Stacked in the corner of the bar at Cheshunt Masonic Centre were boxes and boxes marked with Royal British Legion on them. It was November of course, so the connection between Remembrance Day and poppy wreaths wasn’t too difficult to equate. But why were they there, who did they belong to and where were they destined for. ‘Lodge of the Legion’ I was told, and even though I knew people who were linked to this Lodge I never really had the opportunity to appreciate the substantial significance between what those stacked boxes were destined for and how the concepts and aims of a specialist lodge has such an impact both on a local and international level.
This year commemorates the 100th year of the Royal British Legion, and this month of course coincides with VE Day also. Therefore it seemed proper to take some time out of the calendar to find out a bit more about The Hertfordshire Lodge of the Legion, 9827 (LoTL).
Secretary of LoTL, WBro Grahame Lovett talked me through how the Lodge came to be ‘We were consecrated on 23 March 2007 and the aim really was to support the British Legion, attempting to lay poppy wreaths at all unattended war memorials within Hertfordshire on the Annual Day of Remembrance’. Meeting twice a year, the LoTL intentionally coincides with their installation on the Friday just before the Remembrance Sunday. The sense of community and connectivity is also strong, and the sight of Chelsea Pensioners who attend their regular meetings and Festive Board is something the lodge is clearly very proud about. There are some unique activities the Brethren partake in, particularly at the Festive Board installation meeting. Grahame said ‘We have our 9 O’Clock toast of ‘For The Fallen’, written by Robert Laurance Binyon, CH. The lights dimmed, we then have a bugler play The Last Post and Reveille.’ Grahame concluded that the evening is then drawn to a close with The Kohima Epitaph written by John Maxwell Edmonds.’
Something I had heard of before and had the pleasure of seeing once at the meeting of the Hertfordshire Past Masters’ Lodge, 4090 was the Ceremony of the Empty Chair. For those who have not seen it, the sentiment is remarkable and really focuses the mind. For all those present it provides that moment for reflection and appreciation. To appreciate the fact that freemasons like you and I would have enjoyed their meeting, parted at the Festive Board and were never to return. Grahame explained the origins of how this piece of ceremony came about, ‘The Empty or Vacant Chair Ceremony was developed by 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War when it was used in Masonic lodges to pay tribute to those who did not return from the war. Since then it has been used by many lodges throughout the world on Remembrance Day to pay homage to those Brother Masons who fell during WWI, WWII, and other wars; or it may be adapted to remember Past Masters, or Members.’
Asked if LoTL is exclusive to join, Grahame pointed out how inclusive they are in so much as he says ‘we’re certainly not exclusive because Chris Noble was admitted as a joining member!’ What was interesting to note was that although the founding members of the Lodge are all Past Masters, this year sees the mastership of LoTL in the hands of its first Brother initiated within the Lodge.
Undoubtedly over the past year usual business has been impacted, and even though they could not put together a specific event to commemorate VE Day this has not dampened the determination of the Brethren to keep the lights on and ensure that they remain connected. ‘As have many other Lodges we too have ensured that our communication with the membership is maintained’ Grahame explained, ‘to achieve this we have a system in place that any Brother requiring enhanced contact is able to receive with a rota system we have in place.’
In terms of the core aim of the LoTL, undoubtedly coordinating representation at unattended memorials within the Province is no small undertaking. Having procured the specially commissioned wreaths from the RBL, ‘It’s definitely a challenge for us to coordinate, partly due to the diminishing numbers of Brethren who are in a position to assist us’ Grahame confesses, ‘in the past we’ve laid 36 wreaths, but with last year we were only able to achieve half that number.’ Yet what is remarkable is that the reach of this Hertfordshire lodge has extended to the corners of foreign fields so far as Spain and even the Falkland Islands; ensuring that wreaths and remembrance go hand in hand far beyond our shores.
There are of course a range of other memorials and places of huge significance that LoTL have a strong connection with too. ‘We regularly organise trips to Europe, visiting various memorial sites and battlefields. Often our excursions coincide with attendance at The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres.’ Grahame and the team are optimistic about this year’s resumption of travel to France as part of this year’s activities of remembrance.
Of course one memorial within Hertfordshire, close to where the Lodge meets is the Liberator (Aircraft) memorial in Lieutenant Ellis Way, Cheshunt. This being the site where in 1944, Lt. Ellis and his crew steered their doomed bomber away from the villages of Waltham Cross and Cheshunt before crash landing, exploding killing all on Board. Such was the strong sense of gratitude in the local community that the pilot’s actions potentially prevented more loss of life on the ground, each year this event is remembered. Much speculation surrounds the fate of this flight, but what is for certain is the significance and importance of it and the tribute to the bravery of the crew that annually many dignitaries from the US, Her Majesty’s Lieutenancy and the Hertfordshire Provincial Executive all attend amongst many others.
Before rounding up our discussion I couldn’t resist asking Grahame to settle one or two queries around Poppy-Gate. Namely, what date is it acceptable to wear a poppy from. Secondly, what is the correct way in which a poppy should be worn? For the former Grahame confirms ‘as soon as they are on sale!’ and for the latter ‘make sure that the leaves point towards 11 o’clock”
For more information about the Hertfordshire Lodge of the Legion please contact WBro Grahame Lovett, Secretary via firstname.lastname@example.org