Why did so many Freemasons Win the Victoria Cross?
New research reveals that a large number of Freemasons were awarded Britain’s highest honour. Joe Shute reports. (The Sunday Telegraph 23 April 2017)
April 25th 1915, saw one of the bravest actions of the First World War. The Galipoli campaign was only a few months old, when a battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers was tasked with capturing a sandy cove nicknamed W Beach on the Turkish peninsula.
Just 350 yards long and overlooked by machine gun and sniper nests, it was deemed impregnable. At 6am the Fusiliers landed – most were cut down before reaching the shore. A small number pressed forward, cutting through the barbed wire and storming onto the cliffs that overlooked the beach. Against all odds, success was theirs.
The Lancashire Fusiliers started the day with 27 officers and 1,002 rank and file. Twenty-four hours later, 16 officers and 304 men survived. Six were awarded the Victoria Cross and secured their place in history as the “six before breakfast” heroes. But what is far less well known is that three of them – Captain Richard Willis, Major Cuthbert Bromley and Lance Corporal John Grimshaw – were Freemasons.
They are among 64 of the 628 recipients of the Victoria Cross during the First World War who, according to new research, were part of this secretive group.
1st Lancashire Fusiliers landing on W Beach Cape Helles Gallipoli on 25th April 1915 winning 'six Victoria Crosses before breakfast'
The VC was created in 1856 to commend acts of valour following the Crimean War. It remains Britain’s highest military honour. Over the intervening century and a half, there have been 1,354 awarded – the majority to soldiers of the Great War.
The number of Freemason recipients has taken years to uncover. Now, on April 25, a memorial to them will be unveiled outside Freemasons’ Hall in London – the site of the United Grand Lodge of England – by its Grand Master, the Duke of Kent. The impressive art deco hall was opened in 1933 in tribute to the fallen. A roll of honour bearing the names of some 3,000 Freemasons who died during the conflict already occupies pride of place. But the full extent of their bravery has never previously been revealed. “It’s very easy to find somebody who won the VC and very difficult to find out if they were a mason,” says historian Mark Smith, a medals expert and regular, who has been a Freemason for 15 years. He thinks the fact so many Freemasons received the VC is down to “the type of person who wants to become one. They are friendly and generous people, who have a sense of responsibility.” The secretive society is having a bit of a moment: 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the United Grand Lodge of England, and this month a new five-part documentary series, airs on Sky.
Three of the 'six before breakfast' Heroes Winning the Victoria Cross were Freemasons.
Captain Richard Willis
Major Cuthbert Bromley
Corporal John Grimshaw