Tag Archives: Freemasonry

The Forget-me-not – Writing 101

Todays writing 101 task is to talk about an object that we treasure.  This was an interesting challenge for me as I am not a hoarder.  Well I am not a hoarder of anything except my music collection.

I don’t have possession of a single item from my childhood, I left home not long after my 16th Birthday.  My parents put me on a boat from Belfast to Liverpool with a single bag.  From Liverpool I travelled to Plymouth to join the Royal Navy.  My parents divorced shortly afterwards and after several house moves both settled with new partners.  I spent 9 years in the Navy, married and had several house moves myself eventually settling in Dorset.  As a result everything from my childhood was lost through the years.  My younger brother even sold my collection of rare and fairly valuable LP’s.

In 1991 I became a Freemason.  Shortly afterwards my mothers partner, who was also a Freemason, gave me a small lapel pin.  A little blue forget-me-not.  Freemasons began using the flower in Germany in 1926 as a message not to forget the poor and desperate. Many other German charities were also using it at this time. In later years Masons in Nazi Germany adopted the flower as a means of recognition in place of the square and compass design. This spread across Nazi occupied Europe to avoid any danger of being singled out and persecuted. The symbol of the forget-me-not in modern Masonry has become more prevalent and today it is an interchangeable symbol with the square and compass.  Some also use the forget-me-not to remember those masons who were victimized by the Nazi’s. In English Freemasonry it is more commonly now worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that you may be gone but not forgotten.

In Newfoundland the forget-me-not was a symbol of remembrance of that nation’s war dead. This practice is still in limited use today, though Newfoundlanders have adopted the the Flanders Poppy as well.

Sadly Trevor, my mother’s partner, died from a particularly virulent cancer shortly afterwards and so my little forget-me-not became a memento of someone I was very fond of.  It is however so much more than that.  Given its symbolic origins my forget-me-not is a symbol of freedom, of resisting oppression, of distrusting authority and of my abhorance of prejudice, discrimination and inequality.  Now thats a lot of symbology from a little flower.  Let me try to explain a little more.

I have written a lot recently about my views on the illegality and futility of the so called ‘war against terror’ in the Middle East and I promised in an earlier post about the situation in Gaza that I would try to give some insight into how and why I believe that some of the people in Gaza become radicalised and carry out terrorist atrocities against the Israelis.  I grew up in Northern Ireland, a small province that was torn apart by “the Troubles’, a period of sectarian conflict that cost over 4000 lives.  The Troubles began in 1969 when I was just 9 years old.  The reasons are complex and beyond the scope of this post but if you would like to know the background there is a comprehensive summary here.  Shortly after the troubles began my family moved from Belfast to a small coastal village in County Down.  It was the sort of place where kids were safe to run free on the beaches and in the fields.  The community was almost entirely Unionist and of the Protestant religion.  There were only a couple of Roman Catholic families in the village.  You knew immediately who the Roman Catholic families were because the children went to separate schools.  This is a situation that still exists in Northern Ireland today.  Isn’t it incredible that in Britain in 2014 a social apartheid still exists, even today over half of the children in the province attend schools where over 95% of the pupils are of a single religion.  In the 1970’s it was much worse.

My first real personal exposure to the troubles came in 1974 during the Ulster Workers Council Strike.  In May of that year the strike brought the Province to a standstill, schools, offices and factories were closed by the strike.  Even the power companies closed down meaning no electricity.  Loyalist paramilitary groups setup road blocks and barricades to ensure that the strike was not broken.  My friends and I manned some of the roadblocks around our village.  At just 13 years of age we were delighted that the schools were closed and we thought manning the roadblocks was great fun.  In all honesty at that time I didn’t really understand what was going on, but there was an association with Loyalist paramilitaries.  Several of my friends and I were also in loyalist flute bands in what we saw as a celebration of loyalist and protestant culture.  Of course what we did not understand was that many of the adults involved were members of paramilitary organisations and that we had already been identified as possible recruits.  Dod we see those friendly laughing, joking men as terrorists?  Of course not, they were simply guys who were in the band, who lived down the street or who drank in the pub with my dad.  The terrorist you see isn’t necessarily a monster, they simply feel that their situation is hopeless, that no-one is listening to them and that they have to take radical action to be heard.

