On Sunday 2nd June 2019, three intrepid Freemasons from Devon set out to conquer the beaches which formed the landing places of the Second World War Normandy Landings on 6th June 1944
Steve Robertson and Chris Wollacott, both members of St. Thomas Lodge No. 4198 in Exeter, and Ian Morton, of Lodge Virtue & Honour Lodge No. 494 in Axminster, met up before boarding the Poole ferry to Cherbourg. But even before they set sail disaster struck, when Steve’s bike wheel shed a spoke (possibly due to the weight of his baggage) – luckily they found a friendly repair shop owner who opened up on a Sunday evening just to help them. Chris then arrived on an electric bike advising them that he had left his charger at home and had to complete the journey without the aid of batteries.
The bad luck didn’t stop there either, for as they disembarked in Cherbourg Ian skidded on a slippery patch, he was badly bruised and suffered a dislocated finger. They spent five hours in the local French A&E department before eventually starting off, on the first leg of their journey to Sainte –Mere- Eglise some 35 miles away. They passed military vehicles of all descriptions, Jeeps, Tanks, Troop Carriers and Halftracks full of personnel dressed in uniforms from the 1940’s all waving to them.
First stop was Utah Beach where they laid a poppy cross on the memorial then on to Carentan where they met serving US Rangers who were re-enact the scaling of the cliffs at Pointe-Du-Hoc to attack the German gun emplacements, waving them goodbye they moved on to Omaha Beach having ridden 38 gruelling miles by the time they arrived.
The next morning 6th June, D-Day they visited the large German gun battery at Longues Sur Mer which was taken by the Devonshire Regiment back in June 1944, then onwards to Arromanches where they witnessed almost the whole population wearing period military uniforms, attended a memorial service and watched a flypast of Dakotas as well as marching bands and D-Day Darlings singing songs of the period before moving on to Gold Beach and Juno Beach where they also laid poppy crosses, only covering 22 miles that day. Juno Beach holds a very special place in Steve’s family history as his father was there on D-Day and the platoon he was with liberated the first house on French soil after landings took place.
While at Juno Beach they met Steven Dean, Project Manager of the new British Memorial, and also chatted to some veterans of the invasion and afterwards carried on their journey to Sword and then the Pegasus bridge. This leg of the journey was in their words ‘brutal’ due to the very, very, strong headwinds and rain but became easier when they turned to cycle down the canal to Ouisterham and back to the ferry for the return journey.
After four days of cycling and not a lot of sleep they were all looking forward to a restful night as they journeyed back across the channel only to find the majority of the other travellers were returning troops who snored the whole way back!
Steve, Ian and Chris enjoyed their adventure cycling a total of 153 miles over the four days they were in France, but it was the opportunity of being a part of the commemorations of the D-Day landings which will live with them forever, while also raising nearly £1,500 which will be donated to the MacMillan Cancer Charity and the Devonshire Masonic Festival on behalf of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).
Despite his own blindness, Leslie Robinson is bringing FMT to other Freemasons who can’t see its pages. Along with voice-over man Chris Connop, he tells Edwin Smith how ‘masonic light’ brightens his life, and why he’s reaching out to blind brothers who may feel left in the dark
When Leslie Robinson was born, his mother knew something was wrong. When a mum smiles at her newborn child, most of the time, the baby smiles back. ‘But,’ says Leslie, ‘I didn’t.’ Even so, at first, his childhood was normal enough for someone born just before the Second World War. He would play on the bomb sites, like most children did. And, occasionally, he would trip on things, like most children did. Nobody thought anything of it.
At school, with wartime classes often numbering well over 40 children, Leslie’s problem went largely unnoticed by teachers. But he began to understand his limitations. ‘Even though I was sitting right at the front of the class, I used to have to ask the child next to me what was on the blackboard. But children can be very horrible, can’t they? “Look for yourself four eyes!” they’d say.’
He remembers getting lost in the playground. ‘I was trying to find the cloakroom,’ he says. Then, more quietly: ‘They wouldn’t tell me where it was.’ He trails off, lost in thought.
Eventually, Leslie was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary condition that affects the back of the eye. His sight deteriorated gradually and today, aged 83, is completely blind. ‘I can’t see the light of day,’ he says, merrily. ‘I sat down in the lounge one evening and my wife Barbara asked me to put the light on. I realised I didn’t use it anymore.’
About 40 years ago, Leslie became a Freemason. When he was initiated into the Craft and asked to name the ‘predominant wish of a new initiate’s heart,’ instead of giving the standard answer of ‘light’, he was permitted to say ‘masonic light’. And that masonic light has been with him ever since. He cites ‘friendship and comradeship’ as the most important things about the Craft. ‘I don’t think you’d find anyone you don’t trust who’s a Freemason.’
‘Leslie is unbelievable. He can lean forward and just press the right button, or find a particular CD just like that. It’s a particular faculty you develop when you lose another faculty, I suppose. He’s a lovely man’
Leslie was a piano tuner for 66 years and as a result has a network of clients and colleagues from his professional life. He also counts many friends among the Eastbourne Blind Society, of which he’s a member. But Freemasonry has proved to be a way of opening up social connections that is ‘something completely different.’
