A vast number of Artificers gathered on 5th February, drawn by the first visit to our Lodge by a Provincial Grand Master since April 1998, the meeting which celebrated our Centenary. R.W. Bro Peter Magnay, DL, Provincial Grand Master, accompanied by the Provincial Grand Lodge Officers, was admitted in due form and saluted with seven. 27 Lodge Members and Guests greeted Provincial Team A, whose 25 members were only just outnumbered by us.
The PGM, on being presented with the Master’s Gavel and returning it to the WM, commented, with humour, that he ‘could not promote dereliction of duty especially in a Military Lodge’
WBro Capt MO Binns was Invested as IPM by the WM who expressed his personal pleasure, and that of the entire Lodge, on his return to the Lodge after his recent illness, hospitalisation and ‘uphill’ ongoing recovery.
The IPM related the events of the last six months since his fall, subsequent stroke, his recovery and ongoing difficulties. He expressed his thanks to the WM and to the Brethren for their continuing support and best wishes
Bro Derek Flower was then passed to the second Degree, following which a surprise and unexpected event occurred during the Risings.
The PGM asked Bro Col Alec Johnson MBE, TD, DL the senior member of the Lodge (who was Initiated 19th November 1959) to step forward. The PGM related his long and varied associations, both Masonic and non Masonic, with Bro Alec and wished, on the occasion of this Provincial Visit, to give a Field Promotion and Appoint him to the Rank of Past Provincial Assistant Grand Standard Bearer.
Bro Col Johnson, rather astounded, could only murmur ‘Thank you very much’.
The Lodge and the Visiting Provincial Team congratulated Bro Alec on his Preferment and the singular honour given to him personally and also felt by Reserve Forces Lodge as a whole.
The WM reported his telephone conversation with WBro Malcolm Byrne PAGDC after his talk at our January meeting, expressing his pleasure at the size of our generous donation to TLC which was twice the per capita amount of any other donation he had received. The WM also read the letter from WBro Dennis Frazer PProvSGD, the Secretary/Treasurer of the TLC Appeal Central Group, who acknowledged receipt of the donation and thanked the Lodge for its continuing generosity.
All parties then went through to the Lounge for pre-dinner drinks, following which 49 Brethren sat down to a Festive Board menu of Mushroom Soup, Duck Breast in Orange & Grand Marnier Sauce, Tiramisu and Cheeseboard, accompanied by wines. The tables were then cleared for the Port to be passed for the toasts.
Unusually in Reserve Forces Lodge there were two longer speeches given by the WM, in proposing the toast to the PGM and in responding to the toast to the Lodge given by the Provincial Senior Grand Warden, W Bro Alan Rice. The toast to the PGM was preceded by the following:-
The next toast usually takes just seven words before we are drinking the port; tonight there will be a few more, because we have the privilege of having the RWPGM physically amongst us. That means he’s already one up on both the Queen and Grand Master, who have never visited us! Perhaps the next time you visit Great Queen Street you might mention to the Field Marshall, who after all is Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – the county Regiment of Northumberland – that this military lodge is always open to him.
Brethren, the RWPGM has given this province distinguished service since his first appointment in 1987. He came to his present high office in sad and difficult circumstances following the death of George Usher, with a Festival to be held within 2 years of his appointment and the Province looking as if it would not reach the target of £2.5 million.
Now, it is fair to say that the message from your first provincial representative at our 2007 Installation did not meet with general approbation – but that was perhaps because we felt we were already doing our bit, as was shown by the final Festival results in 2009. I think it is also fair to say that without your leadership – the concept of giving to charity each year the price of a pint of beer a week – the magnificent total of £2,969,247 would not have been reached.
You have been our PGM at a time when Freemasonry has been changing. The secretive ways from after the war are going and we are returning to a more open engagement more with our communities. Under your leadership the Province has established a web site and has a stand at County shows. Whilst the membership generally has not yet stabilised you have helped to identify ways to try to turn things around and those who have listened to you are starting to profit and increase their membership. You have looked to protect the Provincial Office through selling a white elephant and moving to Gosforth.
There is one slight concern which we at Reserve Forces now have and that, as a lawyer, you will understand. It concerns the matter of precedent. We would like to think that our PGM would feel that he can visit us regularly. However, you are here just before retiring from office and we note, with concern, that the last PGM to visit us – Michael Craigs for our centenary – also did so just before retiring!! Perhaps your successor might want to change this!
