Willem van Oranje Lodge No 3976


Willem Van Oranje Lodge

A Brief History of the Origins and first Fifty Years of the Willem van Oranje Lodge No 3976.

Compiled by: W.Bro.John S. Hatfield LGR. PPGD (Somerset)

The Willem van Oranje Lodge was founded at the Hague in Holland on 6 July 1918. The founders were British naval, military and civilian prisoners of war who had been released on parole from various prison camps throughout Germany for internment in a neutral country for the "duration". Their presence in Holland came about in this manner.

Holland and Switzerland were neutral during the 1914-18 war and in August 1917, after long negotiations, both the British and German Governments had agreed to the connditional release of some of their prisoners. Of those who had been in captivity for more than 18 months some were to be allowed to go to a neutral country there to be interned. The British were to go to Holland and the Germans to Switzerland. The flow of releases began towards the end of 1917 and by the middle of 1918 a considerable number of British were already accommodated in Holland.

There are many records of masonic activity amongst prisoners of war. The earliest to be found in the Masonic Library date back to the Seven Years war (1756), and thereeafter records exist relating to the Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, and both the Great Wars of 1914 and 1939. But of masonic activity in Germany in 1914-18 there is no record to be found, though there may well have been some, other than that in the civilian camp at Ruh1eben. Even in Ruhleben no masonic ritual was ever performed, nor indeed were there any formal gatherings of masons except one held towards the end of the war for the purpose of presenting a testimonial to W Bro P. C. Hull (later Sir Percy Hull). This testimonial was given in recognition of his leadership in the masonic work of relief of distress, to which freemasons in Ruhleben had intentionally confined their activities, and it was this same Brother Hull who took so prominent a part in the foundation of our lodge in Holland.

Events leading up to the formation of our lodge have been described by another founder, Major H. T. Jeffery, at that time a sergeant of the Hampshire Regiment. He relates how he was sitting one day listening to a concert in the lounge of an hotel near the Plein in The Hague, when he was approached by a distinguished looking Dutchman who asked him point blank if he were a mason. Jeffery replied that he could not answer such a question indiscriminately. The gentleman then introduced himself as Baron van Ittersum, the representative from the Grand Lodge of England to the Grand East of the Netherlands. They were soon on terms of fraternal underrstanding. Jeffery was aware that Colonel J. A. e. Gibbs the senior British oIllcer among the prisoners in Holland was a keen mason, so he approached him at Orderly Room the next day to ask for a private interview. As a result of this interview, Colonel Gibbs and Baron van lttersum were soon brought together and discussions were started. Colonel Gibbs underrtook to seek out the masons amongst officers and Sergeant Jeffery those amongst other Ranks. The process of forming the lodge had begun.

A useful precedent already existed in Holland. The Gastvrijheid Lodge had been formed there in 1915 amongst the officers and men of the Naval Brigade, interned in Holland after their gallant but unsuccessful attempt to defend Antwerp. Their e.O., Commodore (later Admiral) Wilfred Henderson had been their First Master and, with the help of Baron van Ittersum, he was brought into touch with Colonel Gibbs.

The number of Masons among the prisoners in Holland grew as more prisoners arrived from Germany and the group of those interested soon became strong enough to raise a petition for the constitution as a lodge. The Gastvrijheid Lodge volunteered to sponsor the petition and it was agreed to follow the procedure used by them in 1915. A necessary preliminary was to seek approval from United Grand Lodge of England. This was quickly forthcoming, on the underrstanding that the new lodge would be constituted under the authority of the Grand East of the Netherlands.

At a meeting held under the chairmanship of Baron van Ittersum at The Hague on June 15th, 1918, a petition to the Grand East of the Netherlands was framed. Among its requests was one for permission to use the name, Willem van Oranje, after the Netherlands Prince who became King William III of England, and, as it was customary for each Dutch lodge to use a distinctive colour, to use the orange colour of the Royal House of Orange. The petition was signed by three past Masters, three past Wardens and three master masons, and was supported by 32 others whose names were attached. In due course it was granted, a Charter drawn up, and the number 118 on the Roll of the Grand East of the Netherlands allotted.

