30th May 2018

Freemasonry and the Military

Turning to the first part and military history through the period, the Army is pivotal, as its development during the 2 centuries, had the greatest part to play in the expansion of British Freemasonry.  While the Royal Navy was at the heart of the creation of the Empire Freemasonry was far less significant in this Service.

The turn of the 18th century saw the re-establishment of a standing Army after the nation almost disbanded land forces post the English Civil War.  An insurgency at home caused a rapid reversal of the policy of parliament that resulted in the formation of the Life, Foot and Dragoon guards who were utterly loyal to the monarch.

The war of the Spanish Succession (1702 – 13) saw the first real test abroad of the post civil war Army.   The rise of John Churchill to become the Duke of Marlborough and his four great victories of Blenheim, Ramilies, Oudenard and Malplaquet established the British Army as a major fighting force in Europe.  The expansion of British interests in its fledgling colonies also became a major focus for military activity.   America, India and the West Indies began to call for garrisons of substantial troops.  The Army therefore began to shape itself around continental and colonial commitments.  The continental army fought along side coalition partners and both Marlborough in Europe and Wellington in the Peninsula 100 years later, commanded more foreign formations than British ones.   Both elements of the Army found themselves involved in the Seven Years war that had European, North American and Indian theatres of operation.  A distinction must be made between this Army and the home force of the militia, fencible regiments and yeomanry.   For the most part the home force focussed on policing type duties, counter insurgency tasks, and assisting revenue officers in preventing smuggling on the coast.  They did not serve overseas indeed, there were laws throughout the period that expressly forbad it.

It is interesting to note that the reverse was not true, during the war of Austrian succession (1740 – 48) some British forces had to return from Europe to deal with the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.   The Seven Years War (1756 – 63) is one worth dwelling on due to its imperial importance with the resultant expansion of British interests in Canada, India and the West Indies.  This war saw the victories of Clive in India, and Wolfe, who in storming the heights of Abraham, gained Quebec from the French.  The post war treaty saw transfer of St Lucia, Grenada and Florida to British territories in West Indies.

11 years after the Seven Years War, the British Army found itself embroiled in the American War of Independence culminated in the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown. This defeat significantly dented the confidence of both the Nation and its Army.

Cornwallis moved to India and regained his reputation by effectively replacing the Mughal emperors with British rule and established a legal and governmental system that was to survive until 1947.   His period of governance ended in 1793 when he handed over to one Lord Arthur Wellesley who was to learn the art of campaigning by securing the Southern part of India in battles such as Seringapatam.    He mastered his trade, as we know from the successful Peninsula campaign of the Napoleonic Wars followed by his last and greatest victory at Waterloo.

Throughout the 19th Century the Army continued to expand the existing colonies but if the previous century had India as its focus of expansion then it could be argued that Africa became the growth continent in this one.   South Africa, North and South Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Kenya, Egypt and the Sudan spring to mind.  The century ended with the Zulu and Boer Wars and it was during the latter that an ominous indication was given of the nature of war through modern weaponry and the attrition that it would inflict in the Great War.

Returning to Europe, one campaign was destined to change the Army forever.  The Crimean War attracted great criticism and the culprits were seen as the incompetence of Lord Raglan, his commanders and an inept staff, set against the extreme gallantry of the troops.   A top to bottom reform of the Army was called that resulted under Edward Cardwell the Secretary of State for War who, in 1868 unleashed a profound series of reforms.

A final word on the structure of the Army over the 200 years of interest is necessary as it was the regimental system that formed the basis for the formation of military Masonic lodges.  At the time of Marlborough regiments carried the name of their Colonels such as the Green and Buff Howard’s.  This caused huge confusion particularly if the name of the Colonel changed in battle as it often did.   Colonels regarded their regiments almost as private property and commissions were purchased, as were promotions until the Cardwell reforms after the Crimea.  The exception to the practice of naming regiments, were the Life, Foot and Dragoon Guards formed in the late 17th century who were ranked in order of precedence (1st 2nd etc).   The Foot guards were named much later as they are today Coldstream, Grenadiers and latterly Scots and Irish.  At this time another famous regiment of mercenaries was loaned to Britain by the Swedish King Gustav Adolphus, Le Regiment Hebron, and never returned.  They became First, The Royal or Scots Regiment.

From 1751 all regiments were ranked in order of precedence 1st, 2nd to the 103rd of foot.  This was also applied to the Cavalry, the artillery whilst the militia and fencible regiments were called after the county they were based.   Cardwell changed this and set up a structure that focused on the county regiment of one or more regular battalions and a home only service battalion formerly the militia.