For many partially sighted Freemasons, the connections they enjoy through the Craft can be especially valuable. So, a couple of decades ago, Leslie was inspired to put himself forward to play a role in the production of an audio version of Masonic Quarterly, a predecessor publication of FMT. The idea was to ensure that people in a similar position to him would be able to stay connected to their fellow members and to the Craft, stay up to date with the latest developments and ward off some of the feelings of isolation that can accompany losing one’s sight.
The magazine had been put on to tape before, says Leslie. ‘But I don’t think the chap who read it all those years ago really wanted to do it. He mumbled a bit – listening to it made me want to drop off to sleep!’ Happily, when Leslie took up the mantle, he did so with the help of a former BBC radio announcer, Simon Fernie, whose flair for delivery helped to give the recordings a professional sheen.
Simon voiced the audio recordings for several years alongside Chris Connop, a former Personal Secretary to the Grand Secretary and a Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex. When Simon sadly passed away a decade or so ago, it was Chris, now 72, who became the voice of FMT. ‘The first time Chris came to see me, he said, “Do you know, Leslie, I’ve never been to Eastbourne before; I didn’t think I was old enough.”’ Leslie laughs. ‘It’s often called God’s waiting room.’
Leslie and Chris are now a double act, with Chris reading the magazine aloud and Leslie on hand manning the recording equipment. ‘We only have 80 minutes on those discs,’ says Leslie, ‘so we can’t include every last thing that goes in the magazine, but Chris is an ex-headmaster, so he’s quite capable of going through and deciding what to fit in.’ In the 72 editions that Leslie has recorded, ‘there’s quite a lot that has stood out,’ he says. Anything about a fellow member who has ‘done something extraordinary’ tends to pique his interest, but he especially enjoyed a recent article about George VI, who was a Freemason until withdrawing on his accession to the throne. ‘I didn’t know that. I’ve been a Freemason for over 40 years and I’m still discovering things.’‘
Chris’s delivery is very good. What I like is that he reads with considerable expression. He also speaks French and a bit of German, so occasionally there’s a quote in a different language.’
‘I’ve got a radio voice,’ says Chris, ‘or so people tell me. But Leslie, he is just unbelievable. He can lean forward and just press the right button, or find a particular CD just like that. It’s a particular faculty you develop when you lose another faculty, I suppose. He’s a great guy and a lovely man.’
‘People should know about the service, especially as it’s free. And they should know about Leslie, what he does and why he does it. It’s an inspiring, human story’
SPREADING THE WORD
Leslie uses a minidisc recorder hooked up to a microphone to capture Chris’s voice, a method he favours because it enables him to easily go back and edit out any mistakes. Editing tends to take about two hours for each issue of the magazine. After that, once the master CD has been recorded, it takes just a few minutes to create the discs that actually end up being sent out to members. To do this, Leslie uses a special machine which can copy 10 CDs at a time. These discs are then put into plastic wallets with address labels and posted – a process that is aided by Leslie’s wife of 61 years, Barbara.
In the old days, when it was audio tapes rather than CDs that were sent out, they would sometimes come back with messages recorded over them. ‘I’ve got some lovely messages,’ says Leslie. ‘One gentleman said, “I’m 92 and I thought they’d forgotten all about me.” I still get phone calls even today though – especially when the CDs are late!’
When Leslie began making his recordings, he had a list of 200 names and addresses to which he sent the tapes. Now he sends them out to 60 people. ‘It’s dwindling all the time, simply because people are dying off.’ But there’s no doubt in Leslie or Chris’s mind that there are more people out there who would leap at the chance to receive the audio version of the magazine, if only they knew it was available. There are some three million people in the UK who don’t have the ability to read because of a sight problem or reading disability such as dyslexia, according to a report published by the RNIB. Among them, there’s likely to be many more than 60 Freemasons.
So, Leslie and Chris have a message: ‘We want to publicise the recordings and let people know they’re available regularly. So of course it would help if people reading this can pass the word around.’
‘We really want it to be broadcast more widely,’ says Chris. ‘People should know about the service, especially as it’s free. And they should know about Leslie, what he does and why he does it. It’s an inspiring, human story.’
Woking Lodge in Surrey have raised almost £55,000 for a number of worthy causes when members, friends and family attended their charity ball on 9 March 2019
The background to the lodge itself makes very interesting reading. The Home Guard, often referred to as ‘Dad's Army’ as depicted in the BBC sitcom of the same name, was a defence force of the British Army during the Second World War. Operational from 1940 until 1944, the Home Guard comprised of 1.5 million local volunteers too old or otherwise ineligible for military service.
In 1946, members of the Woking branch of the Home Guard and fellow members of Bisley Lodge No. 2317 in Godalming, Surrey, decided to form a lodge of their own to commemorate the friendships made during the war years. Woking Lodge No. 6264 continues to meet today in Godalming and preserves the foundations laid by the Dad's Army founders.
