THE IMPACT OF WORLD WAR I ON THE CRAFT
LECTURE BY WOR. BRO. JOHN MORRISON
I was interested in how the First World War affected masonry and I managed to find some information on line, which I found very interesting; and also a very interesting connection to the Shorncliffe Lodge 4330, that I now visit here in Kent.
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. 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.’
Freemasonry in England found itself in an unparalleled position. Freemasonry was then and remains today non-political, and the discussion of politics at Masonic meetings was and still is forbidden, but 106 years ago the United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body for freemasonry in England and Wales, had to contend with the impact of a global war.
A “Clearance Certificate” in the form of a card that could be carried by sailors and soldiers when on active service was produced with the approval of the MW Grand Master. This was not available for use within the United Kingdom and had to be returned to the Secretary of the Lodge “as soon as possible after Peace has been declared”.
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, 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 and several London lodges were forced to move.
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 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.
The War caught Freemasonry by surprise. In 1913, an understanding existed between the Masons of England and Germany that received "great impetus" by the visit of Lord Ampthill, Pro Grand Master of England, and a delegation of Grand Lodge officers, to the German Grand Lodges at Berlin. The visitors were most hospitably received and entertained, and pledges of fraternal affection were made. Lord Ampthill was elected honorary Grand Master of the German Grand Lodges. In 1915, Lord Ampthill resigned his station "to be with his troops in the trenches in France.
Loyalty of German Masons to Kaiser Wilhelm II (who was not a Mason) was abundantly shown that year at various festival communications, marking the 25th anniversary of his reign. A grand orator, speaking at a joint Festival lodge meeting in Berlin; in January, said:
"The celebration of this festival fills our hearts with thanks that we live in peace, feeling assured that wise counsel guides our destiny and leads us to enjoy happiness and contentment, and permits full enjoyment of our pleasure.
In 1914, the (American) Masonic Standard had this to say about German Masonry:
"German Masonry stands very high in our estimation. The German brethren are philosophers and give to their Masonry a dignity and seriousness we well might imitate. German Masonry is more exclusive than in this country, and devotes its energies largely to education and philanthropy.
In contrast the German Masonic writers countered:
International Masonry is dead, and notwithstanding efforts to the contrary, will remain dead. Let us, therefore, be German Freemasons and work in our own way. We will have nothing more to do with inter national relations...we will have no more official relations. Long live German Freemasonry. Down with international fanaticism! It has deceived the world long enough….
All seven German grand lodges severed ties with those of hostile nations. Despite this action, representatives of German Grand Lodges were received at the annual communications of the Grand Lodges of New Jersey and New York less than a month after the United States entered the War. Grand lodges in the United States were saddened by this action, believing the German brethren had abandoned their Masonic senses.
Despite its horrors, World War I has been called the last ‘gentleman’s war’ because of the way in which it was conducted and the honorable treatment accorded to prisoners of war. We have all heard of the unofficial Christmas truces in the trenches when troops from both sides met in no-man’s land to play football together. There are also examples of masonic activity continuing in prisoner-of-war camps with the passive agreement of the enemy.
The Grand Secretary must have been very surprised when, on 18 December 1914, he received a letter through the post signed by one hundred and twelve brethren who were civilians interned in a camp near Berlin, sending Christmas wishes to the Grand Master and Grand Lodge. When read aloud in Grand Lodge, their letter led to immediate calls for a fund to be raised by which food and comforts could be bought and sent to them, an act of mercy that the German authorities allowed to continue for the rest of the war.
Under the terms of the Hague Convention, service personnel who fell into German hands were encamped in neutral Holland. Among them were many Freemasons. With the agreement of the German authorities, the Grand East of the Netherlands consecrated two lodges – Gastvrijheid at Groningen and Willem van Oranje at the Hague.
A Masonic medal was designed to commemorate all Masons that served in the Great war. This was in the form of a cross, symbolizing Sacrifice, with a perfect square at the four ends, on the left and right, squares being the dates 1914-1918, the years in which the supreme sacrifice was made. Between these is a winged figure of Peace presenting the representation of a Temple with special Masonic allusion in the Pillars, Porch and Steps. The medal is suspended by the Square and Compasses, attached to a ribbon, the whole thus symbolizing the Craft’s gift of a Temple in memory of those Brethren who gave all for King and Country, Peace and Victory, Liberty and Brotherhood”. Today, there are no active Freemason’s still entitled to wear one, however, these jewels survive as a testament to those Freemasons who fought in WW1.
After the War ended and following a suggestion from the then Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught & Strathearn, Grand Lodge decided to build new headquarters in London to replace the one from 1776, as a memorial to the many Brethren who had given their lives during the War.
Building work on the Masonic Peace Memorial, as it was at first called – later to become known as Freemasons’ Hall – commenced in 1927 and was completed in 1933 when the Hall was dedicated. At the June 1938 Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge the Special Committee presented its final report recording that the building had been handed over to the Board of General Purposes free from debt and well over one million pounds had been subscribed to the fund.
The current building, the third on this site, was built between 1927 and 1933 in the art deco style to the designs of architects Henry Victor Ashley and F. Winton Newman as a memorial to the 3,225 Freemasons who died on active service in World War I.
The web site “the Masonic Roll of Honour” (English Constitution):
This site has been produced to provide a searchable database purely on Freemasons who took part in and died in the course of their duty during times of national conflict. Whilst the site is based only around Freemasons, it recognises the supreme sacrifice of all British, Commonwealth and Allied troops who lost their lives in the pursuit of a greater good.
"...They died that we might live..."
This database is primarily taken from and based on the 1921 Book, The Masonic Roll of Honour 1914 - 1918, which was commissioned by the United Grand Lodge of England and distributed out circa Sept. 1921, and further from a Scroll which is today housed in the Shrine at the Peace Memorial, Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street which was completed by 1940.
As it stands today, there are 4024 names recorded against this database.
On looking at this site, I found a record of a brother who was a member of the Shorncliffe Lodge 4330 that I now visit here in Folkestone. His name was Edward De Salis and interestingly, he not only served in WW1, but he was also a recipient of the Mons Star.