The Victoria Cross and the Royal Lodge of Friendship No. 278

 

 

 

            The Victoria Cross is the highest award for valour that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces of any rank in any service and civilians under military command. It is only awarded for bravery "in the face of the enemy". The medal takes the form of a cross pattée, bearing a crown surmounted by a lion, and the inscription "FOR VALOUR". This was originally to have been "FOR BRAVERY", until it was changed on the recommendation of Queen Victoria, who thought some might erroneously consider that only the recipients of the VC were brave in battle. The Victoria Cross was first issued during the Crimean War 1853-56, since then only 1,355 medals have been awarded. It is thought that around 10% of recipents, some 130 Victoria Cross holders were awarded to Freemasons. Therefore the privileged Lodges who boast a Victoria Cross winner within its roll of members are extremely few in number, the fact that the Royal Lodge of Friendship boasts no less than four VC winners within its ranks is not only a rare feat, it truly is a unique Masonic record!

 

The first member of Friendship Lodge to receive the Victoria Cross was Lt. Alexander Roberts Dunn of the 11th Hussars who achieved the honour at the Battle of Balaclava, when on the 25th October and at just 21 years of age he saved the life of a sergeant in his Regiment. Lt. Dunn was the first Canadian VC winner and the only Officer to win the VC during the actual Charge of the Light Brigade, which I am sure you have all heard of.  His citation for bravery read:

 

During the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, Lt. Dunn, one of the handsomest men of his day and one of the finest swordsmen and horsemen in the army, won the Victoria Cross. Having emptied his revolver at the Russians he flung it at them and resorted to his sabre, which he used to good effect. Dunn stood 6-foot-3 and used a sword much longer than the regulations permitted. He saved Sgt. Bentley's life by cutting down several Russians who were attacking him. He then saved another life cutting down another Russian Hussar who was attacking Pte. Levett, 11th Hussars.

 

After the Crimean War, Lt. Dunn was posted to Gibraltar where he helped organize the 100th Regiment of Foot (Prince of Wales), a British Regiment raised in Canada, his native country. He was soon promoted to Commanding Officer with the rank of Lt. Colonel, the youngest Colonel in the British Army at the age of thirty-five. Whilst serving in the Garrison, Dunn was initiated into Friendship Lodge No. 345 (under the old Lodge number system). On the 7th December 1861 Lt. Colonel Dunn was elected as Worshipful Master of the Lodge. Unfortunately, he had to decline his appointment, as his stay in Gibraltar was uncertain. At a meeting held in January, Bro C. Swain was elected and installed as Worshipful Master instead.

 

Unfortunately Bro. Dunn died in Abyssinia on the 25th January 1868 as a result of a hunting accident. Dunn had left camp with a native servant to shoot game. Whilst bending over a ditch to collect water both barrels of the weapon discharged and he was killed. His grave can be found in a small graveyard in Senafe, Eritrea.

 

The Lodge of Friendship’s second Victoria Cross holder was Lt. Arthur Frederick Pickard of the Royal Artillery who was awarded the medal for heroism on the 20th November 1863 during an assault on a Maori keep at Rangiriri, New Zealand. He and Assistant Surgeon William Temple exposed themselves to concentrated enemy fire in order to render assistance to the wounded. Whilst Temple tended to the men Lt. Pickard crossed and re-crossed the parapet in order to procure water for the wounded, none of the men under his command could be induced to do this service as the space traversed was under constant enemy fire. In the face of such danger both Officers showed remarkable calmness and composure in the face of such trying circumstances and were awarded the Victoria Cross. Lt. Pickard was only twenty-two at the time of the action.

 

On the 27th July 1872 Arthur Frederick Pickard was initiated into the Friends in Council Lodge No. 1383 meeting in London. He was passed to a Fellow Craft on the 3rd October 1872 and became a Master Mason on the 8th April 1873. Bro. Pickard became a joining member of Friendship Lodge some time in 1875, by then he had been promoted to Major in the Royal Artillery and was aged thirty-five. He called off from the Lodge on the 11th January 1876 were he proceeded to continue with a distinguished military career retiring with the rank of Lt. Colonel. The term ‘Calling Off’ from a Lodge was an established and practical arrangements in which brethren could in effect ‘resign’ from the Lodge if he left the Garrison but would be immediately re-instated without ballot if he returned one day. It meant that serving brethren could hop from Lodge to Lodge whilst on military duties overseas without the financial implications of having to subscribe to a number of Lodges to which he became affiliated to. He was only required to subscribe to the Lodge in which he was stationed in.