The lodge banner portrays the hill in Old Woking, where, had the Germans invaded, the Home Guard would have lit one of a chain of bonfires across the country, to warn the population of the invasion. In the foreground is Hoe Bridge and the River Wey. Also depicted are the sun and moon to indicate the Home Guard watched over Woking by night as well as by day.
The lodge held its latest Charity Ball at the historic and beautiful setting of 17th century Wotton House, Dorking, with attendees treated to a meal and live entertainment. Auction lots and raffle prizes were donated by various sponsors, as well as members of the lodge. Lots included sports and music memorabilia, signed by the likes of Pele, Lewis Hamilton and George Ezra, a holiday in Bali and a Caribbean cruise.
The star lot was a life-sized Zest Model car, donated by John Bennyworth, a Surrey Freemason, and on the night raised £12,000, of which a third will be donated to Shooting Star, a Surrey Hospice for children.
Ian Chandler, Provincial Grand Master of Surrey, said: ‘This was a night that showed Freemasonry at its very best. Friendships made and renewed while raising a significant sum for very worthy causes. My sincere thanks to everyone who attended and congratulations to Woking Lodge.’
The auction and raffle raised almost £55,000 and the money will be donated to:
- Shooting Star - £4,000, offering a wide range of support for families caring for a life-limited child, including palliative and respite care, and bereavement support
- Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys - £3,500, offering grants to relieve poverty and advance education for children and young people
- Surrey 2019 Festival - £46,750, supporting care homes for over 1,000 elderly people across England and Wales
Rowland Gbedemah of Woking Lodge said: ‘I want to thank you all in no small part for supporting us in our fundraising effort this evening. Charity is at the heart of Freemasonry and the charities who will be the beneficiaries of this evening’s fundraiser do a lot to help people locally, nationally and internationally.’
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.
12 December 2018
A presentation by VW Bro Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary
Brethren, good morning. It is my great pleasure to be speaking to you here today.
As many of you will know, I used to work as a doctor. My clinical job was to work out why people were horizontal and try to get them vertical again. I shall try my hardest over the next 15 minutes or so not to reverse that process.
I left Derby Hospital four years ago to become Clinical Director for Medicine at Peterborough where I managed a whole host of awkward people and there, to my astonishment, I discovered that I rather enjoyed this thing called ‘management’. In fact, I found that I enjoyed it much more than medicine.
People were usually pleased to see me which made a change, and as someone who had always enjoyed solving problems I found that I was deluged with problems. It was not a great leap for me to move into another organisation with problems to solve.
I still practice medicine for half a day a week – it seemed foolish to burn all my clinical bridges in this particular role. The Board and Rulers hired me as Chief Executive with two main outcomes in mind. First, I was to bring the Corporate and Masonic sides of Freemasons’ Hall together – to meld 60 Great Queen Street into a purpose and values driven organisation which services the needs of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and of course you, our members.
Secondly, I was tasked with helping to formulate, coordinate and ensure the delivery of the United Grand Lodge of England’s strategies for the future as defined by the Rulers and the Board.
To my mind, the most important of these is rapidly becoming to ‘Normalise the perception of Freemasonry in the public consciousness’ – to make it as acceptable to say that one is going to a lodge meeting as it would be to say that one is going shopping, out for a meal, or to the golf course; and to make it a genuine choice for all of our members as to whether they wish to disclose their membership or not – rather than one mandated by the attitudes and prejudices of their colleagues.
Today I would like to try to give you a flavour for some of the challenges UGLE faces along that journey, and some of the things that we are doing to meet them. We are always, however, mindful of the need to respect the independence of individual lodges and Provinces, and only to mandate those things which are absolutely essential to the future of the Craft.
Things are not all rosy. In 1920, Grand Lodge issued around 30,000 Grand Lodge certificates each year. By 2015 this had dropped to 7,000 which equates to less than one new member per lodge per year. 20% of our members resign or never come back prior to receiving their Grand Lodge certificate. 60% of our membership is over 60 years of age. Membership remains one of our greatest challenges.
As an organisation, we are shrinking by 1% a year, although interestingly our districts are growing at 10% per year on average.
Attracting new members and engaging our membership so that they remain members is therefore of paramount importance, but the pool of candidates eligible to join Freemasonry is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.
We can do little to change whether a person believes in a Supreme Being, or whether they have a criminal record, but UGLE has done a great deal to try to influence the opportunity that eligible members have to join us successfully; this has occurred most visibly through the Membership Pathway which was launched earlier this year – an initiative that seeks to ensure that potential members know what to expect, and to minimise the chances of them leaving.
What used to be ‘invitation only’ is now much more open. Lodges regularly exhibit at universities Freshers’ Fairs and all Provincial websites and the United Grand Lodge of England welcome online membership enquiries. We also seek to influence what is ‘findable’ on Google by engaging with the media. By having sensible stories which reflect what WE want about Freemasonry on the top three pages of a Google search, we are able to significantly alter our public footprint.
Before the Second World War, Freemasons would have been openly known and respected in their communities. Public parades of masons were common place. Masons were often asked to perform ceremonies around the laying of foundation stones for public buildings.
