Celebrating 300 years

Quarterly Communication

8 March 2017 
An address by VW Bro John Hamill, PGSwdB, Deputy Grand Chancellor and Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Diane Clements: Ninety-nine years ago today, Charles Graham Robertson, a railway clerk from Dorking in Surrey, was fighting with the Royal Fusiliers on the Western Front. He realised that his position was being cut off so he sent two men to get reinforcements while he stayed at his post with one other man and a Lewis gun. He managed to kill 'large numbers of the enemy' but no reinforcements arrived and realising that he was now completely cut off he and his fellow soldier withdrew about ten yards. He stayed there for some considerable further time firing his Lewis gun but was again forced to withdraw. In this new position he climbed on top of a parapet with his comrade, mounted his gun in a shell hole and continued firing at the enemy who were pouring across the top of, and down, an adjacent trench. His comrade was killed and Robertson severely wounded but he managed to crawl back to the British line, bringing his gun with him. He could no longer fire it as he had exhausted all the ammunition. For his initiative and resource and magnificent fighting spirit which prevented the enemy making a more rapid advance, Robertson was awarded the Victoria Cross in April 1918. A few months later, after the end of the First World War, in February 1919, he was initiated in Deanery Lodge No. 3071 in London. He is one of over one hundred and seventy holders of the Victoria Cross who have been identified as freemasons, representing more than 13% of the total recipients.

John Hamill: The Victoria Cross was a product of the Crimea War. In many ways this was one of the first ‘modern wars’, reported from the battle field by newspaper journalists. The media, then as now, liked stories of heroes and villains, and it soon became apparent that there were many heroes but no award available to acknowledge the heroic actions of the ordinary British serviceman. Other European countries already had awards for their armed forces that did not discriminate according to class or rank. In 1856 with increasing public support, Queen Victoria ordered the War Office to strike a new medal which was made open to all ranks. The Victoria Cross is awarded for valour 'in the face of the enemy' to members of the British armed forces and to members of the armed forces of some Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories.

Many have been inspired by the stories of those such as Charles Graham Robertson but holders of the Victoria Cross were often modest men who didn’t make a fuss and many masonic researchers have worked hard to track down their masonic links, including the 2006 Prestonian lecturer, Granville Angell. Diane and I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all those researchers today.

The Victoria Cross was awarded 628 times for action in the First World War. Over 100 recipients have so far been identified as Freemasons of whom sixty-three were members of English Constitution lodges.

As many of you will know this building, now known as Freemasons’ Hall, was formally opened in 1933 as the Masonic Peace Memorial and it was, and is, a memorial to all those Freemasons who died in the First World War. Acknowledging this and as part of the Tercentenary celebrations, the United Grand Lodge is going to have a memorial pavement laid outside the Tower doors with details of all the English Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War. The date we have chosen for the ceremony is 25th April.

DC: On 25th April 1915 a battalion of over 1,000 men from the Lancashire Fusiliers landed on a beach at Gallipoli. During the landing, the men were met by very heavy and effective fire from the Ottoman Empire troops defending the beach and lost over half their number. The survivors, however, rushed up and cut the wire entanglements and managed to gain the cliffs above the beach. Amongst them were Major Cuthbert Bromley, Lance Corporal John Grimshaw, Private William Kenealy, Sergeant Alfred Richards, Sergeant Frank Stubbs and Captain Richard Willis. The courage of these six men was recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross to each of them and the event was hailed in the Press as '6 VCs before breakfast'. Three of these men were Freemasons.

Richard Willis had joined St John and St Paul Lodge No. 349 in Malta in 1901. He retired from the army in 1920 and took on an education role within the RAF before working as a teacher. Cuthbert Bromley, who had been a member of Invicta Lodge No. 2440 since 1909, was wounded during the landing and sustained further wounds over the next two months. He was evacuated to Egypt to recover and in August 1915, whilst returning to the Gallipoli peninsula aboard a troopship, he was killed when the ship was torpedoed. After the war John Grimshaw became a recruiting officer for the army. He joined Llangattock Lodge No. 2547 in 1928. Frank Stubbs died during the landing. William Kenealy was seriously wounded in a later battle on the Gallipoli peninsula and died in June 1915. As a result of a wound sustained in the action Alfred Richards had to have his leg amputated and was discharged from the army as unfit for further service. Despite this he served in the Home Guard during the Second World War.