A sense of injustice can so easily lead to young people being radicalised and becoming involved in terrorist organisations.  Indeed many people I knew as I was growing up and even members of my family ended up in jail and some died as a result.  The economic system in Northern Ireland was dire indeed and for many the only way out was to do as I did and leave the country.  Of my peer group and classmates at school some joined the armed services or the police, others emigrated, some turned to religion and others joined paramilitary organisations and got involved in terrorist related crime.  The Northern Ireland I grew up in had the army on the street, Police stations were behind high fences, parking in town centres was almost impossible as parking was not allowed because of the fear of car bombs.  You had to pass through security checkpoints and submit to searches before you could even enter Belfast town centre.

The situation was not helped when the Westminster Government introduced internment without trial for those suspected of being involved in terrorism.  One of my Uncles spent over a year in prison.  He was never charged with any crime, he was imprisoned because he knew people who were suspected of being involved in terrorism.  He tells tales of beatings and torture by the Police and security forces.  Internment proved to be the biggest boon to recruiting that the paramilitary organisations ever had.  It is so easy to draw comparisons with the situation in the Middle East.  Whilst I do not condone terrorism in any shape or form my forget-me-not reminds me how easy it is for the marginalised to be drawn into armed struggle.

As I mentioned above I left home at age 16 and joined the Royal Navy.  After completing my basic training and my trade training I was waiting for a posting to a ship.  Whilst I was waiting my class were asked to volunteer to attend the military research facility at Porton Down to assist with research into finding a cure for the common cold.  We were offered additional pay of £10 a day and an additional two weeks leave if we volunteered for the six week trial.  This was a huge amount of money at the time, my first monthly wage after I joined the Navy was £28 after food and accommodation charges were deducted.  Thankfully I had learned early in life that if something appears too good to be true then it usually is.  It has since emerged that those who thought they were helping with research into a cure for the common cold were in fact being unwittingly subjected to the testing of chemical weapons.  My forget-me-not reminds me that you cannot trust those in authority.

I mentioned above that my mothers partner, Trevor, had died from a virulent strain of cancer.  Trevor had served as a Royal Marine and had been present when the UK carried out the testing of nuclear bombs at Christmas Island in 1962.  Those present were not given any form of protection, they were simply told to turn their backs on the explosion and to shield their eyes with their hands.  Many of the veterans present during those tests later died from cancers.  The UK Government and Ministry of defence fought tooth and nail to avoid paying compensation to those affected or their families.  You can read more information about this situation here.  My forget-me-not reminds me that Government cannot be trusted to look after those who serve their country, and of course it reminds me of the man who gave it to me.

Many of you will remember that in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.  The British Government sent a task force to the South Atlantic to recover the Islands and in the ensuing conflict 907 people lost their lives this included 86 Royal Navy personnel and 27 Royal Marines.  Several of the Navy personnel who died were former shipmates and friends of mine.  My forget-me-not reminds me of those who lost their lives during that conflict.

In recent years I have seen at first hand how the UK government marginalises and criminalises those who choose to live differently to the rest of society.  The root of my awareness lies in the criminalisation of those who chose to live on the road during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The introduction of the Poll tax by Margaret Thatchers Government was seen to be so unfair by some people in our society that many people moved to of their homes and into vans, buses and trucks to avoid paying it.  As a result government passed laws making it an offence to park on land and even made it an offence to damage grass on the land they parked up on.  The media in the UK portrayed these travellers as drug crazed thugs and sparked a moral outrage across the country.  I came to realise that the people they were talking about included my little sister.

In recent years the government and the media in the UK has been on a crusade to portray those on welfare benefits as feckless scroungers.  They give the impression that huge amounts of cash is being ‘stolen’ by those who are not entitled to support.  The fact that the vast majority of welfare spending goes to old age pensioners or to the working poor seems to be immaterial.  This is merely an excuse to demonise the most needy in our society whilst taxes are cut for the richest.

