THE GREAT WAR
With its dockyard and garrisons, Devon was a front line Province in both world wars and the Mark Lodges, with their proportion of naval and military members were immediately involved.
When war started in 1914 those members who were not called to sea or sent to the fields of Flanders were engaged on Admiralty work in Devonport Dockyard or other duties of national importance, but no one envisaged the great slaughter of men which would take place in the four years to 1916.
Tragedy struck at almost every Lodge in the Province but one which was shared by all was the death of Lord Kitchener, a Past Grand Warden. This gallant soldier was in a warship with his staff on a mission to Russia. It is presumed that the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the East coast of Scotland.
Field Marshal H.R.H the Duke of Connaught, who was Grand Master of the Mark Degree from 1901 to 1939, made a safe return from Canada in 1916 and after the war. Freemasons of all Degrees donated towards a new lifeboat at Peterhead as a thanks offering.
Lodges were called upon to perform unusual tasks. One was Charity Lodge's application to Mark Grand Lodge for a duplicate certificate for Bro. E.A. Trout, their Junior Warden. The origin al was lost in the disaster to H.M.S. Majestic. Disaster seemed to dog Brother Trout, for he served in six ships which were either sunk or disabled by the enemy, but each time he survived unscathed, eventually to return to his Lodge to continue his Mark activities.
Plymouth Freemasons held a special service in the mother church of St. Andrew on Sunday, 6th. February, 1916, and Lodges sent donations to support the efforts of the Red Cross Society.
Unfortunately there are no Provincial records for the next two wartime years but the meetings of Provincial Grand Lodge were obviously depleted by the absence of brethren on war service. W.Bro.H.B. Spencer started a long term as Provincial Grand Secretary, and at the meeting in Exeter in 1917 R.W. Bro, Strode welcomed an "old friend", the R.W. Bro. the Reverend Canon F. U. MacDonald, Past Grand Chaplain, the Provincial Grand Master of Wiltshire, who in reply congratulated Major Strode "on the perennial youth of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Devon", and expressed the belief that the cause of the steady growth of Freemasonry "in this time of war arises from the fact that men are fighting for the same privileges as underlie Freemasonry".
The steady growth in Freemasonry was shown by the fact that in 1913 there were 848 Mark Master Masons in Devon and during the year 89 candidates were advanced. By 1919 the total membership had increased to 1,200. During that year there were 177 advancements.
The installation of Brother S.T. Ryan, Senior Warden, as Master of Hawton Lodge No, 100 did not take place in 1917 as he was engaged on war work in the North of England and was unable to get to Ivybridge.
Throughout the war years Devon Mark Lodges did not forget the members who were called away or responded to the appeal Your Country Needs You.
Typical of so many others, Charity Lodge No.76 asked their Secretary to write to all members serving in the Forces, and the letter he dispatched on the 17th. April 1915, read:
On behalf of the Lodge I beg to convey to you their greetings and to express their regret at what necessarily keeps you absent from us and to say how much they will welcome you back again. They pray that the G.O.O.T.U will spare you and that you may soon return to your friends and to us. I am glad to say that our Lodge is progressing favorably end that we have work in store as we have three candidates for our next meeting.
"This year we celebrate our jubilee and we hope to make very special arrangements to fittingly commemorate the occasion. "We have ordered a new banner which is being paid for by the members subscribing among themselves without trenching on the Lodge funds at all. Unfortunately our rejoicing will be marred by the fact that our nation is at war and that some of our brethren are in the midst of danger, but we shell try to do justice to the occasion as we are certain our absent brethren would it so.
"With best of good wishes and hoping to hear from you when opportunity offers" Bro. H.F. Yea
The Provincial Grand Master dedicated the new banner which cost £6-6s on the 15th. September, 1915, and then Provincial Grand Lodge held their annual meeting immediately after. Reference was made to the number of Mark Masons who were serving their country and laying down their lives. "Their names are cherished above all others", said the Provincial Grand Master.
Festive boards were curtailed and many brethren followed the example of W. Bro. G.G. Gidley, Worshipful Master of St. Peter's Lodge No. 187 who, instead of giving the customary installation supper in 1914 subscribed £1-10s to the Belgian Relief Fund and in. addition two guineas went to the Devon Patriotic Fund.
