Brothers In Alms – Peace Through Sacrifice
The oldest form of written communication is the pictograph, the picture telling the story. A picture does not need text to explain it, for it tells the story better than the words. So let the pictures do the talking and the imagination the meaning. Everyone will make their own interpretation of the image, and it is up to the individual to imagine the story it tells. I have chosen mostly unknown images to show a different aspect of these wars. I have tried to portray the continued life and spirit of humanity amidst the terrible death and destruction. Not being a Freemason it was interesting for me to see how many of the subjects of the pictures had, in some way, a Masonic connection.
The Freemasons played a major role in both war and peace throughout the first half of the last century. From the leaders of men to the rank and file, Field Marshals to privates, they fought valiantly during the conflicts and supported the afflicted and downtrodden when peace came. It is a remarkable fact that one in six Victoria Crosses in the Great War were awarded to Freemasons for their bravery beyond the call of duty. Partly as a result of this, many of their comrades in arms joined Masonic lodges after the wars.
The century opened in conflict with the Second Boer War, Earl Roberts of Kandahar was in command and he was succeeded by Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, his fellow Freemason.
Kitchener had been active in many successful campaigns throughout the last quarter of the previous century. After his triumph in the Sudan he earned the reputation as one of our greatest soldiers. Roberts had predicted Germany’s warlike intentions in a public address in Manchester in 1912, but no one heeded his warning.
When the First World War broke out Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War. He was a lone voice in government in predicting a long conflict. His face on the recruitment posters for volunteers is probably one of the most recognisable marketing images of all time.
At the outset of the war Field Marshal Sir John French, also a Freemason and former colleague of Kitchener, was appointed Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front. After a series of disastrous campaigns he was recalled and replaced by Field Marshal Earl Haig, with whom he had been a good friend for many years. Haig served as Commander in Chief of the BEF until the end of the war. Haig was also a Freemason.
For all the criticism he bore for the great loss of life in the war, Haig cared deeply for his men. When the war ended he refused to accept an Earldom from the government until they agreed to substantially increase war pensions to veterans and their families. He devoted his life to raising funds for ex-servicemen. He founded the Royal British Legion and the Poppy Appeal. It is surely apt to say about him (to paraphrase a contemporary): “there were those who served and those who gave and those who did both”.
Other Freemason soldiers included John Dimmer, awarded a VC only to die shortly before the war’s end leading his men from the front on his white charger, and the remarkable Bernard Freyberg, a dentist from New Zealand, who earned his passage to Europe, in order to enlist, by winning a boxing contest in New York and who went on to be awarded a VC and Three Bars to his DSO. In the Second World War he became a General and Commander of the New Zealand forces in Italy, served with distinction and after the war was made Governor-General of NZ. Harold Alexander, later Earl Alexander of Tunis, was another career soldier and Freemason who was active in both World Wars. He was awarded the MC and DSO in the First World War, held high ranking positions in the Second and was then appointed Governor-General of Canada. Viscount John Vereker Gort was another Mason who was awarded a VC for action during the disastrous battle of The Canal du Nord in the First World War and commanded the BEF at the beginning of the Second. He later served as Governor of Malta.
Dame Florence Burleigh-Leach was one of an increasing number of women Freemasons. She volunteered to do menial work in the Women’s Legion and rose to become Chief Controller of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp. General “Black Jack” Pershing was also a Freemason in his home town in Nebraska. He saw out the First World War as Commander of the American Expeditionary Force and then returned a hero and did much good work.
Three hospitals were founded in London by the Freemasons for the benefit of all the wounded, whether or not they were Freemasons. Many others throughout the country were established or expanded through the generous donations of their members who were known to “ give quickly and with both hands”.
This Exhibition commemorates the centenary of “peace through sacrifice” at the end of the First World War. It celebrates the lives of those who took part in the war from the Royal Princes and Generals to the ordinary men and women in those extraordinary times. From the gods of war who led the armies to their eventual victory to the dogs of war who rescued the wounded and were man’s best friend. It contains images from the beginning of the last century up to the end of the Second World War. Featuring those who served in both wars, those who led and those who served in the field, on land, on the sea and in the air, illustrating the vast geography of the wars.
The images illustrate both the old style war with horses and cannons and the new mechanised war with tanks, motorcars, motorbikes and aeroplanes. It shows women at the front helping the wounded and caring for them, driving ambulances and being despatch riders, organised as a Women’s Army for the first time.Animals played a great role in the war, from the horses and camels to dogs pulling guns and rescuing the wounded, together with mascots and pets. There are images of soldiers at play, relaxing amid the carnage and the entry of the US into the war in 1917 and the subsequent ending of the war and the declaration of peace.
In making the selection of the pictures, I am reminded of my time at the Hulton-Deutsch, after I bought the collection from the BBC and spent many enjoyable days and nights “hulting” through the archive. I became fascinated by the stories that the pictures told and remembered many First World War pictures that came up in the research for the exhibition. Many of the images chosen have come from there. My thanks are due to Matthew Butson and Brian Doherty at Hulton Getty Images for allowing access to the archive and their advice. To Jonathan Butler at Alamy and his team who have been most helpful; Alison Metcalfe and Helen Symington at the National Library of Scotland and Miranda Poliakoff at Fulham Palace. Also, to all the staff at the United Grand Lodge of England and the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, who have been most helpful.
Finally, my greatest thanks go to my partner and better half, Catherine Plunkett, for all her wise counsel and hard work in bringing this exhibition to life. Without her I could not have managed.