Before we became Freemasons, we had, each and every one of us, entertained a favourable opinion, preconceived, of the Order, and we had a sincere wish for knowledge ; but what was that favourable opinion based upon, and in what sense did we hope to increase our knowledge?

There are, we hope, now very few members of our Order who joined it simply because someone had suggested that it was rather a good thing to do; for experience has proved that very few who come under that category ever lend that attentive ear to our teachings which is to be found among those who had definitely formed a favourable opinion of their own and had also an innate desire for knowledge.

But we repeat, what was that favourable opinion based upon? And, was there any kind of knowledge which we hoped to acquire?

The answer to these questions is so important that, we may say, the ultimate progress and line of Masonic activity of the brother very largely depends upon it, for in that very same place wherein we were first prepared, there shall we be found in the end, and, curiously enough, in the very next place wherein our preparation took place, there will our conversation and attitude illustrate the answers to the above-mentioned questions.

But we are now dealing principally with the second question, and it is a fact a certain amount of disappointment usually awaits the intelligent initiate; and although he is never sorry he was admitted into our ancient and honourable Institution still It feels that the knowledge he sought seems to be as far off as
That feeling of disappointment should always be there, it is healthy sign. Soon indeed it will become quite obvious our aspirations are, after all, embraced within the far-reaching scope of Ancient Masonry, and the original feeling of disappointment will change to one of increased interest, because we s find that the field of research is wider than we thought it and that our mental environment has become enlarged, or least it may be provided we endeavour to make a constant advancement in Masonic knowledge.

It is here only fair to say that there appears to be some very widespread though primitive ideas as to what constitutes Masonic knowledge; some have appeared to suppose that it consists in an acquaintance with the formula and ceremonies of a large number of ‘degrees’; some that it means an accurate and word-perfect knowledge of the wording of some particular form of Ritual; some would say that the inculcation of the principle of Charity covers the whole field and is quite sufficient; others again, go a step further, and think it means knowledge of the History of Speculative Free Masonry and the origins — so far as they can be found — of our symbols ; some that it is essential that we should be well acquainted with the ‘old charges’ and know, for instance, what it is to be “Antenna within all sides,” and to have a knowledge of the alleged connection with many notable Philosophers of the past, not forgetting our dear old friend Peter Gower, and so on; then there is the matter of the Secrets and Privileges of Freemasonry; but it is hardly necessary to remind Masons that the Secrets of this degree’ and the real secrets of Masonry are two different things; otherwise we should not in our invocation to the GAOTU use such an expression as “assisted by the secrets of our Masonic Art”; and so reviewing all the above headings we see that they are all very desirable for a thorough acquaintance of what is included under the term Masonry and that the study of these subjects should by no means be omitted; still it is quite possible, nay probable, that with all this our “intelligent initiate,” who has by now been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, has, still not come across the knowledge he was looking for, nor is he satisfied with the knowledge obtained. This also is a healthy sign.

Rituals are many, and it is extremely advisable to study many of them, not indeed to merely proceed to learn them by heart, much less to take up the attitude of the mere critic and note various illogical statements, historical statements that will not bear the light of history, want of sequence in events or symbolism which has ceased to have its older meaning, etc.; but by study is meant, picking out the essential features and grasping the general import of the teachings inculcated in the various parts. This is the analysis; the synthesis will be found in the third degree. The reason why the study of several Rituals is advocated is because an analysis of those (under all Constitutions in amity), will disclose the fact that the same general teachings may be couched in different terms.

The spirit of the teachings is everything, wording is a matter of secondary importance; but when we have done as suggested we shall find that the matter is slightly involved, for what are the teachings? Here we begin. These teachings are principally exhortations to us to regulate our lives, our actions and our thoughts along certain avenues; which may be defined as moral and religious, mental, and philosophical. But the matter is still more involved as we find that the first two are essential for acquiring the third, and still further again, the first and the third are shown to be so closely connected that it may be said that the third is the first qualified by the second. Here, then, we have a complicated system, and that system must be thoroughly grasped, and the moment that system is grasped the very next attendance in Lodge will, if the ceremony is carefully followed, be found to illustrate system with a clearness which becomes surprising on the one hand, while on the other there will be evinced ‘connections our whole system’ which had not been apparent before. We may spend a considerable time in working this out mentally with great advantage; the Ritual is designed to inculcate teachings; the teachings develop a system and the system is for us to act upon. Yes, and here we begin a second stage, for even the knowledge of our system, though a great acquisition, is still not what we were looking for. Nevertheless, the mere fact that we understand the matter thus far, will be genuine progress; in fact we might almost call it the first regular step in Ancient Freemasonry; it must be taken; yet we must admit that among the thousands who range under our banners there are some w can hardly be said to realize the fact.