This original Charter is in the Dutch language and is still one of our most treasured possessions. It is on display at every meeting of the lodge and it is formally passed on from master to master at Installation for safe keeping, with the injunction that should our lodge ever be disbanded it must be returned to the Grand East of the Netherlands. It is interesting to note that, although granted under the Dutch Constitution, the Charter specifically permits the use of English rituals in all ceremonies. As there are some sharp differences between the English and the Dutch workings this was a great and exceptional privilege.

The Consecration of the Lodge took place in the Temple of the Grand East of the Netherlands at the Hague on 6th July, 1918 and was performed according to the Dutch ritual by the Most Worshipful the Grand Master, assisted by his Grand Lodge Officers, but entirely in the English language. Having placed the Master Elect, W Bro Colonel J. A. e. Gibbs, in the chair the M W the Grand Master invited W Bro P. C. Hull to continue the ceremony acting as Installing Master. The ceremony was then completed according to the English ritual.

Before the Lodge was closed, notice of motion was given for the election to honorary membership of several of the brethren who had given so much help in forming the lodge. The list was headed by R W Bro Baron van lttersum and W Bro Commodore Wilfred Henderson. At a later date the W M enquired of the M W the Grand Master and the V W Brethren who had assisted him whether, under the exceptional circumstances of the founding of the lodge and the probability of its being transferred to England after the war, they would deem it presumptuous for a lodge under their jurisdiction to offer them individual honorary membership. All said they were highly pleased with the offer and hoped they would soon attend the lodge in England. Their names were therefore added to the list and the motion was passed at the next regular meeting on 18th July, 1918.

Much else of great interest appears in the minutes of this historic occasion, including the presentations made to the Lodge. Amongst these the following may be noted:

The jewels, worn by the officers were given by the Gastvrijheid Lodge. These were made by hand in the workshops at Groeningen Camp where most of their brethren were interned. They are still worn regularly to this day and are greatly valued. Also a set of Working Tools, likewise fashioned in Groeningen.

The Tracing Boards, skilfully painted by Bro Captain M. G. Sandeman.

A double-headed ebony gavel, with silver bands was given by the R W Bro Baron van Ittersum. One head was split soon after the 1939 war by the excessive strength of a Past Master of the Lodge and, owing to the difficulty of obtaining ebony at that time, another hardwood, box, was used for the repair. Boxwood is white and this gives the gavel its present unique appearance.

The Square and Compasses were given by the three sister Lodges of The Hague. These Lodges also gave us the use of lodge rooms, furniture and other facilities, free of charge.

An IG's Poniard given by W Bro W. E. Laming of the Rangoon Lodge No 1268, later elected honorary member. The poniard is decorated with masonic emblems and is still in use.

The problem of masonic clothing, which arose from the Dutch custom of allotting a distinctive colour to each lodge, was overcome for us by two ladies, Miss Marie Randall and Mrs Leicester, who made all the orange masonic clothing for us. Miss Randall was the sister of our first Senior Deacon and in a letter she sent with the first 41 aprons used at the Connsecration she says, "My father was a mason and my three brothers are following in his footsteps". Mrs Leicester was the mother of a mason who was a prisoner of war, but not amongst those released to Holland. Since our transfer to the English Constitution, the orange clothing is no longer used. An apron is still kept among our belongings and another apron was framed and presented to the Masonic Museum.

It is difficult after the lapse of 50 years to appreciate the full extent of the kindness and generosity shown to us by our friends and brethren in Holland. We may indeed never know just how great it was, but it is fitting from time to time to recall it and to express our gratitude and affection. In the closing words of his speech at the Consecration, W Bro Colonel Gibbs said, "May we of Willem van Oranje prove worthy of the confidence and fraternal goodwill extended to us. May the founding of this lodge prove for all time an additional tie and bond of brotherhood between British and Dutch Freemasonry throughout the universe." Now, fifty years later, we of today cordially express the same hope.

Our early Brethren were gluttons for work. At their first meeting propositions were made for five initiates and 19 joining members. During the four months they were still to remain in Holland, though they could not then have foretold the length of their stay, they held twelve meetings, four regular and eight emergency. The last meeting in Holland was held on 31st October, 1918. By then they had initiated 20 men into Masonry. The first of these was Ernest Boot, later to become a P G St B.