Then, Hitler murdered 200,000 Freemasons on the continent and looked as though he were poised to invade England. Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea to be so open about our membership and we collectively retreated into a position of privacy that we have only just, with the Tercentenary celebrations last year, started to retreat from in a coordinated fashion.
The third factor which influences whether we attract new members is the environment – by which I primarily mean the court of public opinion. What do the public think of us? How likely is it that our members are happy to ‘come out’ as Freemasons? How likely or acceptable is it that an organisation or employer decides to discriminate against Freemasons? What is the political climate? What is the religious climate? – All of these issues form the environment from which our members are drawn.
The national press is obsessed with handshakes, trouser legs, nepotism, corruption and with events that may have happened 50 years ago in a then corrupt police force. Not a media interview has gone by over the last year when I have not been asked about one of these issues – yet only 4% of young people under 25 ever read the national press, and only 9% get their news from television. By far the predominant source for news in the under 30s is the internet. We need to ensure our media presence reflects this.
In centuries past, however, Freemasons and Freemasonry was enormously respected. Before the times of professional organisations and trade bodies such as the British Medical Associate, the Bar Association, The Law Society etc., if you wanted to employ the services of someone who wasn’t going to rip you off, a Freemason represented someone who openly ‘met people on the level’ and ‘treated them squarely’. It was the closest one could get at the time to a kite mark of decent and moral professional behaviour, and, for tradesmen, membership was a likely to result in both increased respect and increased business.
Unfortunately, how Freemasonry is explained to us as Entered Apprentices is not necessarily an easy and straightforward concept to grasp. We are told that Freemasonry is a ‘peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ . That its system of morality forms of a set of values and principles of conduct. Freemasons are the custodians of a way of behaving which takes good people and makes them better, doing so by acting out ancient myths and encouraging a study of the deeper meaning of symbols, so it is both a philosophical and philanthropic society. One can see how it might prove very difficult for us to explain what Freemasonry is to those who might be curious. And, of course, Freemasonry means many different things to different members.
If we talk about charity, we are no different to hundreds of other organisations who fight for space in a very crowded sector. If we talk about friendship or camaraderie then similarly we do not capture the unique aspects of Freemasonry which set us aside from a club or society.
We will never be able to, nor should we, reinvent ourselves to please the public, but we do need to nuance our message so that it can have the greatest effect on those who we might be able to influence, and what you will see over the next 18 months or so is a coordinated media and communications strategy that starts to deploy these messages. We started this year with ‘Enough is Enough’ and there is a great deal more to come.
We need to find something that communicates the unique nature of Freemasonry in a friendly, accessible fashion, and in a way which makes us an attractive use of our potential members’ precious time. So how do we achieve, in the minds of the public, a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution? We must define ourselves clearly and positively to the outside world. We must regain control of our own narrative, we need to promulgate the timeless principles of brotherly love and self-improvement. We need to inspire people to lead better lives and be a values driven, professional organisation.
So Communications and Membership are two of my top priorities as mandated by the Board, the Rulers and the various committees and groups that have a care for Freemasonry.
These priorities are clearly reflected in the restructuring of the United Grand Lodge of England communications apparatus, and by the creation of a new Membership Services Department, which will encompass a new department for the Districts which, in the past, have not perhaps received the attention that they deserve; the Chancellery which manages foreign masonic affairs and also all of your enquiries should you want to visit a lodge abroad as well as the membership and registration functions.
When I came to UGLE, the headquarters had been split along masonic and non-masonic lines, and it was fair to say that there was a degree of civil war existing between the two. What I found was a headquarters crying out for modernisation. I am pleased to say that following considerable effort by all the staff over the last year, UGLE has just been awarded Investors in People Accreditation – something that will help dispel our reputation as operating from a secret volcano base somewhere off the West Coast of Sumatra.
Bringing about change within UGLE is not a simple task. I have entitled my talk 'Risk Takers, Caretakers and Undertakers' which broadly explains the mindsets which govern all of us here today in some part. Some aspects of the organisation need curating – they are precious to us and to our members and should be preserved as part of our responsibility as the de facto caretakers of a three-hundred-year-old institution, other parts need to be allowed to run their course and die, for an organisation which never renews itself is unlikely to survive. We see this often in the lives of individual lodges, which come together to serve a need for their members, but as times change, or that need changes, some lodges pass away whilst others invigorate themselves and thrive. In order to thrive, we need to be prepared perhaps to take risks and to change in order to remain, or perhaps regain a relevance in the modern world. If we aren’t prepared to do this, we become undertakers and bury something enormously precious to us all.
Another key priority for us at UGLE is to modernise the processes by which the organisation is administered. This year, we will have performed 24 Installations of Provincial and District Rulers all of those, coordinated from this building. We are recognised the world over for our pre-eminent ceremonial. It is my intention to ensure that this excellence shows itself in all that we do. We have moved the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters to living online documents, and now have a thriving members’ area on our website. For the first time, some of you will have booked your place here today online and made payment for the lunch that follows electronically – something you will no doubt have been doing in other areas of life for well over a decade.