The usual definition Freemasonry — “A peculiar System of Morality,” etc., is totally insufficient as a definition of our whole system, and to the writer it has appeared extraordinary that so many of the old Masonic authors take it as it stands, quote it, and twist their arguments into line with it, apparently quite oblivious of the fact that the said definition belongs to the moral part of the system only, and indeed is given by the entered apprentice who does not as yet know what is to follow. The rest of the system, i.e. the, carrying out of it, is indeed a moral obligation to Masons, but cannot be described or defined as Morality.

We have heard of the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart, we next proceed to deal with his mind, and lastly we deal with both together in order to arrive at the summit of our profession; indeed; those two great parallels Moral and Intellectual, are inseparable for Masons whatever they may be for others.

The next great step, then, is the widening of the intellectual environment, but here we have carefully to distinguish between human affairs and the business of the world of men, on the one hand, and a knowledge of the Universe in which for the time being we live and move and have our being, on the other.

There is no such thing as Philosophy without knowledge, neither will it be found that we can name any one of our great Philosophers of the past who had not spent a large part of his life purposely and designedly, in acquiring all available knowledge of the Universe, i.e. of Nature and her processes. Our ancient Brethren travelled for that purpose and worked diligently in analysing minutely the works of the GAOTU—and so must we.

It can never be too strongly impressed upon our minds that we live in a privileged age; an age in which the book of Nature has received a new index, an age in which whole pages hitherto uncut, have been opened, and in, which whole chapters of revelation of the past history, present condition and future prediction have been brought to light for the first time in human history. What would not our ancient brethren have given to have read those chapters? And shall we who presume to follow in their steps neglect to do so? One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that if we, who can acquire such knowledge so easily compared with the laborious exertions of our forerunners ; if we, who can so easily know more than they did, neglect the opportunity, there comes a sudden end and a full stop to the process of acquiring of Masonic knowledge. On the other hand, such a vast expanse is opened to us that we no longer feel any surprise when told to make daily advancement, indeed we realize that, as fellow craftsmen, our work is for the “future” — from now onwards.

Although as E.A.’s we are to study such of the liberal Arts as we can, it must be distinctly understood that as F.C.’s we must go very much further and probe into the mysteries of Nature. Now this probing into the mysteries of Nature is simply and plainly Science. In the olden days there was an idea that there were mysteries of Nature on the one hand, and mysteries of Science on the other, a very mistaken and withal ignorant idea. Science is the means whereby we investigate and solve any mystery. When the solution is satisfactory, the mystery vanishes.

There is in Nature no end to her mysteries, thus there 4 an unlimited field for Science to work upon. The starting point of Science may be said to be that point at which preconceived and ill-founded ideas, and above all, superstitious notions are eliminated and banished from the mind, which then attacks the problem truly on the basis of experience, and conscientiously on the basis of logical truth. As Huxley remarked: “and Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Very great then is our responsibility to-day, because we have within reach the results of this accurate observation of the past century, and with them we have vastly improved and increased means of making our own observations. That Nature is a manifestation of the works of the G.A.O.T.U. is a principle we learn very early in Masonry. Let us then learn to know the voice of Nature, this we shall do by studying Nature. It is true that after much study of Nature and very deep contemplation, some, of the great teachers of the past have, through this voice of Nature, coupled with an unshaken faith in the G.A.O.T.U., become conscious of what we may describe as a second or more withdrawn voice — an experience — which may occur without necessarily being accompanied by a power to express it in ordinary language. Such experiences are not acquired without practice in analytical observation and reasoning, concentration of effort and thought; abstraction from irrelevant trains of thought, contemplation and isolation.

It may very truly be said that there is a common tendency, especially among western peoples, to be tied and bound up, so to speak, with themselves; always thinking of everything with reference to “me.” This is fatal to a genuine comprehension of environment, whether that environment is physical or spiritual.

