Celebrating 300 years

On the  home  front

The sacrifices made by Freemasons during World War I came on every scale, from those fighting overseas and those who remained in England, as Diane Clements explains

By the early 1900s, many lodges met in purpose-built properties and others converted for use as masonic halls. But with the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act allowing the government to commandeer economic resources such as property for the war effort, several of these were requisitioned for military use.

Built in 1911, Wivenhoe Masonic Hall in Essex was requisitioned for an Army School of Instruction and subsequently for a ‘wet canteen’ – a catering facility that served alcohol. The newly built hall at Frinton-on-Sea was requisitioned in 1914 and never returned to masonic ownership. After the war, it became Frinton War Memorial Club and was dedicated to returning ex-servicemen.

On the outbreak of war, Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester immediately gave its hall to Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at its premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the Lodge’. It was, however, able to return to its hall in January 1918, with £100 spent on making it habitable.

In Brighton, several lodges met at the Royal Pavilion. From late 1914, however, this was used firstly as a military hospital for Indian soldiers, then as the Pavilion General Hospital for limbless men. During this time, the lodges had to find alternative meeting places.

In Chelmsford, Springfield Lodge, No. 3183, met in the church hall, and when this was requisitioned in 1917, it had dispensation to meet in the local prison. Other lodges continued to meet in local public buildings or in hotels and inns.

At the beginning of the war, three London lodges were meeting at the prestigious De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment near Blackfriars Bridge. In September 1915, City Livery Lodge, No. 3752, was consecrated and held its first few meetings there. The hotel was run by Sir Polydore de Keyser, originally from Belgium but long established in London, where he had been Lord Mayor in 1887.

As it was popular with overseas businessmen, the Royal Hotel’s fortunes collapsed during the war. In May 1916, it became one of many sites in London requisitioned for use by the War Office, in this case by the Directorate of Military Aeronautics. Meanwhile, the three London lodges all had to find alternative meeting places, with several of them using Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street for at least the remainder of the war. The dispute between the government and the hotel’s owners about compensation later became a noted case in constitutional law.

RAIDS TO THE EAST

On 16 December 1914, the German Navy attacked three seaside towns: Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. The attack resulted in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of whom were civilians. Old Globe Lodge, No. 200, was meeting as usual that evening in Scarborough but its minutes made no mention of the raid. The masonic hall in Hartlepool was slightly damaged during the raid but remained in use.

Towns on the east coast continued to be subject to bombardment and from 1915 were attacked by rigid airships or Zeppelins. Springfield Lodge, No. 3183, in Chelmsford took the precaution of paying three shillings to insure the lodge furniture against damage caused by hostile aircraft.

The heavy air raids could be heard at the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Clapham. During air raids, the girls were summoned down to the basement by the fire bell, taking their blankets and pillows with them. The girls particularly complained about Zeppelin raids on Sunday mornings. The combatants ‘evidently know that on that day we have an extra half-hour in bed, and seem very anxious to deprive us of it,’ wrote one pupil. The school laundry’s windows were guarded with blinds to prevent glass damage but the building was hit by anti-aircraft fire in 1917, with a subsequent claim for damage amounting to £4 18s.

‘By the self-sacrifice… of our people at home quite as much by the great sacrifices… by our gallant soldiers in the trenches’ Viscount Rhondda, Freemason in South Wales and Minister of Food Control, June 1917-July 1918

FOOD RATIONING

At the outbreak of war, Grand Lodge had urged restraint in lodge meetings and in dining arrangements at Festive Boards after lodge meetings. The Grand Master set an example by not wearing evening dress at masonic functions and many lodges began to dine much more simply.

In January 1917, the German government announced its intention to use unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain began to face problems with its food supply and David Alfred Thomas, Viscount Rhondda, an industrialist and Freemason in South Wales, became Minister of Food Control in June 1917. Food rationing was introduced in January 1918, beginning with sugar and then meat. A subsequent Grand Lodge circular to all lodges advocated strict economy in the consumption of food.

As Lord Rhondda explained at the time, the war was going to be won ‘by the self-sacrifice… of our people at home quite as much by the great sacrifices… by our gallant soldiers in the trenches’.

Fraught with fate

Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, considers the impact of the outbreak of World War I on the Craft in England

Britain entered World War I on 4 August 1914. When the Grand Lodge held its regular Quarterly Communications less than a month later on 2 September, French and British armies had delayed the German advance in the south of Belgium, but their success at the first Battle of the Marne was still uncertain. Alfred Robbins, the President of the Board of General Purposes, later described the atmosphere at that meeting as being fraught with fate. ‘Not only for the British Empire and her Allies, but for all that English masons held dear,’ he wrote. ‘Darkness was descending on many a soul.’ 

