© Library & Museum of Freemasonry
Sir Sydney A White, Grand Secretary 1937 to 1957
Masons at War
On 19 July 1939, some 12,000 Freemasons were present at an
Especial Grand Lodge at Olympia to witness the installation
of the new Grand Master, the Duke of Kent, by a Past Grand
Master, King George VI, who was also his brother.
Representatives from many overseas countries were
present: Australia, Canada, Finland, the USA, France,
Norway, Greece, Denmark and the Netherlands.
By way of contrast, seven weeks later the Grand Secretary,
Sydney White, reported to Russell McLaren, President of
the Board of General Purposes, on the low numbers attending
the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge held on
“Grand Lodge on Wednesday with an attendance of about 20 was
not a prolonged business. I think we started about eight minutes to
six, as everyone who seemed likely to attend was then present, and
we were out about 5 minutes past.”
On 1 September, the German army invaded Poland and on
3 September, Britain declared war. Grand Lodge had been
unable to cancel its September meeting, but in a notice dated
1 September, urged members not to attend due to concerns
about air raids and enemy attacks.
Within a year, as Germany took control of much of continental
Europe, Freemasonry had been banned in many of the
countries which had sent representatives to that July meeting.
Since the Czech crisis in September 1938, which had taken
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Munich to negotiate
with Hitler, there had been a growing public perception in
Britain that war was imminent. Rearmament in Britain had
begun on a large scale in 1935 to counter Germany’s growing
military strength in the air. After September 1938, precautions
for the security of the civilian population were increased with
the introduction of air raid precautions and the development
of procedures for evacuation from large cities.
Although Freemasonry remained staunchly non-political,
the build-up to war was echoed in the Masonic newspapers of
the time, such as the Freemason’s Chronicle, which commented
in October 1938 shortly after the Munich Agreement, that
“the past days have created a state of tense anxiety by the
swiftly gathering clouds of war”.
When war broke out, all Lodge and Chapter meetings were
suspended. However, this was relaxed the following month,
and meetings were resumed under “special directions”.
These included giving Masters (or Principals) the power
to cancel any regular meeting, even if it had already been
summoned, if circumstances appeared to warrant it, or to
alter the day or place of a meeting. These special directions
largely remained in force until December 1945.
Another of the special directions concerned proceedings
after Lodge meetings, which were to be “brief and simple”.
Food rationing was introduced in January 1940 and was not
finally ended until 1954. Rationing for clothing was introduced
in June 1941 and was only lifted in March 1949.
Both were to have an impact on Masonic meetings.
In 1941, permission was given by Grand Lodge for gloves
not to be worn during meetings as they were becoming
difficult to obtain and all clothing needed coupons.
Administrative documents, such as the reports of the
proceedings of the Quarterly Communication of Grand
Lodge, were also reduced in length as paper became rationed.
The Library and Museum at Great Queen Street was
temporarily closed in September 1939, but soon reopened,
although the china and glass were stored in the basement,
the pictures, aprons and furniture moved to a mezzanine
floor and the silver and jewels were kept in the safe.
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