The authors of some of the Upanishads had evidently learnt to at least be able to eliminate self when required, and on the points of concentration and contemplation we have doubtless much to learn from those “dwellers in the forests.” After we have acquired a fair comprehension of our environment in a straightforward scientific manner — not quibbling about concepts and precepts, which is useless, since we cannot define consciousness — it will then be found that the relative position of the ‘ego’ will manifest itself. To some readers perhaps, the ground-work of some of the above statements may be considered somewhat controversial; but it is submitted nevertheless that an increased knowledge of God, of Nature and of Man’s place therein, may be acquired by adopting these methods, which come down to us from the remote past and through the Masonic system; and such knowledge is what we mean by Masonic knowledge.

The recommendation to study Nature implies practical investigation. Huxley wrote as follows: “for nothing is truer than Harvey’s dictum, that those who read without acquiring distinct images of the things about which they read, by the help of their own senses, gather no real knowledge, but conceive mere phantoms and idols.” This may sound a little harsh; but all who have tried the practical work will agree.

In using this word ‘ work,’ however, we mean no irksome task, no drudgery, no fruitless toil, and above all nothing incompatible with our moral or religious duties; here are no qualms of conscience, but an enjoyable and legitimate use of our corporeal and mental faculties in their fullest energies.

And the pertinent question of time? Is there then not so much time available for estimating the wonderful works of the Almighty as there is for estimating the cash value of a minute? The answer to this question has been solved by many of the old Philosophers by saying that there comes a time when more seclusion and retirement is necessary. It is also partially solved in the Masonic division of the twenty-four hours given in the first stage.

Masonic knowledge thus acquired will make us to be ” in the world but not of it and will enlighten us as to that mystic tie which will bind the fraternity together, even though all existing institutions should fail, for Masonry has subsisted from time immemorial, and will continue to do so.

The final and Philosophical stage necessitates an acquaintance with what has been put before us by the Philosophers of the past; and even as all Philosophies are not identical, so will there be differences between some of the conclusions at which different Brethren arrive. But these conclusions should not be merely what we have borrowed from others; but should be ” ours,” in go far as they are distinctly qualified by what we have acquired by our own efforts in the first two stages. Among those who possess a background of practical experience in investigation, there will be found much mutual agreement on matters philosophical, scientific and religious, and in every case there will be an expansion of the mind, and an ennobling of the individual in particular, and, hence, of Freemasonry in general.

Brother A. Gorham
No date.

[The above reproduced from typescript sheets bearing only the name of the author. Should anyone have any information regarding the author (particularly first name) and where and when this may have been published the details would be welcome – Ed.]

Before, During and after

In the Museum at Freemasons’ Hall, Edinburgh. there is a remarkable document, being a Roll of Founder Members of the River Valley P.O.W. Masonic Club [I]. The Roll is remarkable for several reasons but in order to set it in context some brief historical notes are perhaps appropriate.

War in Europe was declared on 3rd September 1939. British military activity initially therefore was concentrated there, in the Middle East and North Africa. When the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbour in the Hawaiian Islands on 8th December 1941, the Second World War had been underway for over two years. This attack on Pearl Harbour is often thought to be the first aggressive act by the Japanese armed forces but in fact one hour before [2], a force of 5,500 Japanese soldiers had landed at Kota Bharu, Malaya [3].

Their intention was to capture Malay in 100 days. This aim was achieved in 70 days. On 10th December 1941, the British Battleships `Repulse’ and ‘Prince of Wales’, flying the flag of Admiral Phillips, were sunk attempting to stem the Japanese landings. With little air support and no tanks the Empire forces were pushed south by elite Japanese troops who had been specially trained for jungle warfare [4]. The Empire troops fell back to Singapore Island and on 8th February 1942 the Japanese invaded the island. General Percival commanding the Empire forces surrendered on 15th February 1942. That surrender was, in part, forced on him because water supplies had been cut. More than 95,000 military personnel became Prisoners of War [5].

Civilians were incarcerated in the infamous Changi Gaol and military personnel in the sprawling prison camp which surrounded it. Much has been written regarding the experiences of Freemasons in this camp [6] details of which I need not here repeat.

As Brother Hewitt stated in 1967. “River Valley Road P.O.W. Masonic Club [7] is another small body about which little is known” [8].

In time the Japanese military forces began to organise P.O.W.’s into camps outside Changi Gaol and Camp. Most were loosely selected on the basis of their local knowledge, occupation or fitness [9]. River Valley Road P.O.W. Camp was to the west of Singapore City. Generally small groups of prisoners [50-75] were initially selected to work from such camps [10]. Most were put to work repairing bomb damage etc. in the docks area. After several weeks some prisoners were diverted to tasks more suited to their occupations such as making louvre windows for P.O.W. camp huts etc. [11].

