A Speech written and delivered by W Bro Les Brazier at the 50th Anniversary of the Lodge:
We are here today to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of South Africa Lodge, and to remember some of the Brethren who have made substantial contributions to the life of the Lodge during the intervening years. Unfortunately none of our Founders remain to tell us of the early times, and therefore I have to rely for my researches on the written records, plus some notable verbal and written recollections from some of the Senior members.
As background may I paint a picture of life in 1948. It was still the immediate post-war period under the shadow of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the year of the Berlin Air lift. In this country foodstuffs, bread, sweets and fuel were rationed. Only the privileged few had a Television or central heating, and even the washing machines were very primitive. Yet there was a spirit of optimism also: we staged the Olympic Games at Wembley, the NHS and the welfare state were founded, there was ample employment and hope for the future.
I am sure that it was in that spirit of optimism, and possibly inspired by the founding of Australia Lodge a year earlier, that 10 Masons met first at the South African Embassy and later at Argos Newspapers, and decided to go ahead and establish a South Africa Lodge under the sponsorship of the Royal Colonial Institute Lodge. We were allocated Lodge Number 6742, and the Lodge Badge was designed and approved with its Springbok head and motto “Eendrag maak Mag”- Unity makes Strength. In all 22 Founders were recruited and their names are recorded on the Banner you see before you, which has recently been replaced, thanks in part to the generosity of a Brother who remembered the Lodge in his will. The Founders Fee was set at ten guineas, which appears very modest by today’s standards until I remember that my first salary as a graduate trainee in the City in 1949 was 600 pounds per year. One very generous Founder made a contribution of 100 pounds, and numerous gifts of regalia, furniture and implements were made by individuals and Lodges here and in South Africa. If you choose to examine your collars of office and most of the furniture still in use today you will find that underneath it bears the name of a donor.
So on Monday 6th September 1948, a date which happily coincided with the historical accession to the throne of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, South Africa Lodge was duly consecrated in Room 10 at Freemason’s Hall by the then Grand Master, the Duke of Devonshire, assisted by numerous Grand Officers. A great honour for the Lodge. The Grand Secretary, Sydney White installed Archie Penman as the First Master, who then appointed Leif Egeland, the High Commissioner for South Africa as his Senior Warden, with Nils Eckhoff as I.P.M.
Inset left: Bro SN Bernstein W.Bro CJ Saywell LGR Bro Louis Oppenheimer
Inset right: W.Bro EAH Mosenthal Bro IH Kerr-Cross (Steward)
Back row from left:
Bro C Keough (Steward) W.Bro HR Rainsford-Gordon W.Bro GW Butts LGR (ADC) W.Bro EA Uttley PGD W.Bro EH Miller PAGDC (IG) W.Bro A Tilley PGD Bro GA Jenkin Bro AE Bowles Prov GTyler (Tyler)
Front row from left:
W.Bro PJ Swanston LGR (Almoner) W.Bro HER Croxford (DC) W.Bro CE Donne PDGStdBR (SD)
W.Bro WE Cawley (SEC) Bro Leif Egeland (SW) W.Bro AT Penman PGD (WM) Bro PJW Fourie (JW)
W.Bro NL Eckhoff LGR (IPM) Bro GM Woodthorpe (JD) W.Bro G MacCarthy PPAGDC (Surrey) PPGD (Sussex) (Treas) Bro Rev HPS Morilyon-Loysen (Chap)
There were no less than 114 brethren recorded as attending. Numerous messages of congratulation were read out including those from the oldest and youngest English Lodges in South Africa. There is no record of the number subsequently dining at the Connaught Rooms, but the total cost of Dining was £188 17s 0d plus £14 16s 10d for cigars. Churchill’s example had clearly formed a precedent. In the speeches it was made clear that the Lodge had been established for South Africans living temporarily or permanently in England, or for those with South African connections. Poor waifs and strays, like myself, who had become Masons in Africa and had no Masonic home in England. I have mentioned three of the Founders by name, who formed the backbone of the new Lodge, and I had better tell you a little more about them.
Archie Penman was born in England, became a journalist and was sent to South Africa as Reuter’s correspondent. Could he have become anything other than a writer with a surname like that! He was very fond of relating stories about Test Matches before the First World War. Just remember there was then no wireless, let alone television so that cabled despatches from foreign correspondents really did give the first news about cricket matches in Cape Town. He was initiated into Masonry in an Irish Lodge there in 1908, so that he had been a Mason for 40 years in 1948. He had the distinction of being a Grand Officer under both the Irish and English Constitutions. He returned to England in 1920, became President of the Institute of Journalists in 1947, was made an Honorary Member of South Africa Lodge in 1959 to mark his 50th year in Masonry. He served on the Board of Management of the Royal Masonic Hospital, was Vice President of the Board of General Purposes, and was still a very active member in 1965 when he introduced me into the Lodge. He died in July 1969, aged 86 years.
