergency was called. This was to permit Norman Leyson to be raised to the sublime degree of a master mason before he set sail for New York on the Royal Mail Ship Titanic, to go into business in America. His father is listed among the visitors.
The Titanic berthed at Ocean Dock in Southampton on 4 April 1912 and some time around this date Norman Leyson travelled there to board the ship for departure on 10 April. At 11.40pm on 14 April the ship travelling at 22 knots grazed an iceberg. There was lifeboat capacity for 1,200 passengers but 2,201 passengers and crew were on board. Even so, nearly 500 lifeboat places were not filled and at 2.20am on 15 April, the Titanic sank.
We do not know what happened to Norman Leyson during those dark hours, only that he did not get into a lifeboat. There were many documented and undocumented acts of bravery and also some of abject cowardice. We can only hope he acted as a true son and his actions may be numbered among the former. The body of Norman Leyson was one of those found. He was buried at sea on 24 April.
Roger B Evans, Cambrian Lodge, No. 364, Neath, South Wales
With a proud tradition stretching back almost 200 years, HMS Trincomalee is on the crest of a new learning wave, as Euan Houstoun, a descendant of a past captain, explains
It would be an enormous task to make up the story that has made HMS Trincomalee the icon of the celebrated ‘wooden walls’ of the Nelson era. The ship’s survival has been remarkable, coming back from the brink of extinction on numerous occasions. The second oldest ship afloat in the world, what has kept her hull above water for so long has been the fact that young people from across the UK continue to have the chance to learn about her proud and exciting history.
As national educational priorities change, it is essential that HMS Trincomalee changes with them. Thanks to the support of local development authorities, Freemasons and the hard work of the HMS Trincomalee Trust, the ship has been able to offer schools opportunities for learning outside the classroom in a unique and stimulating environment.
Built for the Admiralty in the East India Company dockyard at Bombay in 1817, HMS Trincomalee was constructed of Malabar teak and named after the superb natural harbour in eastern Ceylon that provided British control of the Indian Ocean from 1795. By 1862, social and technological changes gradually transformed the Royal Navy and for the next fifteen years HMS Trincomalee was to assume a drill ship role at Hartlepool, where the training of reservists afloat was seen as the key to retaining and refreshing skills. However, by 1897 the end was in sight with the ship being offered for breaking.
Out of the woodwork came Geoffrey Wheatley Cobb, a sea training enthusiast who took loan of HMS Trincomalee from the Royal Navy, and renamed her after his earlier vessel, Lord Nelson’s Foudroyant. Cobb took the ship to Falmouth and Milford Haven where young people, often from poor families, were given experience of life on board. In 1932, the ship transferred to Portsmouth and during the Second World War it was commissioned to train new entry recruits known as the ‘Bounty Boys’.
With a trust formed to promote the training and experience for young people all over the country, the ship became a beacon in the busy harbour for years, sharing water with modern-day warships. By the 1980s, however, curriculum and career changes resulted in fewer young people visiting the ship. A shortage of funds also meant that there was a severe lack of maintenance. Consequently, the structure of the ship continued to deteriorate and in 1986 the trust had to face the prospect that the ship may have made its final voyage.
Captain David Smith, chairman of the trust, came up with an alternative plan to restore the ship. After exhaustive negotiations, it was agreed that she should abandon her home in Portsmouth and move back to her former location at Hartlepool, where the regeneration and renaissance of the town could be centred on the ship. Crucially, this was also an area where there was a skilled workforce who could undertake a restoration of this magnitude. Transported by submersible barge to Hartlepool in 1987, the restoration process began in 1990 thanks largely to grants from Teesside Development Corporation and other generous supporters.
With the ship regaining its original name in Hartlepool, the restoration of HMS Trincomalee took eleven years from 1990 to 2001. The facts are staggering – the trust raised £10.5 million for the work; the process subsumed more than three quarters of a million man-hours of skilled employment; and about £8 million was fed into the local economy through wages and purchases. Not a bad achievement for a small charitable trust. Most important of all perhaps, was the outcome that more than 60 per cent of the original fabric of the ship survives today, making it one of the most important ships in the UK.
Like any survivor, HMS Trincomalee must move with the times and maintain relevance. The trust is therefore determined to upgrade the educational resources and materials for teachers and pupils across all key stages of the National Curriculum. With the support of the Freemasons, it has been able to make an exciting start to this work, and already all-new materials to stimulate writing skills at key stage 2, which covers the seven to eleven-year-old age group, have been developed.
Built for war and for a twenty-five-year life expectancy, HMS Trincomalee has already achieved a lifespan of over one hundred and ninety four years thanks to those who have nurtured her over the decades. As well as developing new educational resources, a team of educators and trustees is coordinating a broad and balanced approach to the historical relevance of HMS Trincomalee to the maritime and social history of Britain. The priority remains to create financial sustainability in order to continue the essential maintenance and conservation of HMS Trincomalee, ensuring that she is open year-round for the public’s education and enjoyment.