JMH: Also as part of this year’s Tercentenary celebrations a Masonic Memorial Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire will be unveiled next month on 18th April. Since planting began in 1997, the National Memorial Arboretum has become a special place honouring those who have served, and continue to serve, our nation in many different ways. It’s not a cemetery but covers 150 acres of trees and planting, a peaceful place of remembrance. There are more than 300 dedicated memorials on the site acknowledging the personal sacrifices made by the Armed Forces, the Police, and the Fire and Rescue and Ambulance services. The idea of a Masonic Memorial Garden was the millennium project of a group of Provinces led by Staffordshire. Realising the project was not without its difficulties but, assisted by additional finance from Grand Lodge, has now been fully realised. The garden is entered between two pillars, topped with globes, leading to a squared pavement on which are two large ashlars. The Province of Staffordshire held a service in the garden on Armistice Day last year.

DC: I am sure that many of those here today are familiar with the name of Toye, Kenning and Spencer, one of the country’s oldest companies still in operation and, of course, the manufacturer of masonic regalia and the Tercentenary Jewel. The company also has a long tradition of making military decorations although not the Victoria Cross. It may not be so widely known that the grandfather of W Bro Bryan Toye, Alfred Toye, was awarded the Victoria Cross, at the age of twenty for his actions on the Western Front in March 1918 when he established a post that had been captured by the enemy, fought his way through the enemy with one other officer and six men, led a counterattack and was able to re-establish the line. Continuing his military career after the war, Brigadier Toye, as he became, joined Freemasonry in Grecia Lodge No. 1105 in Egypt in 1930.

Following the Armistice on 11th November 1918 which ended most of the actual fighting, a series of peace treaties were negotiated between the two sides. The Treaty of Versailles with Germany was signed on 28th June 1919 and it was registered by the Secretariat of the newly formed League of Nations in October that year. The First World War had led to the fall of several empires in central and eastern Europe, the first of which was the Russian Empire overthrown in an internal revolution by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 and which led to civil war. Britain and her allies got caught up in this and were forced to send a Relief Force to North Russia in June 1919. Three men were awarded the Victoria Cross during this action. One of them was Royal Navy Commander Claude Dobson who led a motor boat flotilla to the entrance of Kronstadt harbour. In his 55 foot boat he passed through heavy machine gun fire to torpedo a Russian battleship. In 1925 Dobson joined Navy Lodge No. 2612. As the action in which he was involved falls within the period of the First World War and its treaties, he will be included on the memorial.

JMH: Armistice Day in November 1920 was a day of mellow sunshine. It was the second time that the Armistice had been marked but was to be especially significant as it was on that day that the King, George V, unveiled the cenotaph in Whitehall and also the day that the Unknown Warrior was interred in Westminster Abbey. The coffin carrying the Unknown Warrior was carried into the Abbey between two lines of men, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross during the war or otherwise distinguished themselves by special valour. They were known as the 'Bodyguard of Heroes'. Sixteen of this honour guard have been identified as Freemasons.

One of them was Captain Robert Gee who had been a member of Roll Call Lodge No. 2523 in London since 1907. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 30 November 1917 in France when an attack by the enemy captured his brigade headquarters and ammunition dump. Gee, finding himself a prisoner, managed to escape and organised a party of the brigade staff with which he attacked the enemy, closely followed by two companies of infantry. He cleared the locality and established a defensive flank, then finding an enemy machine-gun still in action, with a revolver in each hand he went forward and captured the gun, killing eight of the crew. He was wounded, but would not have his wound dressed until the defence was organised.

One of the names to be marked on a paving stone outside is Eric Archibald McNair, who was initiated in Apollo University Lodge No. 357 in 1913. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at the age of just 21 in 1916. On 14 February 1916 on the Western Front in Belgium, Lieutenant McNair and a number of men were flung into the air when the enemy exploded a mine, several of them were buried. Although much shaken, the Lieutenant at once organised a party with a machine gun to man the near edge of the crater and opened rapid fire on the enemy who were advancing. They were driven back. Lieutenant McNair then ran back for reinforcements, but as the communication trench was blocked he went across open ground under heavy fire. His action undoubtedly saved a critical situation. Sadly Lieutenant McNair did not survive the war but died in August 1918. His name is amongst those included on the Roll of Honour that is been displayed at the Shrine in the vestibule outside the Grand Temple.