Leif Egeland, the first Senior Warden and Second Master of the Lodge was a distinguished lawyer, parliamentarian and diplomat. His father, Jacob emigrated to South Africa from Norway by accident when, as a whaler, he was shipwrecked off Durban beach in 1880, and decided to stay. Leif was born in 1903, and after education in Natal went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1924 where he stayed for six years studying and teaching Civil Law. He was initiated there in 1928. On his return to South Africa he practiced as a lawyer and became M.P. for Durban Berea. After war service with the 6th South African Division he turned to diplomacy, and was appointed High Commissioner in London in January 1948. Unfortunately for the Lodge he was recalled to South Africa in 1950, where he started a new career in business and continued his Masonry in Corona Lodge, where we have very close ties. He visited our Lodge on many occasions over the years and, on his death in 1996, made a magnificent bequest of 10,000 Rand to the Lodge he did so much to establish.
Nils Eckhoff was a well known plastic surgeon, specialising in facial surgery. He said he was always happy to make a pop star or actress pay through the nose for a Nose Job as he could then afford to pay more of his time to children born with birth defects. He was for many years a strict and stern, but kindly Director of Ceremonies and Preceptor of the Lodge of Instruction. He always insisted that a brother had to prove competence before being worthy of advancement. He served as Worshipful Master between 1960/61, when he was installed by Sir Allan Adair, The Assistant Grand Master at that time. He died suddenly in November 1969, aged 67 years.
So what did the Founders do with their newly consecrated Lodge? Only two days later on 8th September 1948 they held their first meeting, elected two joining members, one of whom was Garth Slack the first name on our list of present members, and proceeded to initiate two brethren from the Embassy. The subscription was fixed at 5 guineas and the dining fee at 25 shillings. It was indeed from the staff at the Embassy that the early members were largely recruited. Then in the 1950s there were a large number of joining overseas members from the various Districts and Provinces in South Africa, including members of all the four Constitutions, English, Scottish, Irish and Netherlandic, working there.
By 1953 there were many overseas and country members that they needed a separate page on the Summons! The idea was of course to ensure that any Mason moving to England would be duly introduced to the Lodge as was proved right in my case somewhat later. Inevitably the Lodge has had a very fast turnover of members moving between the two countries.
Virtually from the beginning there was a Lodge of Instruction which met at the Cranborne, off Leicester Square. The room used was underground down a steep flight of stairs, was clothed in white tiles, and bore every resemblance to a public lavatory. Our secrets were certainly safe from discovery here as the only outside light came from a series of obscured glass blocks let into the pavement above. Nevertheless we had enjoyable meetings there topped off by suitable refreshment upstairs. This room was still used when I joined the Lodge in 1965, but inevitably in due course the pub was redeveloped, and we commenced our wanderings for a new venue. We have since met at numerous public houses in the West End, at the offices of various kind members and at the School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine of London University, where the hazards included various indescribable objects pickled in formaldehyde, and alarming descriptions of tropical diseases left behind on the classroom blackboard! Some of the public houses provided us with our own private bar, and one even went so far as to allow a certain member with a goatee beard to act as barman. There was also one particularly popular pub on the edge of Soho where in the summer young strippers clad in hot pants, boob tubes and little else came in between shows for a gin and something. Our attendances here were very good! As I write we are again homeless unless the Secretary has succeeded in finding a new venue in the meantime.
For many years we offered Instruction at our L.O.I. to members of Shadwell Clerke Lodge, and indeed several of them became joining members of our Lodge also. Perhaps the most colourful of these was Ernie Powell, a publican from Southgate, who drank only the strange combination of whisky and peppermint, and served for many years as organist in our Lodge. During this time the stewards had an additional duty, as he would only play his own organ which he brought in the back of his “Roller”, and which had to be brought up by the Stewards to the Lodge Room, and taken down again at the end of proceedings.
Another of the Founder members, whom I knew personally, and who was difficult to overlook was Peter Swanston, our dear Swannie. A stalwart of Barclays Bank D.C. & O., which stood for Dominion Colonial and Overseas. How redolent this was of the days when we still had an Empire! He was notable for his singing especially of the Master’s Song at Installations, when his portly figure swelled with pride. He served the Lodge in many capacities but notably as Treasurer for well over 20 years, and was ever ready to guide the younger members on the right way to carry out our ceremonies according to the traditions of this Lodge. He sometimes came into conflict with our most distinguished scholar and ritualist, Colin Dyer.
