Food For Thought
Military and Freemasonry then

A Question raised by 'Khaki' and answered by "Lieut-Colonel" in a Blog on the Great War-

Q: Did Masonry raise battalions in WW1?

A: "Having spent many many hours at the library and museum of freemasonry at Great Queens Street researching freemasonry in the  Great War perhaps I can assist.
I have never heard of them recruiting or raising battalions...."

"I have found no evidence of this."

Q: They are a rather 'private' organisation I would think it unlikely that they would go public.
A: "It may surprise you how open and public they now are. Non-Masons are welcome to research in their archives."

Q: I have been told that there were Masonic Lodges that held meetings while on active service.
A: Almost true, Masonic gatherings were held overseas especially the New Zealand freemasons who had a France & Flanders masonic  association as well as a Palestine association during the war. In addition masonic meetings were held in POW camps.

New Zealand Troops formed 2 Masonic Associations in theatres of war.
The first was the NZEF Masonic Association in France created by Col. George Barclay.  This group was very active around the  South Coast of England and Freemason soldiers were encouraged to join and also visit local lodges.  Approximately 1500 men  joined the association.  There is a jewel created and was worn by members.  This jewel was in three grades Metal, Silver Gilt,  and Gold.
There is a jewel in the collection of a Lodge in Torquay, the other in in the collection of the United Grand Lodge of England  in London.  I am aware of some 450 men who purchased the jewels.
The other Association was formed in Egypt and Palestine.  This group was much smaller as the troops were in constant action  against the Turks and Germans.  This group styled itself as the NZEF Masonic Association in Egypt and Palestine.  It had about  116 members and held meetings in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine.  It was created by Brig-Gen William Meldrum O.C. NZ Mtd  Division.  This group held a meeting of Freemasons in the temple of  the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on the 6th April 1918.   Thirtyone Freemasons representing 27 Lodges were present.  The event was later commemorated by a photograph taken outside the  Temple.  One of t he men in the photo was reputed to be the Sheik in charge of the temple. Himself a Freemason.
A jewel was created and carved in mother of Pearl shell. Fiftyone were manufactured and sold to members.  I have traced the  location of 10 of these jewels.  Of the 51 men present I have identified  about 1/3rd of them.
Two books have been published about this particular meeting  "The Fulfilled Promise" by Eli Minoff and Keith Stockley  published 2007. The second book titled The Brig. by Gordon Sylvester published May 2013
Both Jewels are seen in some Lodge Collections in New Zealand the Dome Jewel is possibly one of the rarest jewels in the world  of Freemasonry
The Brig is both a record of those events prior to and at the meeting as well as a Family History about William and a history  of his lodge as well as the Mounted Rifles Squadron he was instrumental in forming before he became O.C. Wellington Mounted  Rifles.
William (Bill) went to Egypt, fought at Gallipoli and all through the Egypt and Palestine campaigns. He was briefly in command  of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade, and was later promoted as OC New Zealand Mounted Division.
Barclay reported there Freemasons in Mesopotamia.  But there are no records to substantiate this comment . (The Blogger's avatar is Lance-Corporal)

New Zealand created two Masonic Associations during WW1.
The NZEF Masonic Association  In France.  Based in Southern England and NZEF Masonic Association in Egypt and Palestine.
The first group are still in existence in New Zealand and created its own Masonic jewels for both conflicts.
The second association was created separately in the Middle East and was never associated with the former association.  The  English Association claim to have had a Branch in Mesopotamia but has never been actually confirmed.
The membership roll of the France Association claims some 1400 members
Whereas the Egypt and Palestine Group claimed 115 members  Only one man a Chaplain claimed membership of both associations.
I have details of most of the men associated with both associations and the lodges they were members of.
Meetings were held in the field.  And one meeting was actually held in the Tomb of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem 16 April  1918. at which 31 Freemasons  were present.
The KOH Lodge is still in existence but was created prior to WW1 in fact during and towards the end of the Anglo-Boer War. - (The Blogger's avatar is Coastie 68 - A New Zealand Freemason.)
The pre-war regular army was not averse to Lodges in ..... or near .... its midst.
Photos of mixed ranks in army uniform with masonic regalia on top are not that rare, which I find surprising. (The Blogger's avatar is Lieut-Colonel)
Navy rather than army, but on a tour of Britannia Royal Naval College last year we were told that the chapel there was  originally designed so that it oculd be used as a Masonic Temple as well, but shortly after the college opened there was some  sort of Admiralty edict that meant the civilian staff of the colelge wouldn't have been able to be in the same lodge as the  serving officers.  The masons didn't feel that this was in keeping with the spirit of equality, and so in the end the chapel  was never used as such. (The Blogger's avatar is Brigadier-General)