It seems fitting that, in this Tercentenary year, the building is adding a further memorial to those that fought in the First World War. It would also be fitting, I believe, to stand for a moment in remembrance of those sixty-three men of valour whose names will be a part of this building for so long as it shall stand.

Published in Speeches

Not to be frowned upon

Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes points to the enjoyment that can be found in masonic ritual

As you are well aware, Freemasons’ Hall is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during World War I. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.

The first is on 18 April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the new Masonic Memorial Garden, built in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country, will be opened.

The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25 April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of Freemasons’ Hall and will take the form of a number of paving stones, with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the military decoration in World War I and who were members of the United Grand Lodge of England. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.

Past and future

Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Denis Beckett. He was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed, Beckett was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987.

Beckett was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War II, in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy – there were those who felt a Victoria Cross would have been more appropriate. We were privileged to have him as a member and particularly in that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for seven years.

‘In the Royal Arch... our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest.’

While it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.

You may have seen that, after my Quarterly Communications address in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past.

It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. While I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves. I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used, which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears, which I always feel refreshes his interest.

Published in UGLE

Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter

9 November 2016 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire.  Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.

This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.

The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.

The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.

Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.

Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.

Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.

Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.

I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.

Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.

Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.

Thank you, companions.

Published in Speeches

Community spirit

When considering a major celebration, we often focus on the nationwide events. Keith Gilbert, Coordinator of Tercentenary Planning, explains  why local activities can mean so much more

The major celebrations for Her Majesty The Queen’s recent 90th birthday are very important for national and individual pride – from the 900 horses and 1,500 participants in the private grounds of Windsor Castle through to the Service of Thanksgiving in St Paul’s Cathedral and the 10,000 attending the Patron’s Lunch in The Mall. But it is at the street parties and the gatherings in local halls and civic centres where the many who have been unable to attend the big central events can celebrate our Sovereign’s wonderful reign, and which individuals will remember in the years to come.

In a similar vein, our Tercentenary celebrations are being held at various levels. Nationally, the Tercentenary will be marked at a meeting to be held on 31 October 2017 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which will be followed by a banquet at Battersea Evolution; arrangements are progressing well. More than 190 Grand Masters from around the world have been invited as our guests, and although many would wish to bring several other brethren from their Constitutions to accompany them at those events, it has been explained that there is great demand for the available places. 

Instead, those other brethren, along with wives and partners, are being invited to a parallel, ticketed event in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, where proceedings at the Royal Albert Hall will be streamed live. This facility will also be offered to the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges.

On 30 September 2017, UGLE will also hold a Grand Ball in Freemasons’ Hall. The Temple will be transformed with an illuminated dance floor, while surrounding rooms will host bars and buffet areas, with food and drinks included in the one price. 

Other events in 2017 include the opening of the Freemasons’ Memorial Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on 18 April; the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Paving Stones at Freemasons’ Hall on 25 April; the classic vehicle rallies across the country between May and July; and a series of organ concerts. 

The global gala

Around the Provinces, Districts and in London, the number of events has now exceeded 100. In India there will be a performance of masonic plays, with a concert and the production of a documentary by the District of Madras, as well as the holding of an Asia Oceanic Conference; there will be a major celebration in East Africa; a meeting of Freemasons in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands; an evening of masonic music in Johannesburg; celebrations in Ghana; and in Rotorua, New Zealand, there will be a meeting of all Grand Lodges in the region. These are but a few of the events in our Districts.

All Provinces have planned at least one event to celebrate the Tercentenary, with some choosing to hold several. Certain activities, such as the refurbishment of part of Bradgate Park near Leicester, supported by Leicestershire and Rutland, will have a lasting legacy. Musical concerts and choir festivals with Freemasons, friends and the community are planned in Truro, Worcester, Kendal, Middlesbrough and Hull. 

Celebratory dinners and balls are to be held in Blackpool, Gorleston, Ipswich, Bushey, Exeter, Bury St Edmunds and Great Yarmouth, as well as on HMS Drake in Portsmouth and at Guildhall in London (to name but a few). Services of Thanksgiving were referred to in the spring edition of Freemasonry Today and there will also be family and fun days at Marwell Zoo, the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, Windsor racecourse, Weston Park, in Wokingham and in Nottingham city centre, and parades will take place in Guernsey and Jersey. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather to give a flavour of the celebrations.