The media and government continuously demonise those who seek political asylum in our country, claiming that the vast majority of immigrants into the UK are economic migrants who come here to sponge off the welfare state and the National Health Service.  The fact that the vast majority of immigrants are from EU countries and are entitled to settle and work anywhere within the European Union is conveniently ignored.  The remainder are often those who are displaced by conflict in those countries in which the western governments are waging war.  Once again the most vulnerable in society are a convenient scapegoat to cover up economic mismanagement by successive governments.  My forget-me-not reminds me that government often makes bad laws and demonises the poor and vulnerable, society is unfair and over the last 35 years the rich have got richer whilst the   poor get poorer.  It reminds me that inequality, prejudice and discrimination are rife in our society and that government sometimes make laws that reinforce that inequality.

My forget-me-not may only be 10mm across but it provides something of an anchor and I think you will agree it has quite a story to tell.  It is a treasure beyond value.

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Dorset Freemasons remember the fallen – Lights out

To commemorate Britain’s entry into the Great War on 4th August 1914 The Royal British Legion  asked people to use a single candle or light for an hour from 22:00 BST on 4 August 2014.  The campaign was inspired by the words of wartime foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey, who said on the eve of war: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

Formal events of commemoration took place all over the Country including a candle-lit vigil at Westminster Abbey on the same evening.  Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street, London was built and dedicated to the memory of the 3453 British Freemasons who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War.  A roll of honour stands in the building and for one hour on 4th of August 2014  all the lights in this enormous (and extremely impressive) building were extinguished.  All save a solitary light illuminating the roll of honour.PGM-Dorset-2011

Here in Dorset our provincial Grand Master, Right Worshipful Brother Richard Merritt, asked all Dorset Lodges to support the event by holding a ‘lights out’ ceremony at their first meeting after the 4th August.  At least 24 Dorset Brethren died during the first world war, this may not sound many but at the time it represented some 5% of the Freemasons in the Province.  10 Brethren from the United Services Lodge died.

My Lodge, Amphibious Lodge 9050, is a lodge with very strong military connections and we already commemorate the fallen at our November meeting, which usually falls just before Remembrance Sunday, every year.  We were of course very keen to support the Provincial Grand Masters initiative.  Our first meeting after 4th August fell this week on Wednesday 10th September 2014.  It was also our ceremony of Installation, when the new Worshipful Master takes charge of the Lodge for the ensuing year.  As any Freemason knows this is always a very special evening and this year it would be even more special as the Provincial Grand Master and a strong Provincial team would be in attendance.

After the Lodge opened and the 70 or so brethren present were in their seats the Director of Ceremonies called the brethren to order and read a short extract explaining the concept behind the ‘lights out’ campaign, this included lord Grey’s observations about the lights going out all over Europe.  Worshipful Brother Sharkey Ward, a former Royal Marine,  then perambulated around the lodge extinguishing the candles at each of the pedestals whilst the names of the fallen Brethren were read aloud by brethren who had themselves served in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the British Army.  As the candles were extinguished the lodge lights were dimmed until, as the last name was read, the Lodge was in total darkness save for a solitary candle at the Worshipful Master’s pedestal.  The brethren then stood in darkness for 2 minutes of silent reflection and in gratitude for the sacrifices made by our fallen brethren, by their families and by all of those touched by war and conflict in the 100 years since the war that was supposed to end all wars.

This was a solemn and incredibly moving experience for everyone present, a small but beautiful act that I trust will never be forgotten by anyone present.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Why I am a freemason

Life has a way of occassionaly throwing up experiences that lead you to a deep contemplation of things in your life.  I had a number of such experiences this past weekend.  Three things happened over the course of the weekend and they all had one thing in common.  Freemasonry!

On Friday evening I was privileged to attend an informal gathering of freemasons in Poole.  A group of men from across the South of England were brought together by the power of social media.  We gathered to discuss how social media can be used to introduce more men, especially young men, to our fraternity.  We had a couple of presentations and then around 80 men sat down together to share food and wine.  It was a truly wonderful occasion.  I knew some of the men in the room, but was soon happily chatting to a group of men I had never met before about a wide range of subjects including charity, social media and photography.  I had only met one of the people at my table previously, but I shared a bond of brotherhood with all of the others.