War is tragic in any circumstance and for four long years the sight of a telegraph boy hurrying on his bicycle to deliver a telegram woo dreaded by every household for invariably it meant news of a loved one killed or maimed. But Masonry stood, as never before, as a symbol of hope, a friendly light at the end of a very dark passage.
When the Armistice was signed in 1918, Devon Mark Lodges rejoiced with the others that the war to end all wars was over!!!
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The warm summer months of 1939 lazed away with an uncanny calm and everywhere Lodges continued to meet as though in a united defiance of the ominous clouds gathering over the Continent. In the Lodges Chaplains led prayers for peace.
War was declared on Sunday, the 3rd September, 1939, there was a vain hope that it would be all over by Christmas for with the lifting of the uncertainty people were suddenly optimistic or hopeful.
Seventeen days after the declaration of war, Provincial Grand Lodge met at Plymouth, and the R.W. Bro. Strode gave this warning: "Twenty five years ago, in 1914, there was an inrush of candidates and some people were advanced who should not have been. We must avoid such an inrush when Masonry is resumed, as it is not a Benefit Society."
Already membership had taken an upturn, 107 advancements being recorded with 24 joining members admitted during the 12 months making a total membership of 1,690at the end of 1938, an increase of 39 over the previous year.
Lodge attendances were depleted by the absence of brethren on national work and in the Services. During the period of the war, brethren stood to order before dispersing, to remembered absent brethren, especially those who had laid down their lives. Mark Master Masons of all ranks and from all walks of life were numbered among those killed or wounded, and the brethren in their Lodges mourned them and remembered them in their prayers.
The tragic news in 1942 that the Grand Master, an officer in the Royal Mir Force, had been killed when his plane crashed while he was in the service of his country was a stunning blow and it left a void in every one's heart, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent had been our ruler for barely three years but his shining personality promised of great things for the future of Mark Masonry.
Also killed about the same time was Colonel F.J.C. Hunter, of, Amity Lodge No 849, who not long before had relinquished the office of' Provincial Grand Senior Warden. He died by enemy action in the garden of his home in West Avenue, Exeter, when returning from Home Guard duties.
The Provincial Grand Secretary, W. Bro. C.B. Spencer, was the head of a firm of solicitors, his offices were destroyed in the merciless bombing and many Masonic records and regalia were destroyed, never to be replaced. His father was the Provincial Grand Secretary during the Great War. A formal claim for compensation in respect of the lost regalia was filed and an inadequate sum of £80 was received. A replacement fund was started by the General Purposes Committee.
During the Baedeker raids on Exeter, delayed action bombs were dropped all around the Freemasons! Hall, in Gandy Street, and led to the cancellation of many meetings in the spring of 1942. During one of these raids a defiant deed of bravery of vital importance to Freemasons of today. It is perpetuated only by the inscription on a small brass plate affixed to a grandmother clock. It reads: "Presented to Mr. arid Mrs. H.J. Cawse by the Exeter Freemasons Hall Co., Ltd., in recognition of' their courage and presence of mind during the enemy air raid on Exeter, 4th, May, 1942,"
The clock was a treasured possession of Mrs. Cawse, widow of W. Bro. Bert Cawse who died in 1977 aged 84. They were the steward and stewardess at Gandy Street for 23 years from 1937. Mrs. Cawse had a vivid memory of that wartime night when the air was full of the roar of German bombers, the boom of anti-aircraft guns and the hiss and thud of incendiaries which hailed down on the city. She recalls that five incendiaries fell through the roof of the Freemasons' Hall, penetrated the ceiling and landed in the lodge room which had been prepared for a Royal Ark Mariner ceremony.
Fortunately Mrs. Cawse, then in her late thirties, was one of the first women in Exeter to train as a fire warden, she was equipped with stirrup pump which were immediately brought into action, assisted by her husband, they were eventually able to confine the fire, but bombs were still falling and first thoughts were to take to safety everything which was removable. They took the Bible, regalia, Masonic adornments and boxes to the front door then to the wine vaults of the Queens Hotel opposite. They were struggling down the stairs with a load of regalia when Mrs. Cawse said 'I must get some of my own clothes'. Bert replied, "what we have here is irreplaceable", and he said it in such a way that she knew he was right. It was 4 am, and after the "all clear" had sounded they discovered that the heat of the incendiaries passing through the roof had ignited soundproofing sawdust which had been placed above the lodge room ceiling. The whole building was still in danger of being destroyed while W. Bro. Cawse set to work trying to contain the fire, Mrs. Cewse ran out into the street, rubble and smouldering debris were everywhere, flames leaped high into the sky, illuminating the moonless night. Her face blackened with smoke and streaked with tears, she found some firemen in the High Street and pleaded with them to take the fire engine to Gandy Street. One of the fire crew who was a member of a Plymouth Lodge assisted Mrs. Cawse in taking down the huge curtains in the Lodge room and placed them over the brand new organ. Their combined efforts saved the organ and other items of great Masonic value. The fireman left without giving his name. It was some years before the lodge room was restored and in the meantime the present dining room was used for ceremonies, and the billiard room for the festive board.