Local celebrations

As with the Queen’s birthday celebrations, however, it is at the local events organised by brethren in their own lodges where many of us will celebrate the creation, 300 years ago, of the first Grand Lodge in the world.

In New Zealand, United Manawatu Lodge, No. 1721, has purchased an adjacent building, the site of the first Baptist church in Palmerston North, to save it from being turned into offices. Built in 1928, the current church structure is one of the few historical buildings left in the city centre and, once refurbished, it will be reopened as a community theatre. Through this project, the lodge is connecting itself and the longevity of English Freemasonry with the preservation of an early historic building. 

Also in New Zealand, Prince of Wales Lodge, No. 1338, has been working on a Roll of Honour comprising all the members who have served their country in times of war. More than 150 brethren, who served in many major and minor conflicts, will be honoured with their names recorded and a recognition of the medals awarded, including the Victoria Cross. 

A suitable board on which to display the Roll of Honour is in preparation and a formal dedication with national and local dignitaries will be held as close as is possible to ANZAC Day – Tuesday, 25 April in 2017. The theme of the ceremony will be the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge and the service of the members of Prince of Wales Lodge over many years. 

Meanwhile, Lodge of Loyalty, No. 358, will be celebrating its bicentenary in 2017. It has chosen to link its own celebrations to the Tercentenary, widening the invitations to produce an event with even greater impact.

Other plans include the enactment of a 1717 ceremony; an old-time musical; Burns celebrations on a greater-than-usual scale; a grand banquet involving members of the Time Immemorial lodges; a celebration of the music of Daniel Purcell, who died in 1717; and a White Table event involving four lodges to be held on 24 June 2017.

The Tercentenary gives us all a chance to reflect on Freemasonry today. It is an opportunity for our lodges to celebrate and consider their position as we look forward to the next 100 years. Likewise, it gives individuals a chance to reflect upon their own part in the development of the Craft, and how they might enjoy their Freemasonry with more of their friends who are yet to see the fellowship we have.

If your lodge is planning a special event to celebrate the Tercentenary, please send details to Keith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Published in UGLE

Bikers rally to masonic memorial gardens

An estimated 10,000 motorcyclists gathered during the annual Ride to the Wall event at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in October, in memory of members of the Armed Services killed in action since the end of World War II. 

Home to ‘The Wall’ – the 43-metre Armed Forces Memorial, constructed from Portland limestone – the Arboretum also encompasses the Freemasons Memorial Garden of Remembrance. Last year more than 60 masons from around the UK, mainly members of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association, gathered there to pay their respects to fallen comrades, friends and relations. 

Published in More News

Gresham goes to Guildhall

Pete Digby of Gresham Lodge, No. 7651, London, has completed a nine-day, 150-mile run from the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to Guildhall Yard in the City of London in support of the Afghanistan Trust

Pete and his teammates Paul Milson and John Vergopolis arrived to cheers from City of London Police Commissioner Adrian Leppard, Sheriff Sir Paul Judge, Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment Lieutenant General Jacko Page, half a dozen Chelsea Pensioners and other well-wishers.  

To make the challenge even more gruelling, there was another ‘team member’ – a 250kg oven called Agatha, which Pete pulled behind him throughout the run.

Pete is a serving officer in the City of London Police, an ex-Parachute Regiment soldier and no stranger to a challenge, having run London Marathons carrying a fridge and a washing machine. 

Thousands of bikers pay their respects to fallen members of the armed services at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The event was held on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan and W Bro David Murphy laid a wreath on behalf of the Brethren of Pegasus Forces Lodge No. 9393, the Parachute Regimental Association, and the British Airborne Forces Club.

Called Ride to the Wall, the event included many bikers with messages such as 'lest we forget' on their leather jackets. Attendees came from across Europe, either as individuals or in groups and chapters from particular organisations.

The riders paid tribute to the war dead in a service of remembrance at the walls of the Armed Forces Memorial in Alrewas, which is engraved with the names of more than 16,000 servicemen and women killed on duty or by terrorist action since the end of the Second World War. They gathered at one of the eight designated start points around the country to ride to the Arboretum, including Drayton Manor.

Organisers estimated about 15,000 people attended and funds raised at the ride will go to the upkeep of the arboretum. £150,000 has been raised since the first ride in 2008.

 

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