The annual Blenheim Lodge No 7519 remembrance service, was enhanced further for 2018, knowing that this year was the centennial armistice service. The lodge was opened by the WM Ian Turner, ably assisted by his wardens Alan Ball and Brian Jackson, along with DC Phil Pattullo. During the meeting, the lodge decided on two charitable donations to be added to those already planned at the next installation ceremony, one being £150 to the Royal British Legion and the second of £100 to the triple fundraising event to be swim, cycle and run, by the Provincial Grand Secretary Peter Taylor.
On completion of the meeting, the WM and his wardens led the procession from the Roman Suite, around to the War Memorial. At the sound of the ‘Last Post’ played by bugler Adrian Ogle, the silence was observed, followed by the laying of the Blenheim Lodge wreath by WM Ian Turner. The exhortation was given by Rev Fred Bemand, followed with a recital of “In Flanders Fields” by Bernard Start. This poem was composed by Major John McCrae, a Canadian doctor in May 1915, at the ‘Essex Farm’ advanced dressing station outside Ypres. On the otherwise barren front, where 1000s of soldiers had recently perished, he saw vast numbers of poppies blossoming. In 1918, the year in which McCrae died, a young American woman became the first person to pin a silk poppy to her clothes. Her symbolic gesture was copied throughout the British Commonwealth and the poppy was soon adopted as the official symbol to be used in commemoration of the victims of the Great War.
After leaving the memorial service, everyone made their way to the Roman Dining Room for the festive board. On completion, John Owen took centre stage to sing a number of songs contemporary to the Great War, including ‘Old Blighty’ and finishing with ‘Only Remembered’, with John encouraging all to join in the chorus.
Next on the agenda, was what has become an annual event since 2014, with an invitation to Geoffrey Cuthill of the Merseyside Association for Masonic Research, to give a talk on aspects of the Great war. Fittingly, Geoffrey chose the subject ‘Armistice Day 1918’. The talk started with the first days of the war in 1914, with emphasis on the fighting in the Mons area of Belgium and the heavy losses incurred in 1914. Geoff moved onto the latter stages of the war in November 1918 and how more British soldiers were involved in going into the attack on 4 November 1918 than on 1 July 1916. The lessons had been learnt and while the attack of 1 July saw nearly 20,000 British dead, the bigger attack on 4 November 1918 resulted in 2,000 deaths. Still a horrendous figure, but this time the army broke through the lines and caused a massive capitulation of the German Army.
Realising all was lost, the German government sent a delegation to ask for an immediate ceasefire, with the delegation arriving at the French front line on 7 November. Talks went on, with the British also involved, before an agreement was reached on 11 November. What Geoff talked about next surprised many in the room, the armistice was signed at 5:10am, on the morning of 11 November, not at 11:00am. It was only to come into force at 11:00am to enable the intervening six hours to be used to get the message to the front lines. The killing continued, with the last British soldier killed at Mons at 9:30 am, and the last Canadian soldier at 10:58 am, also at Mons. These are buried within yards of each other, along with the first soldier killed in 1914 outside Mons at St Symphorien cemetery. Also, buried there are the first Victoria Cross winner of WW1 and the first winner in WW1 of the German Iron Cross.
Geoff went on to add that officially over 2,700 men were killed on that morning and another 8,000 missing or wounded. Indeed, Armistice Day exceeded the 10,000 casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, with this difference: the men storming the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on 11 November 1918, lost their lives in a war that was already won. Had the appeal on 8 November to stop hostilities been heeded, instead of letting the talks go on, it is estimated that some 6,600 lives would likely have been saved. We shall remember them.
After a short break with coffee, the final part of the evening consisted of a film screened by the lodge WM Ian Turner, with regard to the annual ‘Ride to the Wall’ event, which he has participated in since its inaugural run. ‘Ride to The Wall’ is a unique motorcycling event which gives motorcyclists an opportunity to gather together at a place of remembrance, to pay their respects to our fallen service men and women and in doing so raise funds solely for the purpose of perpetuating their memory and recognising the sacrifice made. The RTTW event sees veterans and civilian bikers ride from across 11 different starting points around the country, as well as in Europe, particularly Belgium, converging on the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, to pay their respects to the names of the fallen and to those who can no longer ride by their side. Now in its 11th year, ‘Ride to the Wall’ has already raised £800,000 for the arboretum, the event took place on the first Saturday in October. At the conclusion, Ian informed the brethren that the planning for the run of 2019 is already in the early stages.
Sadly, the evening eventually came to a close with the tyler’s toast given in full by Bernie Start, following which the brethren departed for home.