Royal Naval Lodge

No 2761 1899 Malta 1984 Somerset

Early Years

Here is a tale in two parts, it starts in the “middle” and has no end. No it is not a riddle; it is the life and times of Royal Naval Lodge No 2761. In its early life it was not of Somerset, it did not meet in this Province until 1985 so, perhaps, one might think that it is a fairly new lodge – No it began life over 100 years ago when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, The history of 2761 is essentially tied up with the Royal Navy proper and, in its early days, of part of the old British Empire. The history of the lodge is so different from others in the Province that it certainly deserves recording and we believe it is certainly worth reading.

To begin at the beginning we must look back to the later days of the 19th Century when the ROYAL NAVY stilled basked in the glories of Admiral Nelson, who, early in the century, had swept the seas of foreign aggressors and for over 100 years our Navy was supreme. The ROYAL NAVY was so large that it had bases in many parts of the world and the main Mediterranean (Med) base was in the island of MALTA where the Grand Harbour of Valletta, the capital city could hold a fleet of ships.

Freemasonry had been active in Malta since the 18th Century and in the Eighteen-hundreds developed and thrived. The main reason for the enthusiasm and expansion was the presence of the Navy and the Islands large Army garrison and support. Many naval members were spread amongst the five lodges of the English Constitution (EC) already in existence, which had an allegiance to the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) there were other lodges of Sots and Irish Constitutions (SC and IC) but it was natural to want a more select Royal Naval lodge. In 1899 at the first part of the life of the lodge Deputy Inspector General James Martin DSO RN was installed as the first Master with Lieutenant Henry Brocklebank RN as Senior Warden and Mr Frederick Hannaford RN as Junior Warden. In those days medical men bore no naval ranks and a Deputy Inspector General was like a Surgeon Commander of today with staff duties to inspect the ships and crew. The Senior Warden moved on and up, in 1938 Henry Brocklebank was deputy PGM for Dorset and Senior Grand Deacon of the UGLE, Mr Frederick Hannaford became Master in 1900 moved on but was back in Malta as WM again in 1904, his title “Mr” was that of a Warrant Officer, such titles were lost to th Navy in the 1950’s but are now, happily back in being. (Here it may be appropriate to state how the Navy worked so as to understand the comparatively short spells some of the members stayed in Malta. It was usual for any appointments / drafts to last for 2 to 3 years so Officers and ratings (“other ranks” for non-RNers) were appointed to a specific “HM Ship…….” for that time and a new appointment / draft would be issued on completion –. That was normal peace time working.

The Warrant of the Lodge specified the original meeting place to be – 27 Strada Stretta (Straight Street). That Street was known to many as the “Gut” – a place of many bars, but that was the lower end.

Another peculiarity about the Warrant was that because of time and distance it could take weeks for mail to arrive by “picket” boat or fast sloop, so the DISTRICT Grand Master (DGM), then General Sir John OWEN KCB issued a Provisional Warrant which is proudly displayed in our meetings in our Yeovil, Somerset home, alongside the regular Warrant from the UGLE and our 1999 Centenary Warrant.

The First By-laws stated the lodge was formed “especially for brethren of the Naval Services, namely those of or above the rank of Chief Petty Officer (or equivalent)”. There have been many changes since then, but the spirit of the definition remains the same – good men and true who you would be happy to call “shipmate”.

In 1915, with the Fleet away, the was little work in the lodge, only 4 initiations, when in the other years, 1914 and 1916 there had been 13 each time. The activity in lodge was quite phenomenal, in the years 1911 t0 1921 with 145 initiates for the lodge and numerous Passing’s and Raisings.  One might question how the workload could be managed, but then it is frequently written that the lodge “divided”, that is a second team, PM and “stand-in” Officers acted for the WM in another room, conducting one or more ceremonies. The District Grand Master (DGM) was very generous because there were 12 emergency meetings during the 10 years noted, however during the lodge’s life in Malta it is often written “No ceremony, Fleet at Sea”.

