From Damien of Lodge Devotion
On ANZAC Day, our attentions are often focused to more than a century ago, but this year I write of the 22nd June 2013 and Afghanistan’s Khod Valley. On that day in that place, Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird VC, MG (1981-2013), on his fourth tour of Afghanistan in the service of the Australian Army, was killed in action.
Few know, but Cameron Baird was a Freemason. He was Initiated on the 23rd September 2006 in Lodge Thespian No. 256 UGL NSW & ACT.
Corporal Baird, of the 2nd Commando Regiment, was shot dead during a battle to take an enemy held compound in the village of Ghawchak. It was his actions during that engagement which saw him awarded a Victoria Cross. He is the fourth Australian to be awarded the VC for Australia, the 100th Australian to receive the award since the Imperial VC was first struck in 1856, and the 2nd Commando Regiment’s first VC. He was also the 40th Australian soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan. The Governor General, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce, AC, CVO, posthumously invested Corporal C S Baird, with the Victoria Cross for Australia at a ceremony at Government House in Canberra on Tuesday, 18 February 2014.
We do not have to look to last century ago to find Australian Freemasons dying in the service of the Australian and other Armies. We do not have to look to 100, 60 or even 6 years ago to look at the last Australian Freemason awarded a Victoria Cross or for an Australian serviceman killed in action. ANZAC Day may have been born of historic events four generations ago, but for many, it’s not just “historic” but very raw and personal marking a twenty-first century loss or wounding of a parent, sibling, children or spouse.. Do we do enough for such families ?
In co-junction with WBro Bill Nash (NSW), we’d been researching Brother Frederick Harold Tubb (1881-1917) who received a Victoria Cross for his efforts at Lone Pine. As Brother Bill once gently pointed out to me, you don’t “win” a Victoria Cross, you are awarded it. His comment stuck, but I’ve not changed my terminology, seeing the google results, “Victoria Cross Winner” brings traffic to our web site as it’s a common search term. It leads people to read of the often unrecognised contributions Freemasons have made to Australia and that honours them and the Craft. That’s important to me. Sometimes I’m now ill at ease with the term “winner” but sometimes I feel it is fitting. “Winner” and “won” roll off the tongue and pen, but so many men have faced the fear of enemy fire, it’s a bravery those who were not there cannot truly appreciate and most who were there got little recognition for it, some of our Vietnam Veterans were condemned upon their return. Regardless of their “honours” we owe a debt to all men and women who put themselves in harm’s way under our Flag and those of our allies. I believe we also owe respect to all who fight for what they believe in, even when circumstances see them as our opposition, but I know it often takes time to heal all wounds.
Bro Tubb fought beside another future Brother, William Dunstan (1895-1957). Their actions in the same trench in the same engagement at Lone Pine in 1915 saw both awarded Victoria Crosses. Seven of the nine Australian VC’s at Gallipoli were awarded in relation to the Battle of Lone Pine. We believe Tubb may have been initiated at Euroa but are unsure; I’m waiting for clarification from our Grand Secretary’s office. In his diary, Tubb speaks of visiting Lord Kitchener Lodge in Cairo in December 1914 making him one of only a few Brothers who where Freemasons when they were awarded the VC. Dunstan was Initiated into Victorian Naval & Military Lodge in 1922. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, neither man’s membership of Freemasonry is mentioned but the below is reported;
Early on 9 August 1915 the Turks made a determined counter-attack on a newly captured trench held by Lieutenant Frederick Tubb and ten men. Two men were told to remain on the floor of the trench to catch and throw back enemy bombs or to smother their explosions with overcoats; both were soon mutilated. Tubb, with Corporal Dunstan, Corporal Alexander Burton and six others, kept firing over the parapet. Several bombs burst simultaneously in the trench killing or wounding five men. Tubb continued to fight, supported only by Dunstan and Burton until a violent explosion blew down the barricade. Tubb drove the Turks off and Dunstan and Burton were rebuilding it when a bomb burst between them, killing Burton and temporarily blinding Dunstan. Tubb then obtained additional help, but the Turks did not renew the attack.
People sometimes ask where are the Famous Freemasons of today? Often in the biographies of active Freemasons like Menzies or Lord Gowrie VC (who was also a Grand Master), Freemasonry does not rate a mention. I’ve been working on changing that with our Famous Australian Freemasons list and to give a start to researchers. However, even today some notable Freemasons do not advertise their membership. Nonetheless, I was surprised to discover our most recent Australian Victoria Cross was awarded to a Freemason yet this is generally unknown and unrecognized; even by Freemasons ourselves.
Bro Chris Craven of the Museum of Freemasonry (NSW) advises “As has happened many times here a member joins then leaves for overseas service and then re-affiliates. This was the situation with Cameron and he never got back to finish his degrees. I don’t think you could actually call him a member when he got the VC as he was unattached at the time. I did not even realise he was a member until the brethren of Lodge Thespian informed us.”
However, it’s generally accepted that although you might resign from Freemasonry or drift away from it, or become un-financial, the experience of the First Degree will never be effaced from a man’s memory and once initiated, an honourable man will always be a Freemason. Our final words to a candidate here in Victoria in the First Degree are that we are led to hope they have listened to the lessons of the degree and “...will duly appreciate the value of Freemasonry and imprint indelibly on your heart the sacred dictate of truth, of honour, and of virtue”. For millions of men, whether they are of high or low station, we try to live by those tenets and value each brother regardless of rank or fortune, knowing in the often quoted words of the Scottish Poet Burns, rank is but a guinea stamp, the man himself the gold. Trying to live with truth, honour and virtue is perhaps the highest calling we can apply in all our lives regardless of which spoke of fortune’s wheel we are placed on..
Corporal Baird’s citation reads: “For the most conspicuous acts of valour, extreme devotion to duty and ultimate self-sacrifice at Ghawchak village, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan as a Commando Team Commander in Special Operations Task Group on Operation SLIPPER.”
As Freemasons, I hope you keep Bro Baird, his family and his colleagues in your thoughts and prayers. For a long time, Vietnam was sometimes called Australia’s forgotten war, but sadly, operations in Afghanistan likewise perhaps deserve the title. We have had personnel deployed in Afghanistan since 2001 and still have several hundred in country. Fifteen years on, Afghanistan is our longest war and continues.. . Bro Baird was the 40th combat death and 41 members of the ADF have died in service in Afghanistan. On a day where many of us think of the increasingly distant events or places like Gallipoli, let us not neglect this generations combat soldiers, particularly the contemporaries and colleagues of Bro Cam Baird.
The 40 Australian Soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan since 2001 includes five 21 year olds. The lost of “the flower of our youth” may have been on a huge scale in the first and Second World War, but Lest we Forget that sacrifice and loss continues.
Cameron Baird's Masonic History
A Soldier’s Cemetery
by John William Streets (killed 1st July 1916 aged 31)
Behind that long and
lonely trenched line
There lie the flower of
youth, the men who scorn’d
When war shall cease this
lonely unknown spot
Information on Diggers killed
Help for returning soldiers
“Cam’s Cause” Corporal
The Commando Trust
Several of the above are