Astonishingly this change will save over 1,800 man hours of work each year. Those of you who are Secretaries will be pleased to hear that we are aiming to ensure that Installation Returns are pre-printed, meaning that you will never again have to write out the names and numbers of all your past masters – something which has been done and remained unchanged for over 175 years.
But that is just the start. The Book of Constitutions lays out guidance on how a modern membership organisation should be run, but the problem is that its current iteration was written in the nineteenth century.
Imagine now an organisation where the Lodge Secretary could access the central database of their members’ information and keep it updated. Why should secretaries have to write clearance certificates when we already know who is paid up and who is in arrears? Why not just run a real time Masonic credit check when you want to join a new lodge? Why are forms needed in order to get a Grand Lodge certificate, when we already know all the information on those forms?
To start to modernise these internal processes is an enormous piece of work, but I know it will bring real benefits to our members and those who administer lodges and Provinces.
And these changes will alter the experiences of the everyday mason too. Can you imagine a system that sends links to articles that explains the ceremony of initiation to an initiate the day after he is brought in? Or a system that sends information about the Royal Arch to a newly made Master Mason? What about a system that flags to the Lodge Almoner when a member has missed three meetings in a row – a strongly correlated marker for poor engagement and retention. In this way we can start to influence how we engage our membership at a whole new level with that peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The Craft has an old, established teaching system, which uses role-playing, memory work and public speaking to enshrine its principles in the hearts of Masons. These techniques have evolved over many centuries and even more generations of Brethren, to pass on our traditions to benefit our members by making them better people, at peace with themselves and with the society in which they live.
We have recently launched ‘SOLOMON’, an online learning resource covering the three degrees and the Royal Arch which you are able to register for, access and read as you progress through your masonic journey. It has over 350 articles, graded for the correct degree which augment these established teaching methods within the Craft and make each candidate’s journey through Masonry a much more fulfilling experience.
So, Brethren, there is a huge amount going on in your organisation, and that is not counting the numerous happenings at Provincial and individual lodge level. UGLE is building an efficient and effective organisation. An organisation which provides a structure able to support and engage our members, attract new people to the Craft and Royal Arch, normalize Freemasonry in the public consciousness and stand up for our members whenever they are unfairly discriminated against or collectively attacked.
The United Grand Lodge of England is here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry which inspire people to Lead Better Lives for the benefit of society, valuing Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. We should be a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun because that is an organisation that good men will want to join and even better men will want to remain members of. It is the duty of all of us to make this an organisation we are proud to be a part of.
Don't let the armchair get you
Aged 103, Wally Randall is the Tyler for three masonic lodges, turned on his town’s Christmas lights last year and is the UK’s oldest poppy seller. Peter Watts meets the legend of Leighton Buzzard
Resplendent in a suit and jacket, Wally Randall sits on a wooden pew with a military bearing that belies his years. He has been coming to this masonic temple in Leighton Buzzard for 53 years, which sounds like a long time, until you remember he is 103.
One of the country’s oldest masons, Wally is also the UK’s oldest poppy seller, something this World War II veteran is particularly proud of. ‘I go to our local Wilko – they let me sit inside,’ he says. ‘People say they come specially to get a poppy off me. It’s amazing how generous they are. A lot of people give even though they already have a poppy. I collected over £1,000 last year.’
This year’s Armistice Day had particular resonance for Wally. Not only did it mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, it was also 100 years since the death of his father, who served in that war and died of Spanish flu the day before the Armistice was signed. ‘It was rather tragic,’ he says. ‘It might be one of the reasons I started selling poppies. I thought the Royal British Legion did a really good job looking after people who need it.’
Wally is described as ‘a legend’ by fellow Freemasons Roger Wood and David Cato, who are full of stories about his escapades, such as the time Wally fell on to the garage roof while collecting apples from his tree back when he was a mere slip of a man in his nineties. Then there’s the time the doctor warned him his blood pressure was a bit high. ‘That was just before he turned 100. Wally told the doctor, “Well, I did have to cycle here – you can’t find anywhere to park on a Tuesday,”’ laughs David.
With that track record, a spot of poppy selling once a year is not going to get him too out of breath. What’s his secret? ‘Well, it might be a bit dull, but I’ve never been a drinker and I never smoked either – maybe the odd glass of wine during a lodge dinner but I don’t drink apart from that.’
Wally is careful about what he eats as well. At the festive board, he has the starter and dessert, but takes the main course home for his lunch the following day – the kitchen staff are only too happy to wrap up his meal. David thinks Wally is inspiring, ‘On his 103rd birthday he recited the 15-minute traditional history during the rituals, without any notes to read from. He keeps doing things, and tells us, “Don’t let the armchair get you.”’
KEEPING HIMSELF BUSY
Wally lives alone and still drives. As well as selling poppies and masonic activity, he was an active and enthusiastic gardener up until this summer, but now contents himself with directing his granddaughter around the plot. ‘Well, I tell her what I’d like her to do, but she won’t always do it,’ he grins. ‘She doesn’t like slug pellets, so this year I finished up with one runner bean and the slugs had the rest.’ In keeping with his philosophy of staying active, Wally doesn’t just attend weekly masonic events, but acts as a Tyler for three lodges. ‘It’s important to do stuff, you have to keep busy,’ he says. ‘That’s what like about masonry – being the Tyler, I get to meet the candidates and that’s always nice. It’s very interesting and I enjoy getting them ready.’