The administrative workload was heavy and constant, Bro Budgen was Secretary from 1899 to 1925, although other names appear as Secretary, he carried out the work and progressed to the chair in 1908. The lodge was so pleased with his untiring work that he was presented with a special gold jewel to mark his efforts and this Budgen jewel is now held by our Secretary.

Events in the 1920s and 30s seem to follow the pattern of the Peace-time navy, but 1939 heralded the Second World War and in 1940 aircraft from the old Carriers Eagle and Illustrious caught the Italian Fleet in Taranto harbour, Sicily, causing great damage. This major Fleet Air Arm success is celebrated annually to this day at the nearby RN Air Station Yeovilton, where many of our members have served. Back in the 40s, however things were “hotting up” for Malta. German and Italian Aircraft flew regular bombing missions from bases in Sicily less than 100 miles away and attacked every part of the island 

There are many hairy stories of World War 2, but suffice it to say the lodge continued working with the help of the Royal Engineers, of course It has been firmly established at 6 and 7 Maramxett (Pronounced Marsamshett) Street since 1908 and this remains the current home of freemasonry (English Constitution). In Post-War years the lodge continued to flourish and it is noted that Gerald Bryant, Master in 1962 and Cyril Jones WM in 1966, both from Bath, played a significant part in establishing the lodge in Somerset.

The closure of HM Dockyard and service airfields was a part of the armed-forces “run down” in the 50s 60s and 70s. The number of Navy and Army members dwindled until it was impossible to run the lodges. Some lodges were repatriated and after much deliberation, Yeovil was chosen for the new home of Royal Naval lodge-2761 EC. Much background work and dispensations from Somerset and Malta allowed the lodge to meet in Yeovil in 1985 when “Jack” Warner flew to UK to install his successor, Gerald Bryant, The very experienced Cyril Jones became Secretary and a number of the original members returned to take up offices with local Past Masters filling in any gaps. At the time there were 8 stewards – all Past Masters.

So began the second part of the life and times of the Royal Naval Lodge

For two years 2761 met by dispensations as an overseas lodge. In 1987 the lodge was officially welcomed into the Province of Somerset at a ceremony in Yeovil, which included the PGM, his Provincial team, and masonic dignitaries from the Group of Lodges, Malta (no longer a “District” due to the reductions). The Lodge had been quickly and successfully integrated into the Yeovil Masonic centre, many new “recruits” being members of other local lodges. In those early days in Yeovil there have been many visitors – perhaps to see a “strange bunch” and to listen to the secretary who always had a batch of Registration forms to read for Initiates and Joining Members, so the lodge survived and thrived.

When the lodge left Malta its membership totalled over 200, it was indeed the strongest lodge in the District. The “overseas annual subscription then was nominal, but in our new home increases were neccesary. Although we lost a number of members in the change our new membership became the highest in the Province. Inevitably numbers settled to a good figure and remain comfortable (albeit there are still many members in more than one lodge).

Norman Nuttall was initiated in Malta in 1963 and has remained a loyal member. When he left the Royal Navy he took up the post of Grand Tyler, this involved management of the Grand Lodge building and Tyler to Grand Lodge, a caring and dignified role. In 1993 he presented a beautiful banner to the lodge made in the Grand Lodge building. It was the third banner in the Lodge’s history, the first in 1900 cost 15 shillings, (a month’s pay for a CPO or junior officer) it was badly damaged by the voracious Maltese moths, the second by with moth proof materials in 1981.

In 1993 the new Banner was dedicated by the Provincial team, all three banners were paraded and John W Rawlins wrote a lecture on their history and meaning.

The lecture was given again in Malta, when the second banner was paraded and presented back to the Malta masons in 1999 as part of the centenary celebrations, those went on all year as members enjoyed the special Festive Board in Yeovil, a trip to Malta (Dinners at the Phoenicia Hotel and Masonic Hall) and a visit to old HMS Warrior, Portsmouth (dinner on the gun deck).

Now in the 21st Century, we continue our Somerset journey with great pride in our lodge and our province; maybe we will celebrate 110 or 125 years of our history soon with another trip to Malta – our old home

John  W Rawlins