On this evening of the First of July, I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk to you about the sacrifices made by many Freemasons, who volunteered to do their bit for King and Country, some one hundred years ago, when the Great War was under way. In the case of our hosts – Redhall Lodge No 260 on the register of The Grand Lodge of Ireland, we know that eleven Brethren volunteered and of that number, 8 paid the supreme price. Lodge members from Redhall, who served included :-
Robert Boyd R.N.R.
William Dick – kiiled in action.
John Donnan Lieut R.N.
Allen E, Hawthorne Lieut R.N.
James Hawthorne. killed in action.
James Hill. killed in action.
William McKay. killed in action.
Robert McCauley. killed in action.
George Ross. killed in action.
William Wilson. killed in action.
Thomas Woodside R.N.R. killed in action.
Earlier this morning, their Brethren from Redhall 260 laid a wreath to the memory of their fallen Members, at a wreath laying ceremony held at the Cenotaph in Ballycarry at 7.30AM this morning. As you all, by now know, this was the time when the first wave left their trenches to attack the German lines. Some 3000 Ulstermen died that day, but in total the British lost some 19240 men in the battles of the 1st July 1916.
You may be surprised to learn that officers below the rank of major died at a much higher rate on the Somme than private soldiers did. On that first day of battle on the 1st July 1916 some 60% of British Officers on the front lines were killed in action. Although we all talk about the first day of the Somme, the battle was to rage over a fifteen mile long front for some 141 days, up to the 18th November 1916 with some 419,654 men being Killed, Declared Missing or Wounded, as the battle progressed.
Something we do not often think of is the fact that The Royal Flying Corps, the air army of the British Army, lost 800 aircraft and 252 aircrew were killed in The Battle of the Somme. So we now have an opportunity to think of Serg James Hopkins and 2nd Lieut William Martin from 162 Islandmagee, both served in the RAF at that time. Similarly Capt George H Creighton, a member of Chichester Lodge No 313 Whitehead also fought at the Somme. Another 313 Member George H Moir was a captain in the Royal Navel Air Service. Thankfully all four of these Brethren made it safely home.
You may be interested to learn that some 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded to participants in The battle of the Somme. Four of these were won on the 1st day of the battle by men serving in the 36th Ulster Division. And of these, our Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth was in Bushmills, County Antrim earlier this week to unveil a memorial statue to Sergeant Robert Quigg, who ventured into No-Mans Land seven times on the evening of the 1st July as he searched for his commanding Officer Lieutenant Sir Harry McNaughton, whilst coming under heavy shell and machine gun fire. He was un-able to find his officer, but did bring safely back some seven other casualties, before he became too tired to continue. For this sterling effort, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Queen Elizabeth had met Quigg at the time of her coronation, and now she has dedicated a statue to his memory.
Tonight, I want to spend a few moments and tell you a little about a very special Irish Masonic Lodge No 420, known as Pioneers Masonic Lodge, attached ( today we would say embedded ) in the 16th battalion of The Royal Irish Rifles. These notes were taken from a short paper written by Bro Major R.C. Gardiner, foundation Master of the Lodge, and was presented in Grand Lodge on the 26th October 1917, on the occasion of the first leave received by Major Gardiner since his recruitment. This Lodge was formed by a number of Irish Freemasons, who came together in the Pioneer Battalion of The Royal Irish Rifles, and they made application to the Grand Lodge of Ireland, who in turn issued Warrant No 420 to the applicants, for use of
the Brethren serving in the 16th Pioneer Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. The Battalion were initially based in the grounds of Brownlow House in Lurgan, and consequentially the Lodge selected an enamel painting of Brownlow House, to act as their Foundation Jewel.
On completion of their initial training, the battalion were moved to Aldershot before finally arriving in France. They just had time in Aldershot to get a set of Officers pedestals, an Alter and Warrant Frame manufactured by a local joiner, who also manufactured carrying frames to protect the furniture and regalia, which they had also purchased in England before departure.
This may be the moment to explain the duties of a Pioneer Battalion. These were the highly trained men who built new roads, laid new railways, dug trenches complete with fiure-steps, ammunition stores and the drainage sump, placed barbed wire and built dug-outs and other fortified positions. They, and the pioneer battalions attached to other regiments, were the men that provided the access, laid the roads and rails, to bring in the heavy field-guns and some 1.2 million shells that were used in the sustained artillery barrage over the five days prior to the 1st July. They were also the men who brought in the horse drawn ambulances, the stretchers and set up the field hospitals, drainage and other structures to keep the army fed and watered whilst on station at the front. Then once an attack was mooted, the Pioneers, like other Battalions were given their place on the Line, at the front in the initial attack, or in reserves to come to the aid and support of other battalions as required.
Pioneer Lodge, was one of the most remarkeable Lodges in the British Army, as it held various meetings on the Front Line. On one famous occasions, whilst giving a second degree to two Brethren one evening in a dug-out, the Lodge Members had to endure sustained machine gun and shell fire, until
the situation became so hot, that the WM stopped the Degree, Called off the Lodge and told all present to carefully vacate the dug-out and retire until the barrage reduced. Two hours later, they safely returned to the dug-out and completed the degree ceremony, before Lodge was closed in the usual way. It was these meetings, that set Pioneers Lodge apart from many of the other Masonic Lodges that held their meeting safely back in the rear areas behind the Front line. For those wanting to read the full story of the adventures of The Pioneer Lodge, then I would recommend that you get a copy of the reprint of volume one of the Transactions of The Irish Lodge of Research, where you can read the entire fascinating story.
Brethren, it was an honour to participate in the commemorations of the Brethren from Redhall Masonic Lodge No 260 I.C. as they commemorated the sacrifices made by their Lodge some one hundred years ago today. We learned a lot about the causes and development of The Great War from the talk given earlier that evening by the Rev John Nelson, enjoyed the two songs written about The Great War sung by Wor Bro Mervyn Robinson and also enjoyed the marvellous display that had been set up on the Ground Floor for our education and enjoyment.