The Roll of Founder Members of the River Valley Road P.O.W. Masonic Club is dated 10th July 1942. It lists 25 Brethren. Six of the Scottish Constitution, five Australian, one Irish and Thirteen English. Each of the Brethren was given his own personal copy of the Roll [12], all twenty five of which had been prepared by Brother C. D. Pickersgill [13].

The decision to prepare such a Roll [let alone twenty five copies] is remarkable because the Japanese had accepted, totally, Nazi propaganda against Freemasonry. The Brethren’s names, Mother Lodge, Masonic Rank and even signatures are recorded. Had any of the twenty five copies been discovered by the Japanese all twenty five almost certainly would have been executed [14].

Of the original twenty five copies of the Roll, two are known to still exist. One is in the Museum of Freemasons’ Hall, Edinburgh, and the other is in the possession of a surviving Brother. A third copy is thought to possibly be in the Singapore Masonic Museum. The fact that any have survived is all the more remarkable as each were hand drawn [and coloured] on delicate rice paper.

The activities of the Brethren in the camp were limited. The only time that they were allowed to themselves was on Thursday afternoons when all prisoners were allowed to ‘debug’ their clothing and bedding by putting it into an oven. The clothing etc., was put in an oven and the heat turned up sufficiently to kill the bugs without burning the clothing. As the Brethren slowly made themselves known to each other [15] they arranged to meet together each Thursday afternoon. Once sufficient numbers attended on a regular basis they were able to convince their Japanese guards (and other non-Masons] that they were holding a religious service. The only item used was the Volume of the Sacred Law. All the Degrees were worked [16] and with the diversity of Constitutions present the Brethren were also treated to lectures by Past Masters [17] on the Symbolism of Freemasonry, the different workings in each Constitution and in-depth discussions as to the different rituals etc.

The Japanese Guards were ever present, especially when ‘large’ groups of prisoners moved around. How then were the Brethren able to meet every Thursday afternoon and hold Masonic discussions for an hour or two? Who was the Tyler? The fact that these ‘gatherings’ (whilst doing the necessary ‘debugging’) were thought to be religious in nature means that the Japanese guards unwittingly ‘volunteered’ to keep off all `Cowans and Evesdroppers’. One stood outside the door and the other stood inside. Both had a rifle with fixed bayonet. Needless to say neither could speak nor understand English!

The Japanese forces were anxious to consolidate their position and planned also to invade India through Burma. Once the work in Singapore was completed therefore, most of the P.O.W.’s were transferred to the infamous Burma/Siam Railway. I have been unable to trace any organised Masonic activity in the various camps there which hardly surprising given the conditions and the constant movement of P.O.W.’s. Even in these circumstances individuals remembered the Masonic precepts of Faith, Hope and Charity, assisting each other where possible, even if only to hold hands whilst a Brother passed to the Grand Lodge above [18]. On one occasion a Brother [19] was asked to stay in a camp to look after six P.O.W.’s who were near death [20]. He recalls rolling hand-made cigarettes [21] when an Australian Padre [22] arrived and seeing that he was using pages from the V.S.L. to make the cigarettes he told him that this was alright as long as the pages were not used for ‘anything else’ [23].

During the frequent forced marches of one group of P.O.W.’s ‘leap-frogging’ each other, many P.O.W.’s recall that even in these dire circumstances a Scot had managed to keep his bagpipes and played them continuously during several of the forced marches from one camp to another [24].

Most of the Brethren named on the Roll apparently perished whilst working on the railway. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to confirm all the details of the Brethren named on the Roll [25].

The ‘Unconditional Surrender’ of the Axis forces in Europe on 7th May 1943 and many regard this as the end of the War. It was not until 14th August 1945 that the Emperor of Japan ordered his forces to lay down their arms.

Even after the cessation of hostilities the tribulations of the P.O.W.’s were not over. Many were left in camps all over Malaya waiting for to be released. Some very small scale Masonic activity took place, even if only on a one to one basis. It was important at this very last moment to maintain spirits. It is worthy of note that the last St Andrew’s day service held before relief by Empire Forces was held in a small native hut. It is specifically remembered that towards the end of this service [26] two Brethren who were not of the Scottish Constitution [27] knowing what the occasion was, approached from a distance, singing; “there is a voice calling, calling” As they approached the ‘kirk’ their voices grew more powerful. The men present wept.