Disrupted meetings

Calls for lodges to stop meeting were dismissed by the Grand Lodge, but two of them with the closest German links, Pilgrim Lodge, No. 238, and Deutschland Lodge, No. 3315, both ceased to meet for the duration of the war. Members of both lodges had been faced with the provisions of wartime legislation that had given ‘enemy aliens’ a matter of days to leave the country and forced all those remaining to register with the police. The activities of other lodges were disrupted as members, including the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, went to fight or became involved in the conflict. 

By mid-September 1914, Lord Charles Beresford Lodge, No. 2404, based in Chatham in Kent, had all its two hundred and fifty members serving while forty-three of the forty-five members of Alma Lodge, No. 3534, in Hounslow, whose members were drawn from the Royal Fusiliers, rejoined for war service. The lodge meeting scheduled for September 1914 didn’t take place and the lodge members weren’t to meet again until 1918.

Other lodges were forced to move out of their meeting places as buildings across the country were requisitioned. Several London lodges were forced to move from De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment when it was requisitioned for the Military Aeronautics Directorate. The Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester gave its hall to the Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at their premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the lodge’, but it was able to return to its hall in January 1918.

An estimated 200,000 refugees arrived in Britain from Belgium, displaced by the war. The Grand Lodge made an immediate initial donation of £1,000, the equivalent of more than £40,000 today, to the Belgian Relief Fund. The returning refugees were dispersed across the country. Some were sent to Nottingham where they were housed in Chaucer Street properties that had been purchased shortly before the war for the site of a new masonic hall. Funds were regularly raised for them at Provincial meetings until they were repatriated in 1919.

A £1,000 donation was made to the British Red Cross Society, where Sir Arthur Stanley, Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire, Western Division, was chairman of the executive committee. 

A ladies committee is born

With many businesses closing down or reducing their activity at the outbreak of war, there were fewer employment opportunities for single women as servants and secretaries. When the Queen’s Work for Women Fund was established, the Grand Lodge requested that the wife of the Pro Grand Master, Lady Ampthill, form a Ladies Committee to raise contributions for the Fund from the wives and daughters of Freemasons. An impressive £2,001 was raised. This was presented to Queen Mary in March 1915, with the funds divided between several bodies providing training and support for women.

Women soon began to replace men in clerical and manufacturing roles as the war continued, especially after the introduction of conscription in 1916, and the need for the Fund was much reduced.

Many organisations and communities established Rolls of Honour in the early months of the war. These were originally intended to record the names of those who had volunteered, but they also quickly became a record of casualties. The idea of a Masonic Roll of Honour was first considered by the Grand Lodge at its meeting in December 1914, its second meeting after the outbreak of war. 

Documents sent by the Grand Lodge to lodge secretaries asked for the name, military rank and masonic rank of brethren known to have died. The first list appeared in the 1916 Masonic Year Book – it was thirty pages long with five hundred names. 

The Library and Museum has a new, free temporary exhibition called English Freemasonry and the First World War, which opens on Monday, 15 September 2014 and runs until Friday, 15 May 2015. A richly illustrated book to coincide with the exhibition has been published and is available from Letchworth’s Shop at Freemasons’ Hall, priced £15.

Published in Features

The Weymouth-based MV Freedom is a specially adapted boat with full wheelchair access which regularly provides trips to sea for those less able or with learning difficulties, in a safe, enjoyable and comfortable environment. Friends of MV Freedom – a registered charity run on an entirely voluntary basis by its dedicated committee, skipper, crew and supporters – was delighted to receive a donation towards the running and upkeep of their boat. The Master and Charity Steward of the Dorchester-based Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, accompanied by their wives, visited Weymouth Quay earlier this week to present the cheque.

Pictured above is the Master of the Lodge, Terry Bromberg (2nd Right) and the Lodge’s Charity Steward, Roger Bassnett (far right). A cheque for £2,405 was given to Jennie Jackson, chairman of Friends of MV Freedom and her dedicated team of Trustees and volunteers. The money has been raised by members of the Lodge over the past 9 months through donations from the members, raffles, social events, and the profits from a successful ladies' night held at Weymouth Golf Club during Terry’s year in the chair.

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