Notice posted at Freemasons’ Hall,
Great Queen Street, concerning
its use as an air raid shelter
HRH George, Duke of Kent,
Grand Master 1939 to 1942
At the outbreak of war, the basement of Freemasons’
Hall was scheduled as an air-raid shelter to accommodate
2,500 people in the daytime and 1,000 people at night,
although this number was often exceeded. Members of staff
became volunteer shelter wardens. The Grand Secretary took
a great personal interest in the work, and during the latter part
of 1940 he remained on the premises at night and took his
turn in the shelter warden duties. Miss Haig, his secretary,
and other female members of staff, were responsible for first
aid and running the canteen.
Freemasons’ Hall was lucky to survive without any major
damage during the bombing raids on London. During the
Blitz, at 9.10pm on Saturday, 11 January 1941, bombs fell on
the nearby premises of Lambert and Butler and on Peabody
Buildings. The blast broke all the windows on the Wild Street
side of the building and some on the Wild Court elevation.
The hall was converted into a temporary first aid post for the
injured and homeless. Many other Masonic buildings were
damaged or destroyed by bombs, including the Bristol
Masonic Hall and Hope Street in Liverpool. Other Masonic
meeting places, such as livery company halls in the City of
London, and restaurants, were damaged and many Lodge
records and items of furniture were destroyed.
The UK mainland never suffered Nazi occupation, but in
1940 the Germans occupied the Channel Islands. Against this
background, and with the fall of France in June 1940 and the
Blitz continuing, measures were taken to preserve some of
the most important original Grand Lodge records.
In October 1940, the Grand Secretary wrote to his
opposite number in New South Wales, New Zealand,
Massachusetts and Canada:
“Dear Brother Grand Secretary,
We have considered it desirable to place certain of our original
documents in a place of safety in order to preserve them for posterity.
Should misfortune befall all who are aware of the location, it is
desired that the information be made available to their successors.
It has been decided that a sealed envelope, which is enclosed, be
deposited with four Grand Lodges, of which yours is one, asking them
to preserve it and return, unopened, upon receipt of a letter making the
request, or a cable worded ‘Return Envelope’.
I feel sure that you will not mind doing this service for us.”
The Grand Secretary of Canada in Ontario replied:
“We gladly accept the trust and assure you that your instructions will
be strictly carried out. Let us hope, however, that we will soon receive
an “all clear” cable and that victory will be ours.”
When return of the envelopes was requested on 10 October
1945, the Grand Secretary wrote:
“In those days we were very concerned as to the safety of many of
our historical records and it was a comfort to know that certain papers
were deposited with you.”
In the summer of 1940, Grand Lodge began a scheme of collecting
together Masonic jewels donated by members, which
were then melted down for the war effort. Over £10,000 was
raised by November 1940. A further cheque for £2,500 in
December 1942 was acknowledged in writing by Sir Kingsley
Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, himself a Freemason.
Masonic charities replaced their metal steward’s jewels
with card or plastic versions, which were in some cases
replaced by a metal version once the wartime restrictions
were lifted. Pupils at the Masonic schools donated the money
that would have bought their school prizes to charity.
Threequarters of the beds at the Royal Masonic Hospital
were set aside for the treatment of the armed forces, and by
the end of the war over 8,600 had been treated there. Masonic
charitable donations were also made to other organisations,
including the Red Cross and the St. John’s War Fund.
Web site created by Mark Griffin