The lodge soon began to suffer losses through the repatriiation of its members. Many were in poor health as a result of war wounds or the severities of their captivity in Germany. The first to go was the Worshipful Master himself. He was followed by the other two founding PM's, Bros Clark and Hull, then by the Treasurer, the Secretary and several others, including three of the first five initiates. But friends came to our aid to enable masonic work to continue for a while. Admiral Henderson became a regular member and our last meeting in Holland was presided over by W Bro ]. Denniss, Worshipful Master of the Gastvrijheid Lodge.

The end of our stay in Holland came with unexpected suddenness and was attended by some confusion. Bro Jeffery takes up the story. He relates how, returning to his billet one evening, he found all the books, the records and funds of the Lodge, and all the equipment, dumped on his bed. He managed to find a box with a lock and key, placed everything inside it, locked the box, and waited for his own repatriation. It came on December 1st 1918.

His main preoccupation now was to get the box safely back to England. Having struggled with it through much unsympathetic officialdom as far as the boat for home, he was in the act of going aboard with it when he was ordered to dump it on the quay. Fortunately Bro Jeffery had a good friend on the boat, a certain Sergeant-Major Bullock, who though not a mason came to his aid. He rescued the box and brought it over to England. Otherwise we might never have seen the contents again.

When Bro Jeffery reached his home in Horsham he soon got in touch with his fellow repatriates. He found Colonel Gibbs restored to health and now O.C. Demobilisation Camp at the Crystal Palace. It was arranged that Bro Jeffery, who had been posted to Catterick, should be given a month's leave; so he came south again to help Colonel Gibbs in the arrangements with Grand Lodge for the transfer both of Willem van Oranje and of Gastvrijheid to the English jurisdiction. With the full concurrence of the Grand East of the Netherlands, petitions for transfer were drawn up and approved. As both lodges already enjoyed full masonic existence, re-consecration was not necessary and the M W the Grand Master issued Warrants and Charters of Dedication enabling them to continue their masonic functions under the United Grand Lodge of England. A ceremony of Dedication of the Willem van Oranje Lodge No 3976 took place at the Old Masonic Hall, London, on Monday 14th July, 1919 and was performed by the Pro-Grand Master, M W Bro The Right Honourable the Lord Ampthill, GCSI, GCIE etc, assisted by other Grand Lodge Officers.

The Lodge having been thus transferred as a complete entity, the officers were still in actual office and W Bro Gibbs resumed the chair. A brief ceremony of re-installation was nevertheless performed. Colonel Gibbs remained Worshipful Master until November 1919 when he installed Bra W. R. Goble as his successor. During that year Colonel Gibbs was our Charity representative, the work of which was much to his liking. Our third W M was W Bra R. A Morrow, and it was in his year that Colonel Gibbs became our Treasurer. In this capacity he organised our contributions to the Masonic Million Memorial Fund, which qualified us for the Hall-Stone Jewel. He continued to fill the office of Treasurer with great distinction until his death on 4th July 1930.

Of all the founders of the Lodge, indeed of all our distingguished masons, the one whom we ought perhaps to hold most in memory at this time of celebration is James Alec Charles Gibbs, then Lieut-Colonel, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, P PGReg (N & E Yorks) and P M, Sykes Lodge No 1040 EC, later to become P G D (England) and a C B. It is largely to his zeal, his ability, and his humanity that we owe our existence.

Once firmly established in England the Lodge entered a period of smooth and vigorous masonic life. The minute book records little that is exceptional, and only steady progress. As 1939 approached so did our 21st Anniversary. The Brethren marked the year by electing to the chair for a second time our first Senior Warden, W Bro R. A. Morrow, by then Major Morrow, MBE, PAGSwdB. They also acquired a Banner. This was presented, received and dedicated at a special meeting called on the anniversary date. 6th July, 1939. The ceremony was performed by W Bro Canon W. P. Money, M A, P A G Chaplain and the Banner now regularly decorates our meetings.

