Cardboard charity jewel
An example of a jewel of a Lodge formed during the war
Library and Museum staff are giving
a series of free afternoon talks at
Freemasons’ Hall in the week of the
anniversary of VE Day. All commence
Monday, 9 May: The Spirit that Sustains:
An Overview of English Freemasonry and
the Second World War, Diane Clements.
Tuesday, 10 May: A Building at War:
Freemasons’ Hall, London 1939-1945,
Wednesday, 11 May: Exiles, Allies and
Victors: Masonic Association 1940-50,
Thursday, 12 May: Doves, Dragons and the
Leafy Idyll: A Study of the Iconography of
Masonic Jewels, 1939–1945, Alison Royle.
Friday, 13th May: From Peace to War:
the material culture of Freemasonry in
the Second World War, Mark Dennis.
However, in 1939, the situation was complicated by the
issue of refugees. The Board of General Purposes put forward
a two-part proposal – the first part mirrored the policy of the
earlier war, seeking voluntary withdrawal. The second part
proposed that brethren of enemy birth might be requested
by the Master of the Lodge to abstain from attending if the
Master was of the opinion that “the presence of such brother
would create discord.”
The Freemason’s Chronicle pointed out that the use of the
term ‘enemy birth’ rather than ‘enemy nationality’ was harsh
and did not allow for the process of naturalisation, and that by
putting the onus on the Master of the Lodge, the
policy was liable to be inconsistently applied.
This issue caused considerable debate and was amended
to read: “No Brother being a national of any state with
which Great Britain is at war shall attend or be admitted
to any Masonic Meeting held under the English Constitution.”
Many Czech Freemasons fled to London, where
they established the Czech Grand Lodge-in-Exile.
This consecrated a new Lodge, Comenius-in-Exile,
which met at the Café Royal from 1942 until its return
to Prague in 1947. Other foreign troops visited or
joined English Lodges. As early as August 1940, New
Zealand Lodge No 5175 included 80 members of the
New Zealand armed forces among its membership.
During the later stages of the war, after the Allied landings
in Italy and following D-Day in June 1944, Freemasons started
to form Masonic clubs or societies in towns across Europe
where they were stationed. The clubs were informal, unofficial gatherings, but were not discouraged by the members’
Grand Lodges, as they embodied the principle of fraternity.
Membership of the clubs was often short-lived, reflecting
the fact that they were run by men on active service.
As the clubs were informal Masonic gatherings, no ritual
was performed or members initiated. Time was spent
discussing Freemasonry, listening to lectures and raising
money for local and Masonic charities. Two examples were
the Friday Night Club for Freemasons stationed in Cairo,
and the Tyre-Rhenian Masonic Club in Italy.
Other ‘Masonic’ meetings (usually Lodges of Instruction)
were held in prisoner-of-war camps in Europe and the Far
East, and the working tools and archives of these meetings
remain poignant reminders of Freemasonry under duress.
The war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. Fighting
continued in the Far East until August, and wartime conditions
persisted for even longer – food rationing continued until
1954, with Grand Lodge proceedings in September 1946
and afterwards recording the “many offers of gifts of food
parcels... received from different parts of the world”.
Clothes rationing ended in 1949 and Grand Lodge
hoped that “dark suits, black shoes and ties, and white
collars will become the general wear in Masonic clothing”.
The wearing of white gloves continued to be left to the
discretion of the Master.
After the war, Lodges were asked to document their wartime
experiences and list members who had served or been killed,
with the view to producing a Book of Remembrance to mirror
that produced after the 1914-18 war. However, only about half
the Lodges replied, and this material was later used as the basis
for an incomplete Roll of Honour produced by Keith Flynn.
When the United Grand Lodge of England met for its
regular quarterly meeting on 6 June 1945, a month after the
end of the war in Europe, tribute was paid to the Masonic
Lodges which had continued to carry out their duties in spite
of the difficulties and dangers of the war. “Freemasonry has
meant much to its members during the past five and a half
years” said George Emmerson, the President of the Board,
“it is hoped that the spirit which has sustained them will
Many Lodge histories include fascinating references
to the wartime experiences of the members.
Keith Flynn, Freemasons at War, 1991
Keith Flynn, Behind the Wire: an account of Masonic
activity by prisoners of war, 1998
Web site created by Mark Griffin