ISSUE 13, April 2005

The Campbells are coming: At speed!
Travel: Warming to Iceland
Royal Masonic Family: The Six Masonic Sons of George III, Part II
Quarterly Communication: Address of the Pro Grand Master and: Report of the Board of General Purposes
The flying eye hospital
Beamish Museum: The million pound project
  Wigan Grand Lodge: The Liverpool rebels
Chelsea Lodge: That's entertainment
Re-enactment: The way we were and: The Russian connection
Community Service: Weathering the storm
Faith and Freemasonry: God and the Craft
Education: Researching Freemasonry on the Internet and: Masonic events
Freemasons Hall: Masons at War
Grand Charity: Report and grant list and: Support for Asian tsunami
Masonic Charities: Reports from the Masonic charities
Obituaries, Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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All photographs
© Library & Museum of Freemasonry

Sir Sydney A White, Grand Secretary 1937 to 1957

Masons at War

On 19 July 1939, some 12,000 Freemasons were present at an Especial Grand Lodge at Olympia to witness the installation of the new Grand Master, the Duke of Kent, by a Past Grand Master, King George VI, who was also his brother.
    Representatives from many overseas countries were present: Australia, Canada, Finland, the USA, France, Norway, Greece, Denmark and the Netherlands.
    By way of contrast, seven weeks later the Grand Secretary, Sydney White, reported to Russell McLaren, President of the Board of General Purposes, on the low numbers attending the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge held on 6th September:

“Grand Lodge on Wednesday with an attendance of about 20 was not a prolonged business. I think we started about eight minutes to six, as everyone who seemed likely to attend was then present, and we were out about 5 minutes past.”

On 1 September, the German army invaded Poland and on 3 September, Britain declared war. Grand Lodge had been unable to cancel its September meeting, but in a notice dated 1 September, urged members not to attend due to concerns about air raids and enemy attacks.
    Within a year, as Germany took control of much of continental Europe, Freemasonry had been banned in many of the countries which had sent representatives to that July meeting.
    Since the Czech crisis in September 1938, which had taken Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Munich to negotiate with Hitler, there had been a growing public perception in Britain that war was imminent. Rearmament in Britain had begun on a large scale in 1935 to counter Germany’s growing military strength in the air. After September 1938, precautions for the security of the civilian population were increased with the introduction of air raid precautions and the development of procedures for evacuation from large cities.
    Although Freemasonry remained staunchly non-political, the build-up to war was echoed in the Masonic newspapers of the time, such as the Freemason’s Chronicle, which commented in October 1938 shortly after the Munich Agreement, that “the past days have created a state of tense anxiety by the swiftly gathering clouds of war”.
    When war broke out, all Lodge and Chapter meetings were suspended. However, this was relaxed the following month, and meetings were resumed under “special directions”.
    These included giving Masters (or Principals) the power to cancel any regular meeting, even if it had already been summoned, if circumstances appeared to warrant it, or to alter the day or place of a meeting. These special directions largely remained in force until December 1945.
    Another of the special directions concerned proceedings after Lodge meetings, which were to be “brief and simple”. Food rationing was introduced in January 1940 and was not finally ended until 1954. Rationing for clothing was introduced in June 1941 and was only lifted in March 1949.
    Both were to have an impact on Masonic meetings. In 1941, permission was given by Grand Lodge for gloves not to be worn during meetings as they were becoming difficult to obtain and all clothing needed coupons.
    Administrative documents, such as the reports of the proceedings of the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, were also reduced in length as paper became rationed.
    The Library and Museum at Great Queen Street was temporarily closed in September 1939, but soon reopened, although the china and glass were stored in the basement, the pictures, aprons and furniture moved to a mezzanine floor and the silver and jewels were kept in the safe.

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