Middlesex Provincial Service of Thanksgiving – Sunday 4th November – St Albans

Sunday 4th November was a special day for Middlesex Masons where they remembered not only those who gave their life in the Great War, but also honoured freemasons who had taken part in that dreadful conflict and paid the ultimate sacrifice. The Middlesex Regiment was itself prominent in the First World War with 8 Victoria Crosses and the Regiment achieving 81 battle honours. This Service of Thanksgiving took place before Remembrance Day as this would allow many Middlesex Freemasons to attend services and lay wreaths at various war memorials throughout the Province on that day.

The Service was held in the ancient and historical setting of St Alban’s Cathedral which once was again host to the Province of Middlesex Service of Thanksgiving. After an introductory organ recital by W. Bro Dr Andrew C Storey the Introit – “Ave Verum Corpus” by Mozart was sung by the Middlesex Provincial Choir and then accompanied by a fanfare and the hymn “O Worship the King”. The Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, the Rt Worshipful Peter Baker was escorted in a procession of Provincial Grand Officers and the Dean of St Alban’s who made their way along the nave to the East. Lodge and Chapter banners were also displayed.

Martin Russell, Martin HC Russell, Her Majesty’s Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London and the Representative Deputy Lord Lieutenant for the London Borough of Barnet, together with his wife Mrs Brigid Russell was an official guest of the Province at the service of Thanksgiving, essentially representing Her Majesty the Queen.

The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Alban’s welcomed the visitors from the Province of Middlesex and explained briefly some of the history of this Abbey Church. St Alban was the Christian martyr executed by the Romans in AD304 thus making St Alban’s perhaps the oldest known site of Christian worship in England. He commented also on some of the Cathedral’s architectural style which embraces Norman, Romanesque and English Gothic.

The Volume of the Sacred Law was opened by the Pro Provincial Grand Master and Opening Prayers were said by the Provincial Grand Chaplain W. Bro Reverend Dr William Dolman together with W. Bro Reverend Frank W. Ward the Provincial Deputy Grand Chaplain. Then followed the hymn “Hail Eternal.” During the course of the service there were Bible readings given by Members of the Province including W. Bro Frank Whelan of Richmond Lodge 2032 (Psalm 46) and also by the Pro Provincial Grand Master who read from the St Pauls letter to the Ephesians. The Service was interlaced with music and readings and Mr Andrew Wilson (tenor) sang “For the Fallen” based on a poem by Laurence Binyon and written in 1914 soon after the war had started. Words from the first stanza relate particularly to early losses as members of the British Expeditionary Force suffered their first casualties with an encounter with the German Imperial Forces at Mons.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free

Other music was presented by the Middlesex Provincial Choir who sang the “Finlandia Hymn – This is my Song” written by Finnish composer and freemason Jean Sibelius. This was followed by the reading of a poem August 1914 by Mrs Anne Kearsley, the wife of W. Bro Dr Mike Kearsley a Middlesex freemason and former Provincial Grand Orator. The poem was written by May Wedderburn Cannan who had spent a short time in 1915 working as a volunteer in Rouen in a soldiers canteen and would have most certainly seen some of the horrors of war.

Caoimhe Earley, the daughter of W. Bro Gary Early (Chairman of the Harrow Masonic Centre) elegantly sang the Laudate Dominum (Praise the Lord) by Mozart which was followed by the Remembrance Oration given by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, W. Bro Revrend Dr William Dolman. He read an extract from the Middlesex Masonic Roll of Honour of those Middlesex freemasons who had perished in the First World War and had ascended to the Grand Lodge above. Mentioned also was the trauma felt by the men who fought then and who in this day and age would have been diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress as a result of their experiences in the trenches. He mentioned the date of 11th November 2018 which would ever be emblazoned in our hearts and in our minds. He also spoke about the loyalty and friendships of these young men, many of whom would have been friends and comrades in civilian life, who joined up together, fought together and died together. The particular regiments he said, many now disbanded, we may not recall, but the names of those who died and who made the sacrifice will be remembered forever.

During the Thanksgiving Service there was much reflection on the plight of those who died and prayers of remembrance focused on the memories and the gratitude for Brethren who had served in the armed forces and fought for freedoms we enjoy today.

The Pro Provincial Grand Master read another extract from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon,

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

A bugler, Stephanie Scholes, played the last post on a 1916 bugle which came from the battlefield at Ypres. This was followed by a two minute silence.

The Address was given by W. Bro Reverend Kevin Maddy, a member of the Society of Catholic Priests in the Anglican Communion and a former RAF and Forces Chaplain Chaplain, as well as serving as Chaplain in the British Military Garrison of Dhekelia in Cyprus. It was fitting that this Address should be given by a freemason and Armed Forces Chaplain.

Excerpts from prayers from other religious traditions were offered and recited by the Provincial Deputy Grand Chaplain; this showing the universality of freemasonry and that members of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and in particular the Province of Middlesex, included men of all faiths. These excerpts were from the Muslim Hindu, Jain and Jewish traditions.

The final blessing was given by the Dean of St Albans.

The hymn “Now the evening’s shadows closing”, better known as the Closing Ode was sung and the Volume of the Sacred Law closed by the RW Pro Provincial Grand Master.

The National Anthem was sung and included the third verse, perhaps rarely heard, which might be seen to contain our masonic message that all men should brothers be;

Not in this land alone,
But be God’s mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world ov’er

The labours of the afternoon being ended the Pro Provincial Grand Master together with his Provincial Grand Officers retired in procession.

A Service of Thanksgiving would necessarily remember all those young men and women who gave their lives in the cause of freedom. It might also remember those who gave their lives in another way who fought for what was right. The screen in the east beyond the choir depicts a number of statues of martyrs including St Alban and also German Lutheran Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who bravely stood up to the tyranny of the Nazi Regime but sadly lost his life in April 1945 a few short weeks before the end of the Second World War.

Those who attended would have hopefully left the service with a reinforced understanding of the horror of wars and the personal sacrifice of Armed Forces personnel, particularly Middlesex Masons who lost their lives as well an understanding of the grief of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who would be denied a mortal reunion with their loved ones who would never come home.

The Service was conducted with great dignity, reverence and respect.

To view photos of the rehearsals click HERE

To view photos of the Service click HERE

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