RWPGM, we hope you have enjoyed your night with us. Indeed, at the end of this summer, when your fine friends are seemingly so busy talking to someone else; your telephone has mysteriously stopped ringing as often and you perhaps find yourself at a loose end, remember it is not so far from Clayton Road to Fern Avenue and on the 1st Wednesday from October to April you can be sure of finding a welcome at Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria.
Brethren, The Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master, Peter Magnay.”
The PGM, in his response, pointed out that on his first appointment to Provincial Office in 1987 one of the Lodges then to be visited had been Reserve Forces Lodge. He then humorously explained to the gathering how, with a limited number able to attend the then Festive Board, the Provincial Secretary had made the selection, where he had passed the vetting and been present on yet another enjoyable night.
The Provincial Senior Grand Warden, W Bro Alan Rice, set out the remarkable history of the Lodge in a moving speech and asked those present to rise and drink to the health of the Lodge.
The response by the WM was as follows:-
“RWPGM, W Brethren & Brethren,
I thank W Bro Rice for the toast to the Lodge, both for its content and the way it was expressed, which showed his careful research into the our history, though this Lodge has actually provided, to both Northumberland and Durham, 2 PGM’s; 4 Deputy PGM’s 4 Assistant PGM’s, 14 ProvSGW’s and 4 ProvJGW’s. It would seem that Reserve Forces Lodge has been something of an enigma to Province and the other Lodges in the Province over a number of years. A view seems to have arisen that you can only visit us if given a specific invitation and that we keep ourselves to ourselves. Why should this have happened, when clearly we were so intimately involved in Provincial life for the first 50 years of our existence, as our history (which shows regular visiting as well as sponsoring lodges) and W Bro Rice have shown?
I believe that there is a clue in that date. It is often overlooked by the general public that Freemasons made up a sizeable proportion of those sent to concentration camps. In the same way in which Freemasonry in general withdrew from society after the Second World War, perhaps this military lodge also withdrew into itself.
It is about 10 years or so now since we began the process of re-engagement. You started to see us at the Annual Meetings of Province. We brought the Official Prestonian Lecture to Northumberland. We supported the Provincial Ball, which our ladies tell us is a great miss now that it no longer takes place.
We are, as you may have noticed, the Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria, not Northumberland. Just as that ancient kingdom stretched from Lincolnshire to north of the River Forth and from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, our members are far flung. The majority of our members neither live nor work in the Province, coming from the Provinces of Yorkshire North and East Riding, Durham and, until recently, Cumberland and Westmoreland. We are working on recruiting brethren from over the border, just make life more interesting for the Provincial Secretary!
To those of us who are of a Durham persuasion, as well as the well known words by Binyon (they shall grow not old etc) there is another, more personal Epitaph. 70 years ago at this time Japanese scouts were closing in on a small hill station in India called Kohima. In the battle from 3rd to 16th April a small force of about 2,500, of whom only 1,500 were fighting troops, from the Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment; the Rajput Regiment; the Gurhkas, Burma Regiment and Assam Regiment faced the Japanese 31st Division.
They held the enemy, though squashed into an area not much larger than this room, known as the battle of the tennis court. Reinforcements were rushed from 2nd Division, near Imphal, which included 2nd Bn DLI and around 15th May the Japanese began a retreat. Poignantly the father of our RGO was killed in action with 2 DLI on 8th May 1944.
This was the first reverse for the Japanese; had they won then the whole of India would have been open to them. The Kohima epitaph is ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today’. It is reminiscent of the stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, who were also faithful to their duty before the Persian invasion.
Brethren, when you go home to your mother Lodges, tell them of us, the Reserve Forces Lodge of Northumbria. Tell them how we are thriving; tell them how you enjoyed your evening; tell them how we conduct ourselves; tell them that we mean what we say on our web site – all are welcome as visitors, (if they let us know in time so we can arrange a meal for them) – and tell them we are determined to support this Province and return to our pre war ways.
Brethren, when you go home, tell them of us”
After the formal toasts the WM then invited the JW to address the Festive Board, when Bro David Parkins pointed out a new item. He has very generously bought and presented to the Lodge a piece of silver, being a Royal Artillery trophy, which took pride of place on the centre table.