 

After the Crimean War the Lodge of Friendship continued to attract many Officers and Gentlemen from visiting Battalions to its ranks. This was primarily due to the falling off in the number of Military Lodges, by 1886 only sixteen Field Lodges remained in the British Army. One Officer in particular, a young Irish Sub-Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers by the name of Nevill Joseph Aylmer Coghill aged 22 years, applied for and was accepted a member of the Lodge of Friendship No. 278. In the Masonic Register of members of our District he is recorded as having been initiated on the 2nd September 1874, passed on the 17th of the same month, and raised just a few weeks later, on the 7th October. Bro. Coghill’s rapid initiation into the three degrees in such a short space of time, (including the holding of an emergency meeting for such a purpose) was due to the Battalion’s imminent departure from the Garrison early in November.

 

Only a few months earlier another Lieutenant from the same Regiment had become a joining member of the Friendship Lodge on the 1st April 1874. Lt. Teignmouth Melville initiated into Glittering Star Lodge No. 322 I.C had like his fellow Officer and Brother Mason Lt. Coghill joined the popular Friendship Lodge as was traditional amongst the Officers and Gentlemen serving in Gibraltar at the time. Both men called off from Friendship Lodge on the 31st December 1874 prior to their departure from the Garrison. The Scottish Borderers headed for South Africa where on the 1st November 1876, Coghill became a joining member of Southern Cross Lodge No. 398 Scottish Constitution, and on joining he stated that his Mother Lodge was the Lodge of Friendship, Gibraltar.

 

Three years later, on the 22nd January 1879, the thin red line of the Scottish Borderers were no match for the thousands of well disciplined Zulu warriors who overwhelmed them at Isandhlwana. All the officers of the 24th and all but two of the men were killed. In what was later to be immortalized by the film ‘Zulu Dawn’, Lt. Coghill joined another officer who was trying to save the Queen’s Colours, that Officer was none other than his fellow Brother Lt. Melville. Zulu warriors relentlessly pursued the two Officers and whilst crossing the swollen Buffalo River, Lt. Coghill went to the rescue of his brother officer, who had lost his horse and was in mortal danger without heed to his own safety. His gallant effort proved futile as they were overtaken by their pursuers and after a short struggle both men were killed.

 

A memorandum published on the London Gazette stated that:

 

‘…they would have been recommended to Her Majesty for the Victoria Cross had they survived.’

 

It would be twenty-eight years later before another London Gazette would officially announce the award of posthumous Victoria Crosses to Coghill and Melville.

 

The heroic actions of brothers Nevill Joseph Aylmer Coghill and Teignmouth Melville brought the total of Victoria Cross bearers from Friendship Lodge to four, a record for the number of Victoria Cross held by members in a particular Lodge.

 

As for the Regimental Colours, although briefly lost they were later recovered and restored to the 24th. The following year Queen Victoria decorated them with a wreath of immortelles, and to this day the Queen’s Colour Staff of the successor regiment carries a silver wreath of immortelles in memory of the Regiments valour and sacrifice at Isandhlwana.

 

It is also of local interest that the Battle of Isandhlwana was witnessed by the future General and later Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, then a Lieutenant with the 95th Regiment. That same afternoon another detachment of the 24th stationed at Rorke’s Drift was attacked by a Zulu impi of 4,500 warriors. The 140 men of the 24th held out against all odds for over 12 hours before the Zulus withdrew. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders, including Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead, both Freemasons. Amongst the other ranks awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions at Rorke’s Drift was Pte. John Williams who received his VC from Major General Anderson in Gibraltar at a ceremony held at Grand Parade in 1880. The only V.C ever awarded in Gibraltar.

 

The history of the Royal Lodge of Friendship includes many other illustrious and distinguished brethren within its ranks, but I am sure brethren that we all agree that none deserve more recognition as those who fought with valour in defence of the British Empire. 

 

 

 

WBro. K. Sheriff