In honour of all English Freemasons awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross (VC), the United Grand Lodge of England’s (UGLE) Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, unveiled a unique Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone at Freemasons’ Hall on 27th June 2019
The Remembrance Stone was commissioned in 2016 by Granville Angell to commemorate all English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest award for gallantry that can be conferred on a member of the British Armed Forces and since its introduction in 1856, more than 200 Freemasons have been awarded the Victoria Cross – making up an astonishing 14% of all recipients.
The Remembrance Stone was carved by Emily Draper, who was Worcester Cathedral’s first female Stonemason apprentice, having been sponsored by local Freemasons. During the preparation stage of the stone, Emily also found out that her Great Uncle was a Freemason VC recipient.
The event was opened by Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive and Grand Secretary, followed by readings from Robert Vaughan, Provincial Grand Master of Worcestershire (My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling) and Brigadier Peter Sharpe, President of the Circuit of Service Lodges (The Soldier by Rupert Chawner Brooke).
Over 130 guests were in attendance including serving military personnel, a group of Chelsea Pensioners and Sea Cadets, as well as Sergeant Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving the lives of his unit – Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – while serving in Iraq in 2004. Johnson is also a Freemason and a member of Queensman Lodge No. 2694 in London.
Music was provided by Jon Yates from the Royal Marines Association Concert Band, who performed the ‘Last Post’, a minute’s silence and the ‘Reveille’.
This was proceeded by the grand Unveiling and Dedication of the Remembrance Stone by The Duke of Kent, as a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of those Freemasons awarded the VC. The Duke of Kent also presented Emily with a stone carving toolset to aid her future projects.
The event was concluded with a speech by Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, Past Grand Secretary of UGLE and Past President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund.
Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive and Grand Secretary, said: “It’s been a huge honour to mark the dedication of this wonderful Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone and another significant milestone in our longstanding history.
“It is even more remarkable in the context that 14% of all recipients of the Victoria Cross have been Freemasons and I can think of no more fitting home than for it to be placed here at Freemasons’ Hall – a memorial to the thousands of English Freemasons who lost their lives during the Great War.”
Specialist lodges offer the opportunity for members to combine their personal interests while learning about the principles of Freemasonry, as Terry Draycott shows in his history of the Royal Life Saving Lodge
At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that ‘Quemcunque Miserum Videris Hominem Scias’ is a quote from a Roman Emperor’s tomb. However, you would be wrong. It is actually the motto of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), which was formed in 1891 by, among others, William Henry and Archibald Sinclair, and translates to: ‘Whomsoever you see in distress, see in him a fellow Man.’
Originally called the Swimmer’s Life Saving Society, the aims of the society were to try to reduce the significant numbers of fatalities caused by drowning, through teaching self-preservation and rescue skills. The title was subsequently changed to The Life Saving Society with members delivering lectures and demonstrations on life-saving techniques around not only the United Kingdom, but also the world. It is rumoured that William Henry visited almost every swimming pool in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and several other countries, lecturing, teaching and promoting the work of the society. As a result, several life-saving organisations were formed within these countries.
In 1904, King Edward VI granted royal patronage and the Royal Life Saving Society was born. The society continued to flourish both within the UK and globally, and today there are RLSS clubs throughout the country. Its network of volunteers deliver instruction on water safety, life support and rescue. The society is a registered charity and a member of the RLSS Commonwealth as well as the International Life Saving Federation.
You may be asking, where is all this leading? Well, back in 1908, a group of RLSS members, finding themselves to also be masons, conceived the idea of forming their own lodge, which would be affiliated to the RLSS. Plans were made and a petition submitted to the Grand Master, and on 9 November 1908 a warrant was granted to the Royal Life Saving Lodge. The lodge was consecrated on 19 February 1909 at the Frascati restaurant on Oxford Street in London. The Grand Secretary, Sir Edward Letchworth, conducted the consecration, acting as Worshipful Master, assisted by Charles F Quicke, Senior Warden; James Stephen, Junior Warden; Rev H W Turner, Chaplain; Charles W Cole, Director of Ceremonies; and W J Songhurst, Inner Guard.
All these worthy brothers were elected honorary members of the lodge after the ceremony. The First Worshipful Master was Herbert Grimwade with Lord Desborough the first Immediate Past Master. All of the founders were active members of the RLSS, and included within the annual subscription was annual membership of the RLSS. William Henry became the first initiate into the lodge in April 1909 and rose to become Worshipful Master in 1917.
two societies, one bond
The connection between the lodge and the society remained strong for many years. When the society moved into premises in Devonshire Street, London, it immediately became Desborough House, with rehearsals and meetings regularly held there. Indeed, chairs for the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden were still in use up to the move to the society’s present headquarters in Broom. The Master’s Collar is adorned with several enamelled pictures of early life-saving scenes and the loose chain box is wrought in the form of a lifebelt.
Until a few years ago, a toast was taken by the Worshipful Master to all holders of RLSS awards. However, the connection with the RLSS has been reinforced recently, with several members becoming joining members and no doubt the toast will soon be reintroduced. Some of you might remember being taught rescue skills and might have gone on to take the society’s flagship award, The Bronze Medallion, or indeed may still be members of the RLSS but never knew of its own lodge.
I have been a member of the RLSS for over forty years and a Freemason for seventeen but only discovered the existence of the lodge thanks to the wonders of modern technology – the internet, and more specifically, eBay. Back in 1992, while surfing (the dry type), I saw a founder’s jewel for sale for the Royal Life Saving Lodge, No. 3339. I investigated and subsequently made contact with the secretary – and the rest, as they say, is history.
I believe that the principles of Freemasonry are compatible with the aims of a great number of other organisations. The creation of a specialist lodge means we can discuss Freemasonry and share common interests and values. The union of two worthy causes helps to keep the memory of William Henry alive and encourages the next generation of Freemasons.
Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.18 - SUMMER 2012