Before he became the steward at Gandy Street W. Bro. Bert Cawse was in the Royal Navy, and among his appointments was that of' Master-at-Arms aboard H.M.S Norfolk. It is said he greeted recruits by saying: "My name is Cawse and before you leave you will have cause to remember me." Certainly Freemasons in the Province of Devonshire have cause to remember Cawse, and the lady who shared his sense of humour and enjoyed every minute of her many years at Gandy Street, says of him: "He was a wonderful man", a sentiment endorsed by all who knew him.
The brethren of St. George Royal Ark Mariner Lodge No0 15 made a presentation to Mrs. Cawse "in appreciation of her successful efforts in saving lodge property".
With the declaration of war, it was obvious that emergency regulations would have to be brought into force and Mark Grand Lodge and the Provinces were quick to act. The day after war was declared an order was made suspending all Masonic meetings. This drastic measure came as a shock, even to the Province of Devonshire, in the front line. After a short while, however, when the war began to take a pattern consultations were held between Grand Lodge and the Provinces, and permission was given for meetings to be resumed subject to: No meetings to be held on a Sunday; brethren to assemble in morning dress (not evening dress as was the prewar custom); meetings to be held as early in the day as possible; festive proceedings to be brief and simple. Worshipful Masters were given power to alter the date of regular meetings and to cancel any regular meetings if circumstance appeared to make it advisable. If it had not been possible to elect a Master on the regular date permission was given for the master to be elected and installed on the same day. Greater powers were given to Provincial Brand Masters, one being authorisation for a Lodge to move to other suitable premises. This applied to Plymouth particularly, where among the halls which were completely destroyed by enemy action was the Masonic Hill in Princess Square in the heart of the city, the Mount Edgcumbe Masonic Hell at Stonehouse, and Friendship Masonic Hell in Granby Street, Devonport.
When the hall in Tar Hill Road, Torquay, was rendered temporarily unusable by enemy action in 1942, the September meeting of Jordan Mark Lodge was held at the Masonic Mall, Paignton and Torbay Mark Lodge No 528 loaned regalia and furnishings, and also provided light refreshments.
The majority of Devon Lodges deposited their warrants in the vaults of banks and used photographic copies during ceremonies, but in such places as Plymouth even the banks end their strong rooms were reduced to huge smouldering piles by the relentless bombing, and several Lodges lost their warrants. In such cases Grand Lodge issued letters giving authority for Lodges to assemble.
The custom of all brethren to wear black rosettes on their aprons and collars when a Lodge went into Masonic mourning was stopped because the shortage of materials.
Permission was given for newly advanced brethren to attend their Mark Lodges in Master Masons aprons in the event of it being impossible to obtain a Mark apron, whether new or second hand, but during the advancement ceremonies candidates had to be invested with a Mark apron and jewel even if these were borrowed end used just for the occasion.
Our Masonic Lodges were a haven of brotherhood and a link with their prewar lives for many of the Masons from other countries who were stationed in Devon, and a number were actually advanced here. Among those to receive their Mark was Bro. Major M. Rubin, of the American Army, who was advanced into the: North Devon Union Lodge No 540 far from his mother Lodge of Patmos, in Dorado, Kansas. It must have been most gratifying to him to be able to spend an evening with the genial brethren of North Devon while waiting and training for D Day, the invasion of the Continent. He was able to attend the next two meetings, one of which was the installation. Less fortunate was another American officer who was apparently whisked away before his advancement. A brother from enemy occupied Guernsey found friendship among the members of Jordan Lodge.
Brethren who had been absent for so many years while serving in the armed forces began to filter back and Lodges strove to return to normal, but were instructed to restrict their festive boards to comply with the difficult food shortage conditions.