When war was declared on 4th August 1914, Freemasonry in England found itself in an unparalleled position. Freemasonry was then and remains today non-political, and the discussion of politics at Masonic meetings was and still is forbidden, but 100 years ago the United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body for freemasonry in England and Wales and here in the frontline county of Kent, had to contend with the impact of a global war.

A new temporary exhibition at Canterbury’s Kent Museum of Freemasonry displays many items relating to The Great War and Freemasonry that will be of interest to Freemasons, anthropologists and historians alike.

Making sobering reading and taking pride of place is a Roll of Honour that the museum team has worked hard to produce, which lists all those Kent Freemasons that gave their lives in service of their country and their respective Lodges.

Part of the Roll of Honour

Part of the Roll of Honour

As you would expect, Kent has numerous lodges with military origins dedicated to our armed forces and these lodges have many unsung heroes. One such hero was Col Donald Dean VC, of St Michael’s Lodge in Sittingbourne. At the age of 21 he was a Temporary Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion, The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. During the period 24–26 September 1918, North-West of Lens in France, Lieutenant Dean and his platoon held an advance post established in a newly-captured enemy trench. The post was ill-prepared for defence and the lieutenant worked unceasingly with his men to consolidate the position, under very heavy fire. The post was attacked five times altogether and on each occasion the attack was repulsed. Throughout the whole of this time Lieutenant Dean inspired his command with his own contempt of danger and set the highest example of valour, leadership and devotion to duty. It was for these heroic deeds that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The WW1 Clearance Certificate

The WW1 Clearance Certificate

Amongst the growing numbers of artefacts and documents on display is a “Clearance Certificate” in the form of a card that could be carried by sailors and soldiers when on active service. The certificate on display originated from The True Friendship Lodge No. 160 which originates just over the Thames in Rochford, Essex, another front-line county. The card, produced with the approval of the MW Grand Master, was not available for use within the United Kingdom and had to be returned to the Secretary of the Lodge “as soon as possible after Peace has been declared”.

After the War ended and following a suggestion from the then Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Connaught & Strathearn, Grand Lodge decided to build new headquarters in London to replace the one from 1776, as a memorial to the many Brethren who had given their lives during the War.

A special committee was set up for this purpose in 1920 and an appeal was made to every member of the Constitution for contributions to the fund. As a result of the fiscal target that was set, it became known as the Masonic Million Memorial Fund, contributions to which were entirely voluntary and were recognised by special commemorative “Hallstone” jewels. There were three types for three categories of subscribers; all of the same basic design but of different sizes and precious metals. Examples of all of types of jewel are included in the exhibition.

The design of the jewel was the outcome of a competition won by Bro Cyril Saunders Spackman, R.B.A., R.M.S., and was described as being:

The Commemorative “Hallstone” jewel”

The Commemorative “Hallstone” jewel”

“In the form of a cross, symbolising Sacrifice, with a perfect square at the four ends, on the left and right, squares being the dates 1914-1918, the years in which the supreme sacrifice was made. Between these is a winged figure of Peace presenting the representation of a Temple with special Masonic allusion in the Pillars, Porch and Steps. The medal is suspended by the Square and Compasses, attached to a ribband, the whole thus symbolising the Craft’s gift of a Temple in memory of those Brethren who gave all for King and Country, Peace and Victory, Liberty and Brotherhood”.

Building work on the Masonic Peace Memorial, as it was at first called – later to become known as Freemasons’ Hall – commenced in 1927 and was completed in 1933 when the Hall was dedicated. At the June 1938 Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge the Special Committee presented its final report recording that the building had been handed over to the Board of General Purposes free from debt and that well over one million pounds had been subscribed to the fund. The fund itself was closed on the 31st December 1938 and although it is unlikely that there is any active Freemason still entitled to wear one, these jewels survive as a testament to the efforts made in raising that money.

An interesting aside from a Kent perspective is that when the 1864 Grand Library and Museum was being demolished to make room for this new building, Lord Cornwallis, the Provincial Grand Master for Kent and Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, arranged for a number of items to be “held for safekeeping” in Canterbury. These items included: five 19th Century stained glass windows, three solid mahogany internal doors and a pair of glazed library doors which are still in situ and are integral parts of the museum to this very day.

Please Note: This temporary exhibition has now closed.

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