The esteem in which Wally is held can be seen in the anteroom to the Temple. In a prominent position is Wally’s stout wooden Tyler chair, which was a gift from fellow Mark masons on his 100th birthday. Above it is a large framed ‘Where’s Wally?’ poster, a present from the caterers, with Wally’s face hidden among all the cartoon characters. And his celebrity status extends beyond the lodge. In 2017, he was invited to turn on Leighton Buzzard’s Christmas lights.
Wally became a mason in 1965, but it was only when he retired at 70 that he began to take his involvement up a gear. Wally’s mother lodge is Leighton Cross, No. 6176, but he is also a member of Old Cedarians, No. 8078 and All Saints, No. 8776, the latter of which he founded. ‘When it first started, the subs were only £15 a year,’ he smiles, adding, ‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going.’
Having appeared in newspapers and on the BBC, Wally’s masonic contribution as well as his longevity have been widely recognised. ‘I got a certificate of merit after I’d been a mason for 50 years and another saying I’d been selling poppies for 50 years,’ he says, before declaring that he has no intention of stopping any time soon, even if he does need a break every now and then. Having spent a couple of hours in the lodge being photographed and interviewed, Wally remarks, ‘It’s fish and chip day isn’t it, so I’ll go home and have some scampi and then a little snooze.’
‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going’
Born in 1915, Wally Randall left school at 14 and entered the print trade, working for the local newspaper, the Leighton Buzzard Observer. ‘I was a comp machinist and I did a little bit of reporting, following the football team and so on. I got halfpenny a line,’ he recalls. After leaving print, he moved into transport, but one winter found himself out of work because the roads were blocked by snow. ‘I cycled to the labour exchange to sign on and there were hundreds of people queueing,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to wait, so I biked up to Luton to look for a job. I went to the Vauxhall plant and got a job straightaway. I was there for 40 years.’
Wally served as a magistrate and on the local council, and it was a fellow councillor who got him interested in Freemasonry. At around the same time as he discovered the Craft, he started selling poppies, inspired in part by his own experiences during the Second World War. He’d signed up in 1940 and served in North Africa and Italy. ‘I was in the service corps,’ he says. ‘The nearest I got to combat was at El Alamein. The army was getting ready for the push and we took the 4th Indian Division in there. There was an artillery bombardment, it was like fireworks. That was about as close as I got.’
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War and the 75th Anniversary of the Dambusters Raid, Derbyshire Freemasons with special guest, Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson MBE DFM, made generous presentations to Derbyshire Air Cadets
‘Johnny’ was a 21-year-old Sergeant when he took part in Operation Chastise, where he was the bomb aimer in Lancaster AJ-T (T-Tommy) piloted by ‘Joe’ McCarthy RCAF, which conducted the first attack on the Sorpe Dam.
The Squadron was based in Lincolnshire but used the Derwent dams during training so he is no stranger to the county, albeit in those days he was seeing Derbyshire from the air. The connection to Derbyshire also includes Barnes Wallace, the engineer who designed the bouncing bomb and who was born in Ripley.
Looking for a fitting tribute to mark the various anniversaries, the Provincial Grand Master for Derbyshire Steven Varley decided to present all Air Training Corps Squadrons within Derbyshire a cheque for £1,000. In addition, the Squadrons each received a framed print of a Lancaster Bomber signed and presented by Squadron Leader Johnson, who at 96 years of age is the last surviving member of the aircrews that participated in the Dambusters Raid during the Second World War. These prints will no doubt be treasured by future generations of ATC cadets.
All of the donations were funded by the Provincial Grand Charity of the Province Of Derbyshire which regularly gives funding for many worthy causes throughout the County. All of the funds are collected from donations made by their members.
Flight Lieutenant Steve Broomhead RAFAC, Officer Commanding 1890 (Dronfield) Squadron ATC: ‘This is a fantastically generous gift that will certainly help as my Squadron is desperately trying to update our IT capability.
‘The IT is now such so important to the running of the Squadron both in our administration and in the gaining of cadet qualifications. The icing on the evening’s cake was receiving the signed print from, and meeting with, Johnny Johnson, such an inspiring gentleman.’
After the Presentations, Squadron Leader Michael Roe, RAF Rtd, gave an interesting talk about his long and distinguished flying career in the RAF. To cap it all, four lucky cadets will also receive a flight in an historic two-seater Chipmunk aircraft.
In a short but entertaining speech, Johnny Johnson paid tribute to those he flew with and told the cadets that they were the RAF’s future and that the future was looking to be in good hands. After the Presentations and speeches, Johnny Johnson was presented with a cheque for £1,000 for his own charity, Group 617.
The evening ended with a dinner for all present which included the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Civic representatives of Derby and Derbyshire and representatives of the Royal Air Forces association along with the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association.