The veterans of the Far East War often consider themselves to have been part of the ‘Forgotten Army’. Let us never forget these Brethren who kept the Light of Freemasonry alive in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

FOOTNOTES

  1. The Roll was presented to the Grand lodge of Scotland in 1985 by Mrs Banner. Brother Banner who is second on the Roll, died on the infamous Burma/Siam railway in 1943. How the Roll came into the possession of his widow is a mystery.
  2. Times adjusted to GMT.
  3. At the extreme North East of Malaya.
  4. Including the Imperial Guards (5th and 18th), some of the best trained in the Japanese Army.
  5. Including the 2nd Battalions of the Gordon Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
  6. Craftsmen in Captivity Part III`, by Brother A. Hewitt. The Grand Lodge of Scotland Year Book 1967.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The conditions were bad, “As for the British and Australian P.O.W.’s. they were marched off to Changi Barracks where they were herded into overcrowded prison pens. They were even worse accommodated at the River Valley Camp, to which working parties were sent” The Hill of Singapore, by Frank Owen.
  9. Many of the Brethren recorded on the Roll were resident in Singapore.
  10. Other similar camps were located at: Sime Road, Outram Road and Havelock Road, details of which are also slight.
  11. Brother Ovens was a Cabinetmaker in civilian life.
  12. The only possessions allowed were: wooden sandals, a ‘G’ string and a cotton bag to hold the rice ration. One member of the Masonic Club [Brother Hugh Ovens] kept his copy or the Roll in a length of bamboo with a piece of string tied through it. Apparently this convinced the guards that there was hollow am it as the bamboo ‘lithe’ was never searched. To quote: “I kept this certificate inside my hollow bamboo pole on which I hung my rice bag and I put a rope through it, so that when the guards searched us, they never thought to look inside the bamboo pole. I have the certificate to this day and it is something that is very special to me and brings back memories of one or the few good experiences of my time in the Far East.”
  13. Brother Pickersgill was an architect in Singapore. An eyewitness has confirmed that he died on working on the Burma/Siam Railway. There is another reference to Brother Pickersgill in the article referred to at [6] opposite. ‘The death of Brother Pickersgill is not recorded by the War Graves Commission.
  14. Searches were frequent. The guards were particularly looking for razor blades, mirrors and wireless sets.
  15. Brother C.S.M. George Barbour carefully sought out members of the Craft using signs, tokens and words in that camp, particularly among the Scots.
  16. Demonstrations only.
  17. Although Brother Leonard Banner is described on the Roll as a P.M. he was actually a Right Worshipful Master at this time having been Installed in June 1941. No other Master was Installed until after the war and therefore Brother Banner died as the Master. of Lodge Tullibardine- in-the-East. No.1118.
  18. Brother Ovens recalled several such instances of Masonic kindness but with the passage of time cannot recall the names of the Brethren concerned.
  19. Brother Hugh Ovens.
  20. Including one Mason.
  21. Made from Thai grass which was washed and dried in the sun and “blew your head off”.
  22. Padre Harry Thorpe, Brother Ovens explained to him, what he was doing -“making Holy Smoke!”
    Padre Thorpe survived the war and visited Brother Ovens in Glasgow in 1946.
  23. All along the railway the trees had been stripped bare from ground to just above head height.
  24. I have not as yet been able to confirm who this P.O.W. was, but I take the opportunity to quote another P.O.W.’s recollection; (26th May 1943), “That night after night, hour after hour, heading the column, a piper from Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders played a dirge, inexplicably tender, infinitely sad. The thin, slow sound often waned, drowned out by the beat of the downpour, but always came back like a distant beacon in a storm.” From; To the River Kwai, by John Stewart.
  25. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission attempted to record all those servicemen who died during the war. The difficulty in tracing those on the Roll is due to the fact that no regiments/units are recorded. There is therefore, no Regimental records that can be accessed. This problem is further compounded by the fact that many of the Brethren recorded on the Roll were members of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force which were recruited locally and the records held in Singapore. Such records were destroyed as the Japanese advanced.
  26. The Australian Padre. Harry Thorpe, was very active and never forgot St Andrew’s, St Patrick’s or St George’s Days, holding a service every year on each of the patron Saints’ days.
  27. Two Australians with Welsh names. Ivor Jones and Jack Rourke. I have been unable to confirm if they were Masons.