On Saturday morning I was doing some research and reading blogs on wordpress when I came across a blog that was absolutely hideous.  It claimed that freemasonry was anti christian and that freemasons worshipped goats at their meetings.  The blog claimed that by welcoming men of any faith freemasons defied the word of god.  The writer then went on to threaten freemasons in his town with violence and exposure should they fail to resign from their lodges.  The blog contained a litany of a range of anti-masonic conspiracy theories and can only be described as the ravings of a seriously disturbed individual.  I found it almost beyond belief that the writer claimed to be a ‘very strict christian’.  It was very clear that the writer knew absolutely nothing about freemasonry and his brand of christianity preached nothing but hate and intolerance.  Whilst I have no evidence at all to support this view I would not be at all surprised to find the writer to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan or some other white supremacist organisation.

On Saturday evening I had some friends over for dinner.  I have known these friends for over 15 years and they have attended ladies festivals etc as a guest of mine in the past.  After dinner we were talking about a range of subjects and asked my friend if he had any interest in becoming a freemason.  He immediately said he would love to and explained that he felt that he had been blessed in his life and would love the opportunity to give something back.  There was never a hint of ‘whats in it for me’ or any other self-serving motive.  He was only interested in what he could give.

So, in one weekend I had three experiences, two positive and one negative, that caused me to think deeply and critically about my freemasonry.  I was initiated into freemasonry in 1991 at the age of 30 but left for a number of years when the pressures of working away from home and bringing up a young family just became too much.   I worked in public service and there was also something of a witch hunt in the late 1990’s against freemasons in public service.  It would have been easy to dismiss  the  man above as an ill informed lunatic but I did wonder what on earth would lead someone to have such extreme views.

Lets put some things straight.  Freemasonry is in no way anti-christian.  It is true that men must have a belief in a ‘supreme being’ to be a freemason and that ‘supreme being’ can be whichever version that your particular religion subscribes to.  We do take an obligation on a sacred book but that sacred book can be a bible, the Koran, the Torah or whatever holy book a prospective member holds sacred.  This means that freemasonry is inclusive.  Men of any faith are welcome.  Far from being anti-christian I would suggest that this spirit of peace and goodwill to all men is inclusive and entirely in keeping with christian teaching.  Some ‘masonic’ orders are specifically christian in their membership.  To join Rose Croix, Red Cross of Constantine or Knights Templar prospective members must be christian.

In some quarters there seems to be a belief that freemasonry is only open to the well heeled, that it costs a small fortune to be a member and that freemasons only ever look after their own.  All bunkum!  Anyone from any social class can be a freemason.  The cost is a fraction of what it costs to  be a member of a golf club or gymnasium.  For every lord there are probably 50 working class men.  My own lodge has a close association with the Royal Marines, many of our members (including myself) served in the ranks of the UK armed services and we have everything from accountants to builders as members.  Freemasonry encourages its members to be benevolent but only so far as their situation in life warrants.  It is true that freemasons donate money to masonic charities and these provide relief to freemasons, often elderly and infirm who have fallen on hard times and need residential care.  It should be borne in mind that the provision of this care prevents a financial burden from falling on the state in many cases.  At the same time a huge proportion of the money raised for charities by freemasons goes to charities that have absolutely no connection to freemasonry.  Freemasons are the 2nd biggest contributors to air ambulances in the UK.  My own lodge in the past 12 months has made gifts to a local children’s hospice, a group that teaches blind people to shoot and a charity that provides transport to people who are infirm and would be housebound without help.  The grand charities have contributed to medical research through the Royal College of Surgeons, to flood and disaster relief at home and abroad and a range of charities that are simply mind boggling.

So why am I a freemason?  Hopefully the answer to that question is already self evident.  Freemasonry is a force for good in society.  It brings together like minded men who are community spirited, who want to widen their circle of friends, who want to support others and who want to give something back to their communities.  I am sure that, as in any other walk of life, there are a few people who joined seeking some sort of advantage or for some other self serving reason.  I am pleased to say that in 23 years as a freemason I have yet to meet one.  The vast majority of freemasons are ordinary men who often do extraordinary things, not for themselves but for the good of others, and like my friend join because they want to give something back.

That dear reader is why I am extremely proud to call myself a mason.