Origins of The Circuit of Service Lodges

The idea of forming an association to which military Lodges could belong, so as to encourage inter-visiting and expand the individual member’s experience of Freemasonry in a congenial and familiar environment was first discussed by three Welshmen following a particularly good dinner with the FitzRoy Lodge many years ago. Hywel Thomas, of Certa Cito, had visited the Public School Lodges Council Festival, where representatives of 32 Lodges gathered at one of their old schools on a summer’s day, and was keen to get an equivalent party going for his many military friends. He discussed this with Vernon Rees of Ubique and Jeremy Havard of FitzRoy, both of whom were in their cups by that stage and who may have murmured approval of the concept as an alternative to buying the next round.

That was all the encouragement Hywel needed to bring to bear his considerable organisational skills and energy on to the subject. He immediately sounded out Sir James Stubbs, the former Grand Secretary and a founder of Certa Cito, who offered some excellent advice. He then trawled through the Masonic yearbook looking for military Lodges and telephoning their secretaries to ask if they were ‘closed’ to civilians! Many Lodges with proud military names (Grenadiers, Royal Scots) are no longer in any sense military and the number who are in any way exclusive is really quite small, but Hywel was not deterred by such details. The other two Welshmen found themselves insinuated into the plans by his sheer tenacity and St Eligius joined the trio to make the fourth and final founding Lodge.

In no time at all he had organised a committee and recruited both Navy Lodge and Royal Air Force Lodge to the undertaking, thus achieving the original intention of making the Circuit a tri-service affair. That done and he went off to see a FitzRoy man, Sir Colin Cole, who was a retired Garter Principal King-at-Arms, to discuss an emblem for the notepaper. Edward Baillieu was asked to become President of the Circuit. He had had a distinguished war record with the Royal Horse Artillery. Further member Lodges were sought, with an approach being considered to the ‘Builders of the Silent Cities’ Lodge, of which Kipling was a founder and was originally the Lodge for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

At about that time there was a wonderful Prestonian Lecturer, Freddie Smyth (since OSM) whose lecture “The Master Mason at Arms” explored how military Lodges had spread the Craft throughout the world. This lecture was delivered brilliantly in several of our Lodges and enabled awareness of the Circuit (as it was by then known) to spread.

Three further lodges joined the Circuit, Rosemary Lodge. No 2851, originally the lodge of the Artists Rifles and later drawing its membership from Special Forces, Pegasus Forces Lodge, No 9393, an Airborne Forces lodge based in Hampshire and Brothers in Arms, No 9540, a lodge based on Salisbury Plain. The list of member lodges reached ten with the addition of United Services Lodge, No 9605, based in Bridgend, South Wales and since then the Circuit has grown to thirty seven. Victoria Rifles Lodge, No 822, was rescued when on the point of handing in its warrant by a group of Past Masters from military Lodges. It has since been recognised as an Installed Masters’ Lodge and is a genuinely all-service forum in which the members and their guests spend time in perfect peace and harmony. The more recent additions are White Ensign Lodge on the outskirts of Birmingham; In Arduis Fidelis, members of which are from the RAMC and Army Medical Services; Gostling Murray Lodge, named after Lt Col Gostling Murray who at the time commanded the 8th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps (in 1912 the Lodge became ‘open’ to officers of any Branch of His Majesty’s forces); Aldershot Army & Navy Lodge; East Lancashire Centurion Lodge; United Service Lodge of Derbyshire, Queensman Lodge, which took on the warrant of Justinian Lodge in May 2012, the newly formed Armed Forces Lodge in Newport, Gwent, Connaught Army & Navy Lodge, Comrades Lodge from London, the Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria, London Irish Rifles’ Lodge, the new Combined Services Lodge in Berkshire, Aldershot Royal Engineers, Parachute Regiment Lodge, Middlesex Armed Forces Lodge, Bloomsbury Rifles, Pro Patria Lodge, Invictus and London Scottish Rifles who joined in May 2018. More recently the addition of several new United/Combined Services Lodges that have been recently consecrated in various Provinces and Royal Engineers and Royal Naval Lodges in London brings the total number of member lodges of the Circuit to 52.

Today, the Circuit is in a state of flux. Whoever it was who said that ours is a dynamic existence, where lack of progress effectively means regression, was not far from the mark. Our Constitution has been changed to facilitate the further development of its original aim: namely to build an organisation for masons who had served in the Armed Forces to meet together. The Circuit hopes to encourage other Lodges to join, those who have a clear service orientation but whose membership is not necessarily without “a cuckoo in the nest” as was originally required. Additionally, the Circuit now seeks to encourage individual membership from Masons, from the English, Irish, Scottish and other recognised Constitutions, who have similar backgrounds and interests. Who knows, we might even find some US Service personnel and they, too, would be made most welcome – as would the Portuguese, our oldest allies!