Once again Remembrance Sunday has arrived and we all have another opportunity to remember the great sacrifices made by our armed forced and others to preserve our freedom as a people and maintain our way of life. In many many cases this results in our boys and girls being called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. It seems that hardly a day passes that we do not learn of the death of another service man or woman, somewhere in the world. One of our latest casulties was Combat Medical Technician Corporal Channing Day from 3 Medical Regiment. She was killed in a fire fight in Helmond Province, Afghanistan, as she was trying to save the life of Corporal David O’Connor of the Royal Marine Commando. Channing was only 25 years old when she died, having joined up in 2005. She was fearless in action and was renown for her medical efforts in support of our troops. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family in Comber at this time, along with the family of Corporal O’Conner who also died in the same incident. Sadly two more British soldiers have since been killed in Helmond, as we conmtinue to help the people of Afghanistan find a better way of life for themselves and their children.
A few days ago the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim recived a donation of items from the family of the late Worshipful Brother William John Harbinson. Billy, as he was known was a member of the Rev Samual Cochrane Masonic Lodge No 413, Belfast, having joined in 1946, at the end of the Second World War. He seems to have been a quiet, diligent and hard working Brother who progressed through the Lodge, serving as W.M. in 1963. He joined the Rev Samuel Cochrane Royal Arch Chapter, and served as Excellent King in 1965. He received his 50 year membership jewel in 1996 and subsequently also received his 50 year Chapter jewel. Eventually he was Called to The Grand Lodge above, and it was only at that time that his immediate family learned a little more about their Father’s military career. He had initially joined the Royal Ulster Rifles back in 1932, and had spent six years with the Rifles, in England and on various postings throughout India. He came out of the army in 1938, returned to Belfast and got married. When The Second World War began in 1939, Billy returned to the military, where he was send to bolster numbers in the Royal Welsh Regiment. He served in various postings during the War, ending up in Crete in 1941. He was there on the 20th May 1941 when the Germans launched the first massed airborne invasion deploying thousands of paratroopers. After ten solid days of fighting on the island, the battle was lost, and Billy who had been captured with many of his fellow soldiers was destined to spend the rest of the War in captivity. He passed through a number of Prisioner of War camps and made several attempts to escape. At one stage he was held in a camp on the outskirts of Berlin, from which he escaped and tried to escape by using their railway system. Finally he ended up in Colditz, where he was one of the team involved in making a wooden glider in the roof-space of the Castle. His particular duty in this instance was turning the hand generator to produce the electrical current needed to run the lights in the working area. After the War, he was released, demobbed in 1946, and the rest, as they say is history.
One little known aspect of Memorial Sunday, is the involvement of Freemasons in the various parades held in Cities, Towns and Villages throughout the country. A number of our Military Lodges such as Glittering Star No 322, The 4th/9th Royal Dragoon Guards No 295, Garryowen No 923 and Thiepval Memorial 1020 have already held their Lodge Meetings yesterday including an Act of Remembrance. In Scotland, Grand Lodge has become involved in THe Field of Remembrance – an initiative organised by Poppy Scotland in the Princes Streert Gardens Edinburgh. Grand Lodge commissioned 650 special Masonic poppy crosses, one for each of the home Lodges in the Scottish Constitution. This is an excellent initiative, where the public at large can see that Freemasons are indeed apart of Society, and played their part in the defence of Crown and Constitution. At this point it is worth remembering that the most decorated soldier in the Second World War was none other than Lieutenant Colonel Robert Paddy Blair Mayne DSO and three bars, Croix de Guerre etc was the Master of a Masonic Lodge in Newtownards in Co Down. Again, we remember with great pride the service given by Colonel Paddy and so many others in the Defence of the Realm.
Our service personnel do not start the Wars in this country, but they are usually the ones sent off to fight on our behalf. And it is our duty to support them in any way that we can, in peacetime, at War or when they are brought home injured or worse. We owe a great debt to our Service men and women, 365 days a year, and we, through our politians should be doing all that we can to support them.