Wing Commander Andy Pass, Officer Commanding South & East Midlands Wing, commented: ‘This was an extraordinarily generous gift to the 15 Squadrons from across the county. The money will be of great benefit to the cadets at the Squadrons and it will be spent wisely on equipment that will greatly enhance the Squadron’s ability to deliver the World class cadet experience for which the RAF Air Cadets are renowned.’
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.
It's the start
With an emphasis on professionalism and transparency, President of the Board of General Purposes Geoffrey Dearing wants to take Freemasonry to a new level of alignment
How would you describe your masonic progression?
It was a very slow burn. I helped to manage a law practice in East Kent and became a Freemason in 1974 when two of my partners, whom I respected, proposed and seconded me. I only used to go to four meetings a year as I couldn’t do more than that; I was very busy working around the courts. But I found that those four evenings were very relaxing, because you’re with different people who have a similar view of life.
I joined the Royal Arch in 1981. That was purely accidental: somebody’s son was a member of our lodge, and I got talking to his father, who turned out to be the Grand Superintendent for the Province of East Kent. But, again, I was very busy with the business, so nothing else happened until the end of the 1980s, when I was made a Steward in the Province in the Craft and the following year Senior Warden.
Along the way I spent a year as president of the Kent Law Society and became a Past Assistant Grand Registrar in 1994, which is a common office for a lawyer to take in Grand Lodge. But I wasn’t involved at all in the Province, as I had been made managing partner of one of Kent’s largest law firms. I just had no time for anything other than getting on with the business.
When did your focus change?
In 2004, I stepped down as managing partner. My firm very kindly kept me on as a consultant, and I found the change quite reinvigorating. When you’re responsible for two or three hundred people, you’re not able to do your own thing, because you are looking for consensus. I was able to go off and do things that interested me. I did a lot of lecturing on various legal-related bits and pieces and worked with some small companies.
By 2011, I had ceased to be a consultant and coincidentally received a telephone call asking if I would become Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for East Kent. I’ve never had any grand career plan; if I have been asked to do a job and think I can do it, I’ve done it, simple as that. So that’s really why I’m sitting here now – it was never my ambition.
How did you approach the PGM role?
I went in there entirely cold. I hadn’t been on the executive and knew nothing about how the office ran. But I had run a business. So, I went in there and started asking questions – it was not commercial, and there was a lot that I could bring to it that would make it work better.
I believe strongly that communication is fundamental. Most of the really big errors and some of the biggest claims as a lawyer that I’ve been involved in were avoidable. Things get to where they get to because of poor communication or, indeed, a total lack of it. So, when I started in East Kent in 2011, I supported a communications team.
We don’t tend to know enough about what Freemasons do for a living, but I found that we had web designers, we had people who really understood software and we had people connected with the media and the written word. It meant that when we had the Holy Royal Arch 200-year celebrations in 2013, we were able to interest the media, and ITV came down.
‘When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right’
How have you found becoming President?
You’re in touch with every single aspect of how the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) runs, which is fascinating. I’m trustee of the Library and Museum, I’m on the Grand Master’s Council and I’m involved with the External Relations Committee. All aspects of what’s happening in Grand Lodge are ultimately the responsibility of the Board. It gives you an insight into the entire picture, and very few have that privilege.
When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right. I think in order to get everything joined up, to get alignment, the communication with the Provinces is very important. What goes on outside UGLE is every bit as important as what goes on inside it, so coming from the background I’ve had, I know about what goes on around the country in the Provinces. I’ve dealt with the same problems that other Provinces have experienced; I’ve got some understanding and some sympathy.
What do you mean by alignment?
The biggest thing in terms of what I hope can be achieved is improving alignment. If you ask what Freemasonry is about, it might be expressed entirely differently if it’s in Cornwall, Durham, Carlisle or London, but it should be broadly the same message. This hasn’t necessarily been the case, because everyone’s in their own areas, not always talking to others.
After the Second World War, there was a period when you just didn’t talk about Freemasonry, and people thought that was the norm. That did us no favours at all. You’re always going to have a lot of conspiracy theorists, and if you’re not providing correct information, that’s their oxygen. If they put false accusations in enough newspapers and say it often enough, people will believe it. We have to communicate.
What role does communication play in alignment?
What you do with communications and how you address those people who are talking nonsense is important. If someone publishes a newspaper article that says Freemasons have a lodge in Westminster with many MPs in it, that’s untrue. So challenge it. You do it quietly, but you do it fairly. And you make sure there’s an audit trail. I know the truth is far less exciting, but why don’t we have transparency? Why don’t we have complete openness? Why aren’t we relaxed? Why don’t we encourage the Library and Museum to talk openly about Freemasonry to people who visit us? I think that’s exactly how it should be and how it should develop.
How are you different to your predecessors?
I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve. That’s how it has managed to survive for 300 years. My responsibility as President of the Board of General Purposes is to try to ensure that we stay relevant. It is our job to look at the big picture and the messages we put forward. We’ve got to get our thinking straight at the centre and then consider how to get the messages out there, making sure that all our organs of communication are going down the same lines.