Colin was not a Founder, but was a member of many Masonic organisations and joined our Iodge in 1957. He was a member of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement and edited the first edition of the present printed Emulation Ritual. He was so highly regarded in South Africa that when certain changes in the ceremonies were made he was invited to visit that country to demonstrate the new workings at a number of centres. In 1986 he was granted one of our highest honours, The OSM. He was also prominent in the Province of West Kent and rose to be appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master, but sadly served in that office for only seven days before his sudden death in 1987. Outside Masonry he served as a Common Councillor in the City of London, and as Chief Commoner accompanied the then Lord Mayor on his first visit to China where the Chinese much appreciated his instruction on the appropriate etiquette to be used when meeting such a visitor.
We have had a number of untoward events. One Master, Bert Owen, travelled to the Lodge from Devon in his Lamborghini, and when he was installed brought us all a bumper helping of Devon clotted cream. Perhaps cream accounted for his not inconsiderable bulk, for he fell ill shortly after he became Master, was ordered to lose weight and was reported at the January meeting to have lost five stone since the previous June. In fact he never presided at any further meetings, not even to install his successor.
We also had the doubtful distinction of forcing Freemason’s Hall to open in August, when it is normally on vacation. This happened when our incoming Master- elect was indisposed and could not he installed, so that his predecessor had to continue in office for a second year as Master at an Emergency Meeting in August.
Other unusual occasions have been our three highly successful meetings held in South Africa, two in Johannesburg and one in Durban, which have cemented ties with our overseas members. Like every Lodge we have had our ups and downs, and went through a difficult period in the 1980’s. However we have been sustained by loyal members such as Clive Bamford who regularly flies from his home in Bergen Norway to attend our meetings. There is also a growing tradition of family membership, bringing in the next generation. An example is the Oppenheimer family where Louis was a founder, Sir Ernest a member until his death, and Harry still continues the tradition.
We have also been sustained by a constant stream of visitors. I remember in particular one from Iceland, who spoke excellent English and duly told us what Icelanders do get up to during the winter!
From time to time as the Ladies will know we have also enjoyed Ladies Nights. When I first became Master in 1970 these were invariably held at the Galleon Club, also an underground venue, but at St James. During the week the Galleon was a luncheon and dinner club for M.Ps., but at weekends the Club staged Barmitzvahs and Ladies Nights. The Club required a minimum attendance of one hundred, and it was possible to reach that number with the help of our friends from Shadwell Clerke Lodge, who later enjoyed our support at their own Ladies Night. Sadly the building holding the Club was also redeveloped, and for some years it was not practicable to hold a formal Ladies Night. We did have a very enjoyable Ladies Dinner with a party of Masons from Port Elizabeth and their Ladies. Of latter years there have been a couple of Ladies Lunches to which all the Widows were invited, and happily we have now resumed the tradition of Ladies Nights proper, most notably that held at the South African Embassy.
On occasion the Lodge has enjoyed lectures by visitors and I see that in 1963 Archie Penman gave a talk on the History of Masonry in South Africa. You will probably he relieved to hear that I do not propose to repeat that talk tonight, but as a Treasurer I was impressed to learn that at De Goede Hoop Lodge Cape Town in 1772 a fine of 4 shillings was imposed for using improper language, and 15 shillings for speaking without permission. Did I hear an interruption? On the other hand the cost of billiards was one and a halfpence by day and five pence by night whilst best grade Cape Wine was available at 2 shillings and sixpence per bottle, with second grade at one shilling and eight pence and third grade at ten pence. I am afraid your wine tonight will be a little more expensive.
Over the fitly years we have had some particularly hard-working brethren in the principal offices – six Secretaries, nine Treasurers and nine Directors of Ceremonies. Their dedication has helped the Lodge to overcome many difficulties and problems, and to introduce many new Masons to the joys of our great Brotherhood. You must forgive me for not providing more names of past members or dull statistics of numbers of Masters, Initiates, etc., as I am sure you are anxious for me to give way to our next speaker, however I would like to mention our present Master, Chris Beach, the first Initiate of this Lodge to attain Grand Lodge rank. May his example inspire our younger brethren to continue to advance in Masonic Knowledge. Let them not be discouraged. I have dropped a tear of sympathy over the failings of a Brother, but also many tears of laughter when things did not quite go to plan. Let us all continue to enjoy our Masonry, when I am sure that South Africa Lodge will face a bright and lasting future over the next fifty years.