Avatar johnboy asks a question which is answered by avatar Lieut-colonel

Q: Would I be right in thinking that entry to the Masons was restricted to those of the rank of corporal and above?
A: Far from it. A significant percentage of freemasons who died were of other rank with the rank of Private accounting for over  22%
I have done a breakdown of my copy of the casualties listed in the "Masonic Roll Of Honour 1914 - 1918" (Published by  Freemasons' Hall, London,1921). This shows:

Un-commissioned ranks
Private:            471 (22.12%)
L' Corp: 36 ( 1.67%)
Corp:              93 ( 4.33%)
Sgt:            201 ( 9.36%)

Commissioned ranks
2'Lt:             240 (11.17%)
Lt: 475 (22.12%)
Capt:             417 (19.42%)
MAJ:             140 ( 6.52%)
Lt Col:              61 ( 2.84%)
Col:                9 ( 0.41%)

Whilst I appreciate that this book does not list all Great War fatal casualties who were freemasons; it does give a fair  assessment of the breakdown according to rank of those freemasons who died.


NZ Masonic Expeditionary force
by Gordon Sylvester

Depending on what you wish to read Freemasonry has been in existence for several hundreds of years.  The military has been  attracted to the organization since the early 1700’s.  Forming lodges with travelling charters.  Quite a few of these were in  the US and later in India and possibly in New Zealand.  All of them originated from Irish or Scottish Lodges.
During the both World Wars freemasons and freemasonry was practiced in the field on both sides and no doubt in the internment  camps by prisoners and possibly their guards.  There is an occasional demonstration of a Masonic Working in a German POW Camp  as part of ANZAC Day Remembrances.

New Zealand created two groups of Freemasons.  One based in England and France the other in Sinai and Palestine.   The England  France group had no connection with the other.  But apparently did exchange fraternal greetings with each other.  Any  Freemason travelling to England for convalescence or for leave would probably made contact with a Lodge in England to keep up  his contacts.  Both groups used the term New Zealand Expeditionary Force Masonic Association.  The Egyptian group used the  additional of “in Sinai and Palestine”.  The Sinai and Palestine did not have a travelling charter and met informally but used  the traditions usually found in the Lodge structure.

The NZMR conducted meetings of Freemasons in sand dunes YMCA tents and Mess Huts where ever available.  A look at the list  below shows that there were several men belonging to the same lodge.  This will have been the first line of the contacts.  The  next line was the use of recognition signs and words.  And the introduction of other freemasons through mutual acquaintances  and fellow soldiers.

Any one travelling overseas would not have carried any of their Lodge regalia.  But they may have carried their ritual books  to keep up their skills for their return to their home lodge.

Recognition “signals” would have been given and received resulting in small groups congregating together.  This obviously led  to a discussion that eventually led to the formation of the NZEF Masonic Association in Sinai and Palestine.
Both groups created their own jewels and were worn in Lodge meetings .  There is still a NZEF Masonic Association in  existence.  In all there are three “jewels” relating to both World Wars.  The  1st World war has two jewels.  The second has  only one jewel.  

While I am not going to go into the history of these groups.  It is covered in more detail in an appropriate forum.  The men  however involved make an interesting aspect of the conflict.

Freemasonry in WW1

We have just celebrated ANZAC day, and remembered the supreme sacrifice that so many of New Zealand and Australia's youth  made, in the forging of our national identity.

However, where ANZAC day specifically remembers the Gallipoli campaign, it only began the process of New Zealand stamping our  identity in the world. New Zealand through the competence of our soldiers, and the leadership, professionalism, and compassion of our Generals such  as Andrew Russell left a legacy for all kiwis to follow.
New Zealand Freemasonry also led the world, as the newspaper report taken from the North Otago Times, printed on the right,  shows.

Information extracted from a blog and printed in this Food for Thought further shows how it was New Zealand Freemasonry  that led the way by forming two Masonic Associations in theatres of war. To quote:

“... Masonic gatherings were held overseas especially the New Zealand freemasons who had a France & Flanders masonic  association as well as a Palestine association during the war.”

These were days when our New Zealand brethren led the world. A fact we should remember with pride at this time.

                                                             John Barns Graham

The Shrine of the Dome of the Rock is the only known photograph taken of the one and only meeting ever held in the Moslem  Shrine in Jerusalem.  This in itself is an interesting paradox about how this happened.  The city of Jerusalem had recently  been liberated from the Turks and was under a military governor.  Access into the city was by permission of the governor and  the man in charge of the Shrine of the Rock.  One man achieved both of these objectives as well as obtaining all of the Ford  Cars allocated to the Army to get the group of men into town to hold the meeting.  Brigadier General William Meldrum.

The men who had Masonic connexions joined for a variety of reasons both here and overseas.  There is some suspicion that a few  men joined so as to give their families some assistance should they perish in battle.  This can be deduced by the Masonic Rank  they held when they embarked and to some extent the location of lodges close to the military camps here in New Zealand.   Especially the camps in the Wairarapa.

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