Freemasonry and Social Media

On Friday 4th July 2014 I had the privilege of attending a meeting at the Masonic Hall in Poole, Dorset to discuss the use of social media in freemasonry.  This is believed to be the largest gathering of freemasons brought together by social media.  The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the use of social media as a tool to recruit, retain and inform members of our fraternity.

It is perhaps true to say that freemasonry as a whole has been slow and in some quarters somewhat reluctant to embrace new technology but there is little doubt that the benefits of electronic communication are now being realised.  Such was the interest in last nights meeting that RWBro Richard Merritt, The Provincial Grand Master, welcomed representatives of nine different Masonic provinces who gathered to hear two very interesting presentations.  The first was delivered by  W.Bro Nigel Harris-Cooksley who explained how his Lodge (North Harrow Lodge No6557) had seen a decline in numbers and had turned to the internet and social media to attract new members.  Over a period of 3 years this approach attracted a total of 50 New members to Lodges in Middlesex.  18 of these were initiated into North Harrow Lodge and 32 were passed to other lodges.  OOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAf the 50 initiates it is believed that 49 are still active and many of these new made brothers are already taking offices in a variety of Lodges.

It seems to me that the key to North Harrow’s success in this new venture is underpinned by a recognition that attracting enquiries is very much a starting point.  Nigel and other brethren from his lodge worked incredibly hard to meet, interview and socialise with perspective candidates before they were initiated.  Once initiated the new brothers were allocated personal mentors who were supported in turn by a lodge mentor.  The length of time between enquiry and initiation has varied.   In the early days some were initiated in as little as 3 months, at present 9 months is seen as ‘normal’.  During the waiting period candidates are contacted regularly, kept up to date and invited to social functions where possible.

The time and care put into supporting, vetting and socialising with candidates is hugely important.  It should engender a sense of belonging in the candidate and reassure members of lodges that candidates are not simply being ‘dragged off the streets’.  I realise that some brethren, who joined freemasonry by the traditional recruitment process, may have reservations about this method of recruitment but I believe North Harrow Lodges experience shows that there are men in our communities who want to join freemasonry but don’t know how to go about it.  Some may feel that the risks of initiating someone who is not personally known to a current member are too great.   It is a fact that there is a risk that any initiate may prove unsuitable in the longer term, but again, North Harrows experience shows that the benefits have far outweighed the risks.

As I mentioned above making access to freemasonry easier through the use of websites and social media should be seen as a starting point.  If we are to retain our members after they have joined it is important that new members, especially our younger men, are supported and made to feel welcome.  Our second speaker Colin(Lex) Luther Davies explained one of the mechanisms whereby the Metropolitan Grand Lodge are supporting its younger members.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Connaught Club is an organisation formed to support freemasons under 35 who are members of a Lodge in London or who live or work in London and are members go a lodge attached to the United Grand Lodge of England.  The club currently has some 200 members and has been founded to give young Freemasons in London a means to meet and socialise, with like-minded people of similar ages, within Freemasonry; whilst bridging the large geographic area and diversity of London’s many Lodges.

Primarily the Club’s role is to provide events and other occasions, of either a social or (Masonically) educational nature, for young Freemasons to meet each other and encourage their involvement within the fraternity.  Events range from informal pub socials to formal dinners and to visiting each others Lodges.  This is a fantastic example of what can be done to support our members and there is undoubtably much that other provinces can learn form this.

The evening concluded in fine Masonic style with all present dining together.  It must be said that the caterers laid on a fantastic meal and the ambience of the evening was helped enormously by the effort that W.Bro Brian Chidgey and his assistants put into the organisation of the event.  No event runs well unless effort has been put into the planning and preparation.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Provincial Grand Master, RWBro Richard Merritt, gave a short speech during which he explained his personal enthusiasm for making use of new and emerging technology and thanked the speakers and organisers for their efforts in putting together a most enjoyable and informative evening

 

 

 

The Province of Dorset was very well represented by brethren from across the County.  The PGM was supported by VWBro Clive Deakin, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, and VWBro Nigel Leonard, the Assistant Provincial Grand Master as well as several members of the Provincial team.  Brethren from the Provinces of Dorset, Hampshire & IOW, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Middlesex, Metropolitan and even the Serbian Grand Lodge were welcomed.  I am sure everyone went away with some food for thought and fresh ideas.