The Rev Neville Barker Cryer points out that history often excludes the influence of Freemasonry
In my Volume of the Sacred Law there is a saying of which I have been recently reminded by events: a well-known teacher is explaining to his followers that if they are people of integrity then they should be a light to the world and not hide their light under a cover. There were two things that happened to me lately that made me think more carefully about that.
There was a time in the past when I was so busy with my ‘daily avocation’ and my many involvements in Freemasonry that brethren would ask me, ‘How did you have any time to have five children?’ I appreciate why they asked because it must have seemed that my engagements prevented my doing any of the things that most normal beings get involved in. In the light of my present writing, reading and speaking activities it may seem surprising that I can sit down long enough to watch television programmes, but I do.
The other evening I found myself fascinated by a programme about the life of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Having had to withdraw from a planned tour of East Germany because of health reasons three years ago, it was rewarding to see inside his palaces, to learn about his musical accomplishments, his well-known army reforms and his friendship with such Enlightenment figures as Voltaire.
The programme sought to give a comprehensive view of the king’s interests and I was waiting for some recognition of the king’s close involvement with Freemasonry, an activity which he shared with his French guest. There was not a whisper of that and yet if you are going to applaud the Enlightenment views of Frederick the Great, then an involvement with Freemasonry at that time was no small part of that interest. It was not him, but the makers of the programme, who were hiding his light under a bushel.
I thought the same was true when I later watched the film, ‘The King’s Speech’. Learning how it had been the presence of either critics or people who were unknown to him that brought on his speech impediment, what, I wondered, would have been His Majesty’s state of mind when he was in his lodge or addressing those in Grand Lodge? Would he then have been much less anxious when he was among friends? Of course, we were not given the chance to know for his light in this brotherhood was hidden from view. I wonder if there is a mason still alive who could tell us about that?
What, at least, I am trying to say on this occasion is that whilst in some respects we masons may need to be modest about our activities, there are also times when perhaps our contribution both in the past and the present ought not to be so hidden. Our contribution to society’s well-being ought to be noted.
On the other hand perhaps our past inclination to keep our presence under wraps has been the case for far too long and has spread too widely. I heard only the other day that an assistant provincial ruler was due to visit lodge premises in a town with which he was unfamiliar. Not knowing where exactly to go, he parked his car in the main street and approached a group of young men who were chatting nearby.
‘Excuse me’, he said. ‘Do you know where the local Masonic Hall is?’ ‘Yes,’ said one of the young men, ‘I do’. ‘Then could you kindly show me the way?’ said the visitor. ‘I can’t’, said the young man, ‘it’s a secret.’
Even if these words were meant to be a subtle hint of mockery we still have a lot of our past imagery to live down or we have hidden away our light for far too long.
There is no mention of Freemasonry in the Oscar-winning film about King George VI. Paul Hooley puts us right
The King’s Speech has been critically acclaimed as one of the finest motion pictures of recent years and has renewed the public’s interest in, and aff ection for, King George VI, who reigned from 1936 to 1952.
The film, which chronicles the constitutional crisis created by Edward VIII’s abdication and George’s struggle to overcome his pronounced stammer, focuses on the moving relationship between the King and speech therapist Lionel Logue, which had such a happy ending.
What the film does not mention, however, is that both men were members of the Craft; or that the King believed Freemasonry had also helped him overcome his disability – which rarely surfaced whenever he performed masonic ritual. Logue, who had been the Master of St George’s Lodge, Western Australia, was also speech therapist to the Royal Masonic School.
KING GEORGE'S LOVE OF FREEMASONRY
Following service with the Royal Navy in the First World War, he was initiated in December 1919 into Navy Lodge, No. 2612, of which his grandfather King Edward VII had been founding Master. On that occasion he noted: ‘I have always wished to become a Freemason, but owing to the war I have had no opportunity before this of joining the Craft’. From that moment he became a most dedicated and active Freemason. He was invested as Duke of York in 1920 and the following year installed as permanent Master of Navy Lodge. He joined other lodges and degrees and was appointed Senior Grand Warden of the United Grand Lodge in 1923.
George V died in January 1936 and was succeeded by his eldest son Edward, who had been initiated (also in 1919) into the Household Brigade Lodge, No. 2614. But before the year was out Edward had abdicated. Of the moment of change King George VI wrote, ‘On entering the room I bowed to him as King… when [he] and I said goodbye we kissed, parted as Freemasons and he bowed to me as his King.’
Protocol required George to resign his masonic affiliations, however when it was suggested a new position of Past Grand Master be created especially for him, he immediately accepted, declaring, ‘Today the pinnacle of my masonic life has been reached.’
THE VICTORY STAMPS
After the Second World War, King George wrote that ‘Freemasonry has been one of the strongest influences on my life’ and in collaboration with engraver Reynolds Stone helped create a postage stamp, part of the ‘1946 Victory Issue,’ which is filled with masonic symbolism.
The 3d Victory Stamp was widely praised for the ‘strength and simplicity of the design’. It depicts the King’s head in the East, his eyes firmly fixed on illustrations of a dove carrying an olive branch (representing peace and guidance), the square and compasses (in the second degree configuration) and a trowel and bricks (the sign of a Master spreading the cement that binds mankind in brotherly love).
On the stamp the images appear in white, the colour of purity, out of purple, the colour of divinity. the three coupled illustrations are surrounded by a scrolled ribbon made up of five figure threes – sacred numbers in Freemasonry – and was the unusual positioning of the wording meant to represent two great pillars? By its name and intention, the stamp proclaimed victory over evil, yet by its appearance it expressed compassion and hope.
King George VI once stated, ‘ the world today does require spiritual and moral regeneration. I have no doubt, after many years as a member of our Order, that Freemasonry can play a most important part in this vital need.’
The Victory Stamp captured those words in a graphic representation that also expressed the King’s belief that the building of a new and better world could best be achieved by adhering to the principles of the square and compasses.
He reinforced those thoughts in 1948 in an address he gave to Grand Lodge: ‘I believe that a determination to maintain the values which have been the rock upon which the masonic structure has stood firm against the storms of the past is the only policy which can be pursued in the future. I think that warning needs emphasising today, when men, sometimes swayed by sentimentality or an indiscriminate tolerance, are apt to overlook the lessons of the past. I cannot better impress this upon you than by quoting from the book on which we have all taken our masonic obligations: “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set".