No sooner was our 21st Anniversary over than war was once more upon us. Our members were scattered. Our attendance dwindled. But the Lodge carried on and the regular meetings were held throughout the war; not one was missed.

In order to avoid the inconvenience of air-raids, meetings were held in the morning and were followed by a frugal war time lunch. Candidates were few. Indeed from 1940 to 1945 only two candidates were admitted, so that four of our war time Masters did not have the honour of conducting principal ceremonies.

Peace came at last, and with it the Lodge came to life again. There was now a new group of ex-prisoners of war, younger by a whole generation than those of the 1914-18 war. Their approach for membership was very welcome. Now though the Dutch Warrant specifically limited our membership to British Prisoners of War, our English Warrant does not do so. Nevertheless the prisoner of war connection is still strongly maintained and is expressed in the present preamble to the bye-laws as follows, "Following the original idea for which the Lodge was formed, Willem van Oranje Lodge, No 3976, is primarily intended for ex-Prisoners of War and their direct descendants in the male line, or such near relatives as may be approved by the Lodge Standing Committee".

Since 1946 there has been a steady flow of new members and with the approach of our 50th Anniversary it is pleasant to record that the Lodge is in a healthy condition. In its fifty years of existence it has initiated 101 men into masonry and has accepted 69 joining members. The list of Past Masters is printed on every summons, and from this it will be seen that six of them have been honoured with Past or Acting Grand Rank.

Colonel J. A. E. Gibbs P G D 1919

Major R. A. Morrow P A G Swd B 1933

Ernest W. Boot P G St B 1939

Digby R. Lawson J G D 1947

A. E. A. Woodthorpe P G St B 1959

Major-General R. Ll. Brown J G D 1965

In addition, as can be seen, 22 of our Past Masters have been honoured with London, Provincial or District Grand Rank.

Of our 38 Founders there now remain only four with whom we are in touch, namely:

Sir Percy Hull, D Mus, F ReO, P G Org

Lieut-Colonel M. E. Randall, L G R

Major H. J. Jeffery P D S G D (Punjab)

S. J. Martin M M

W Bro Hull went to live in Hereford, where he was organist at the Cathedral for many years. Amongst other things he directed the Three Choirs Festival and his eminence in the musical world brought him a well deserved knighthood. Distance and work prevented his regular attendance and though we often saw him he never had sufficient freedom to be able to take on the Mastership. At the age of 89 he now lives in retirement at Farnham.

W Bro Jeffery was also unable to accept the highest office. Service with his regiment took him to India, where he presided over two lodges and was honoured with District Grand Rank.

W Bro Randall became Master in 1922. Thereafter service with his regiment took him first to Yorkshire, then to India and Malta. He retired in 1934 and went to live in Ireland, where he continued his masonic activities in Craft, Arch and Mark.

Bro S. J. Martin left us in 1923 and went to live in North Wales. He had become a mason at the age of 21 and was a founder member in two lodges. Domestic affliction severely curtailed his later masonic activities.

A feature of our Lodge is the number of fathers and sons who figure in our records. They are listed below. A particular one to note is Francis H. Wright, initiated, passed and raised in Holland, Master in 1929, and followed in the chair by his two sons.

John F. Wright, son


Master 1954

Brian L. Wright, son.


Master 1964

W. J. Miles, father

Master 1923


D. P. Miles, son.



S. H. Lambert, father.

Master 1927


F. D. Lambert, son.



C St. E. Hopper, father.

Master 1938


D. W. Hopper, son.


Master 1962

W. P. Gardner, father.

Master 1940


W. E. Gardner, son


Master 1955

H. W. Gardner, son.



H. Herrington, father.

Master 1941


H. R. Herrington, son.



C. J. R. Maxwell, father

Master 1942


C. G. R. Maxwell, son.


Master 1957

R. Groves, father.

Master 1952


R. J. L. Groves, son.



W. F. Mees, father.



W. C. Mees, son.


Master 1956

W. J. Brazear, father.



T. R. Brazear, son


Master 1960

W. J. Brazear, son.



S. E. J. Sayer, father



S. A. Sayer, son. 




My grandsons will soon join us; and let us hope that when we celebrate our centenary yet further generations will have appeared in the Lodge.