Military Lodges (A History) and the Circuit of Service Lodges
From “Blue News” April 2020, the Newsletter of United Service Lodge No 330 UGLV.
United Service Lodge meets 2nd Monday, at Keysborough Masonic Centre.
(With the approach of ANZAC Day, I thought the below might be a timely article. Thanks USL for permission).
The Spread of Masonry from Europe was assisted in no small way by the Military and its Lodges. Most Military Lodges were ones holding a warrant known as a “travelling” or “ambulatory” warrant permitting meetings to be held under proper conditions wherever the Regiment or Unit happened to be stationed, whether that posting was temporary or not.
Membership of a Military Lodge was permitted restricted to members of the same Regiment or Unit, and the consent of the Command Officer was essential before a lodge could be formed. Warrants were normally issued to an officer, in most cases the Commanding Officer, and were carried by the unit at all times. The Warrant, records and regalia were usually carried in a portable chest.
The Grand Lodges of both England and Ireland would not permit Military Lodges “on any pretence to initiate into Masonry and inhabitant or sojourner in any town or place at which the Unit is stationed or passing through:”
The first purely Military Lodge of which we know was established in Gibraltar in 1728, but was a stationary Lodge. The first “travelling” or “ambulatory” warrant was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1732 to the 1st British Foot Regiment (Royal Scots). By 1734 four others has been issued, again by the Grand Lodge of Ireland. In 1743 the Grand Lodge of Scotland adopted the practise and issued a warrant to the 55th British Foot Regiment.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland played a central role in the spread of military-based Masonic lodges from the 18th century onwards. Initially, the Premier Grand Lodge of England were opposed to issuing “travelling warrants” to lodges and did not always consider soldiers men of “moral standing and order”, so for regiments interested in forming a Masonic Lodge, it was easier to apply to the Grand Lodge of Ireland or later the Grand Lodge of Scotland for warrants. Between 1732 and 1742, the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued warrants to the following British Army regiments: 1st Regiment of Foot (Royal Scots), 17th (Leicestershire), 18th (Royal Irish), 19th (Green Howards), 20th Lancashire Fusiliers, 27th (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers), 28th (Gloucestershire), 30th (South Staffords) and the 39th (Dorset).
Following these early examples, the Grand Lodges of Ireland, Scotland and the Antient Grand Lodge of England issued hundreds of warrants for Masonic Lodges to the cavalry, infantry, artillery and militias. To this day there are two active Masonic Lodges of the British Army under the Grand Lodge or Ireland; No 322 Lodge Glittering Star of the Mecian Regiment and No 295 St Patrick’s of the Royal Dragoon Guards.
In 1755 the total number of Military Lodges was 29, five granted by the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the remainder by the Grand Lodge of Ireland. In the same year the Grand Lodge of England issued its first military warrant to the 57th British Foot Regiment. By 1813 there were 141 English Military Lodges (116 under the Antients and 25 under the Moderns) while 190 were granted by the Grand Lodge of Ireland and 21 by the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
The Royal Navy had 3 lodges warranted to ships, HMS Vanguard in 1760 (became a shore/stationary lodge in 1768 and is now London Lodge No 108) and HMS Prince and HMS Canceaux in 1762. These later two are no longer in existence.
After the Battle of Waterloo (1815) Military Lodges began to die out and no Military Lodges as such are listed on the register of the United Grand Lodge of England today, the last two being surrendered in 1947 and 1949. In 1947 the Social Friendship Lodge No 479 of the 89th Royal Irish Fusiliers Regiment was surrendered; the Lodge received a renewed Warrant authorising it to meet as a stationary Lodge. On 1949 similar action was taken by the Lodge of Unity, Peace and Concord No 316 of the Royal Scots Regiment. Both of these Lodges now meet in London. In 1958 the Grand Lodge of Ireland still listed 5 Military Lodges, and the 1988 “List of Lodges” listed 2 Lodges as being active.
The Grand Lodge of Scotland lists 4 Lodges with military titles, but these are not longer truly Military Lodges.
Circuit of Service Lodges
The Circuit of Service Lodges, formed in 1993 and currently comprising 42 Lodges, exists to promote comradeship and fraternal contact between military masons. To qualify as a member of the circuit a lodge must have a distinguishable military culture and ethos that can only be achieved by a predominance of servicemen or veterans in its membership ranks.
The idea of forming an association to which military Lodges could belong, so as to encourage inter-visiting and expand the individual member’s experience of Freemasonry in a congenial and familiar environment was first discussed following a visit to the Public School Lodges Council Festival, where representatives of 32 Lodges gathered at one of their old schools on a summer’s day.
Certa Cito, Ubique, FitzRoy were the Lodges from where the instigators of this concept met and St Eligius joined the trio to make the fourth and final founding Lodge.
Three further lodges joined the Circuit, Rosemary Lodge. No 2851, originally the lodge of the Artists Rifles and later drawing its membership from Special Forces; Pegasus Forces Lodge, No 9393, an Airborne Forces lodge based in Hampshire; and Brothers in Arms, No 9540, a lodge based on Salisbury Plain. The list of member lodges reached ten with the addition of United Services Lodge, No 9605, based in Bridgend, South Wales and the Circuit grew to thirty eight. Victoria Rifles Lodge, No 822, was rescued when on the point of handing in its warrant by a group of Past Masters from military Lodges. It has since been recognised as an Installed Masters’ Lodge and is a genuinely all-Service forum in which the members and their guests spend time in perfect peace and harmony. The more recent additions are White Ensign Lodge on the outskirts of Birmingham; In Arduis Fidelis, members of which are from the RAMC and Army Medical Services; Gostling Murray Lodge, named after Lt Col Gostling Murray who at the time commanded the 8th Middlesex Rifle Volunteer Corps (in 1912 the Lodge became 'open' to officers of any Branch of His Majesty's forces); Aldershot Army & Navy Lodge; East Lancashire Centurion Lodge; United Service Lodge of Derbyshire, Queensman Lodge, which took on the warrant of Justinian Lodge in May 2012, the newly formed Armed Forces Lodge in Newport, Gwent, Connaught Army & Navy Lodge, Comrades Lodge from London, the Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria, London Irish Rifles' Lodge, the new Combined Services Lodge in Berkshire, Aldershot Royal Engineers, Parachute Regiment Lodge, Middlesex Armed Forces Lodge, Bloomsbury Rifles, Pro Patria Lodge, Invictus, London Scottish Rifles, Tudor Rose, Royal Rose, London Rifle Brigade, Shropshire Combined Services and the most recent addition, Marine Lodge in Bristol.
The Circuit participates as a platoon in the annual march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, undertakes a battlefield tour most years and also holds occasional social and other events, the most recent being a spectacular commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice at Freemasons' Hall, London, before a full to capacity Grand Temple, followed by a luncheon for 600 in the Grand Connaught Rooms.
Circuit of Service Lodges - The Travelling Gavel
The Circuit operates a Travelling Gavel, which is made from the wooden taffrail that runs around the stern of the former Royal Yacht, Britannia, now based in Leith, Edinburgh. HMY Britannia was home to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over 1,000,000 miles around the world.
The gavel was donated by Navy Lodge No. 2612 and the aim is to encourage visits between Lodges within the Circuit of Service Lodges.
The Travelling Gavel is presented, upon demand, provided attendance of the visiting Circuit Lodge is of four or more in number. If two or more sister Lodges visit and demand its surrender, the Master will surrender it to the visiting Lodge that has travelled the greatest distance.