To find out more, go to www.hms-trincomalee.co.uk
Letter to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.17 - Spring 2012
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
Director of Special Projects John Hamill wonders if resources spent on maintaining masonic buildings would be better used elsewhere
Recently I was accused of betraying my principles as a historian and supporter of the preservation of our masonic heritage. I had had the temerity to suggest that, sadly, there were times when we had to be hard-headed and pragmatic, particularly so when it comes to the huge heritage of masonic buildings.
In the context of the long history of the Craft, the idea of purpose-built lodge rooms and halls is a relative innovation. Originally, lodges, and even the two eighteenth-century English Grand Lodges, met in private rooms in inns and taverns. There were, of course, exceptions. In 1775, the premier Grand Lodge built the first Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, London. The oldest purpose-built Provincial Hall – still in use by the lodge that built it – appeared in Sunderland in 1778. In the early nineteenth-century, halls appeared as far apart as Bath and Newcastle upon Tyne but none survived the economic problems of the 1830s and 1840s.
The great period of masonic building was in mid-Victorian and Edwardian times. Freemasonry was rapidly expanding, and was seen by the public as a respectable association. To the growing middle and professional classes, who were the core membership of the Craft at that time, inns and taverns were not respectable places and so began the move to having specific premises limited to masonic activity.
The development of masonic buildings mirrored what was happening in ecclesiastical and civic circles, with the building of huge parish and free churches and palatial town halls. Just as they were expressions of Victorian religious and civic pride so the new masonic halls were an expression of the integrity and stability of the brethren who built them. Many of them were built in the new districts of the expanding towns and cities and reflected Freemasonry’s position as one of the pillars of the local community.
Life, however, moves on and changes. In the fifty years after the Second World War this country experienced the greatest economic and social upheaval since the industrial revolution. One of the effects in urban areas was that the former prosperous districts became subject to dereliction and decay as businesses and industries failed or downsized and moved out. The masonic halls became almost like islands in a sea of dereliction – islands which no one wanted to visit, especially on a dark winter’s night.
Combined with a contracting membership regularly asked to dig deeper into their pockets to cover ever rising costs and what at first had seemed a glorious heritage soon became an increasingly heavier millstone around the necks of those who used them.
To my mind, the purpose of Freemasonry is to bring together men from disparate backgrounds and traditions, to instil in them the principles and tenets of the Craft and to explore what we have in common and build on that commonality for the good of society as a whole. It is not the purpose of Freemasonry to act as a sort of National Trust to preserve a heritage of buildings which, while they have served the Craft over a long period, are no longer fit for purpose. The time, energy and finance which is spent in trying to preserve them could be put to much better masonic effect.
The major concern for the Craft in recent years has been attracting and retaining new members. The fall in membership appears to be bottoming out and in some areas there are real signs of growth. I would argue that the next major area of concern will be the problem of our heritage of property. In some areas it is being addressed and schemes have evolved – like the events business at London’s Freemasons’ Hall – to share masonic buildings with others to bring in additional income. But there will be times when hard decisions have to be taken, and on those occasions it is the head that should rule rather than the heart.
Letter to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.17 - Spring 2012
I wholeheartedly support his thoughts. There is, in addition to John’s comments, one aspect that I have put forward many times in the past. Smaller, more local masonic meeting halls lend themselves to involving Freemasons in the communities in which they reside, which are the sources of their Entered Apprentices. The doors of small, local masonic halls should be opened to the local community to demonstrate that Freemasons are part of it and that their halls are not places to be frowned upon. Indeed, the very idea of a masonic centre militates against the concept of openness. If communities of non-masons continually see men in black suits with black cases driving or walking into large, sometimes forbidding, old buildings with large gates closing behind them, often in the dark, it becomes the breeding ground for the unfounded suspicions that have hounded our meetings for many years.
A tandem parachute jump from 13,000 feet with the Red Devils Parachute Team, has been made by Teresa Bridgland-Taylor in memory of the late Bob McDuff of Hereford, and also to raise money in aid of the charity Help for Heroes.
Teresa refers to Bob McDuff as “my hero”, who on his 20th birthday with heavy radio kit strapped to his back, took part in the Normandy Landings D-Day 6th June 1944, and so it is appropriate that the sponsor money from the parachute jump was to be donated for today’s Help for Heroes.
Meeting with Andy Trickett, County Volunteer Coordinator, at her home in Hereford, Teresa presented a cheque for £1,167 for this charity in ‘Support For Our Wounded’.
Teresa made public her intension to make this parachute jump at her Ladies Festival associated with Dean Waterfield Lodge No.8089, where her husband Tim was Worshipful Master. It has been a tradition within the Lodge that on these occasions the Worshipful Master’s wife receives a monetary gift in appreciation of her support. In this instance Teresa used this gift towards the cost of the parachute jump.
Husband Tim emphasised that this “should not be a precedent for future Worshipful Masters’ wives! Teresa completed her parachute jump on 6th June at Langer Aerodrome Nottingham.
Bob McDuff was a Past Master of Dean Waterfield Lodge.