The more we communicate, the better. David Staples is going to be a very good CEO for the organisation, and I think his approach to management has not been seen before at UGLE. But that is how it needs to be in the modern world. If we get the set-up, professionalism and the operation here as good as it can be, it’s the start.
Why should someone become a Freemason?
One of the attractions of Freemasonry is that it actually takes away a lot of insecurity, because it creates stability and has very good support mechanisms. If you think about the world today, a bit of consistency doesn’t go amiss.
If we can get alignment, I think Freemasonry will become more normal, more accepted and more understood. And that’s a good thing. It’s not for everybody; a lot of people don’t like the ceremonial that goes with it, but others do.
I don’t think it’s any accident that those who have been involved in the armed services or organisations that have a certain disciplinary culture find Freemasonry very attractive. I absolutely get that, but we all have different reasons. For me it’s actually about the people. I have met some terrific people along the way, and it’s been my privilege to know them and to spend time with them.
‘I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve’
Where do you want masonry to be in five years?
It’s a big question. I don’t have a burning ambition for massive change, but I do have a goal to improve and evolve. The basics would be that we have good alignment within UGLE, including the Library and Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. They’re separate and independent operations, but they’re both masonic and are golden opportunities for communication with the wider world.
I mentioned relevance before, because if Freemasonry is going to regenerate and be here in another 50 or 100 years, staying relevant will be part and parcel of that journey. Then there’s the way in which we communicate what we’re about – we have to do this in a much better way in order to strengthen our membership. It’s a big ambition, and I’m not sure that it can be achieved in five years, but we can certainly start the process.
We have a fantastic opportunity here. Today is not going to repeat itself tomorrow, or any other time, so we need to make the most of it. I always have the ambition that, every day, something constructive gets done.
The end of mythology
John Hamill looks back to the pivotal moment in 1984 when Freemasonry had to confront its negative image with a policy of openness
Reviewing the many events that took place in our Provinces and Districts during the Tercentenary celebrations, I was struck by the number that included families, friends and members of the public. As the Pro Grand Master said in his review of the year, those events exemplified our membership’s renewed spirit of confidence and its pride in the Craft. It also reveals members’ wish to share that pride with their communities.
To most of the current members, being so visible in their communities last year was something new. However, like many things in Freemasonry, it was a welcome return to the past. Up to the outbreak of the Second World War, Freemasonry was a very visible part of the community. Meetings at national and local levels were freely reported in the national and local press: two weekly masonic newspapers and a monthly magazine were on public sale. Freemasons regularly appeared in public ‘clothed in the badges of the order’ either laying foundation stones of new structures or taking part in civic processions or those celebrating national events. As a result, Freemasons were both known and respected in their local communities.
A MUCH-NEEDED WAKE-UP CALL
During the war, Freemasonry turned in on itself and, with a shortage of newsprint, much social reporting disappeared from the media. After the war, introversion continued and Freemasonry gradually disappeared from the public consciousness. An unwillingness by Grand Lodge to engage with the media when they misreported Freemasonry allowed a mythology to grow. This was greatly helped by the less scrupulous in the world of journalism who knew they could write what they wished about Freemasonry without any fear of an official comeback from Grand Lodge.
The mythology and its effect on Freemasonry came to a head in 1984 with the publication of the late Stephen Knight’s anti-masonic rant, The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Freemasons, which, for the first time in English Freemasonry, brought together the strands of anti-masonry in one volume.
In effect, the book was a wake-up call to English Freemasonry. The lead was taken by the Grand Master, who asked the Board of General Purposes to seek ways of better informing the public as to what Freemasonry is – and its place in society – so that they had good solid information against which they could weigh the nonsense appearing in the media on an almost daily basis. That gave birth to what has become known as the Openness Policy, which the Grand Master has greatly supported since its inception.
AND A CONTINUING EVOLUTION
It has been a long process – a perfect example of the old adage that it takes years to build a good reputation, seconds to lose it and years to rebuild it. I think that future historians will see the events of 1984 and what followed as a watershed moment. Since then, Freemasonry has evolved, and taken a long look at what it is and how it should fit with modern society. Today, it is a relevant and contributing part of our communities, without having changed its basic principles and tenets.
After all the positive media coverage that we received during last year’s celebrations, it was more than sad that a reputable newspaper such as The Guardian should put on the front page a story about Freemasonry that contained three major untruths, which a call to Freemasons’ Hall could have corrected. The story, as we know, led to ‘Enough is Enough’, which is reported on in this issue. As you will see, it was not a one-off project to meet an immediate need, but will be a continuing process led from the centre, with the Provinces, Districts and Metropolitan area all having a crucial role to play.
Plans are in place to provide the tools from the centre to bolster and maintain that pride and confidence that was so evident during the celebrations. Having been involved in ‘openness’ since its inception, I am convinced that what is already in place and what is being developed for the future will change attitudes and the public’s perception of Freemasonry. There will always be a minority that will believe the myths and are not open to their minds being changed, but with time they will become an insignificant minority.
‘Freemasonry has evolved, and taken a long look at what it is and how it should fit with modern society’