LOL 874 – the Lodge in an Internment camp
In one of the first circulars I sent out about Orangemen in World War I, I quoted the Grand Lodge Report for 1916 as including the following passage, -
We have recently opened a Lodge at Groningen, in Holland, among the interned Britishers of the Hawke Battalion. Number 1 District of the Liverpool Province have taken over this Lodge and financed it.
The 1916 Grand Lodge Directory records this lodge as being part of No 1 District in the Liverpool Province –
LOL 874, Meets by special arrangement at Interneerings Camp, Groningen. WM: William Aldridge, Hawke Battalion. All communications to J H Green, District Secretary, No 1 District.
How did this lodge come about ? In this short paper I would like to provide some background. Some of the members on the circulation list are probably sufficiently well-versed in the history of the First World War that they are already familiar with much of what I have to say, but this work will be pitched at a level suitable for those who are just starting to realise what a fascinating story we have to tell about the deeds of our brethren in that great conflict one hundred years ago.
By the time war broke out, europe had been divided into two, mutually hostile, armed camps. On the one side were Germany and the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary; on the other side was France and Russia. Fearing having to fight a war on two fronts, the German General Staff devised a plan, known as the Schlieffen Plan after its main author, to strike such a blow against France that would knock that country out of the war in six weeks. Then the Germans and Austrians would be able to concentrate all their forces against Russia which, being a more backward country, would take at least six weeks to put its armies into the field.
The Schlieffen Plan meant that five German armies would advance through Belgium and swing round the French left flank. The French line would be rolled-up and Paris would be captured. When war did break out, the Germans duly invaded Belgium – the act that brought the United Kingdom into the war against Germany. Belgium’s small army fought bravely, but was inferior to the Germans in numbers, equipment, and training. The Germans captured Brussels on 20th August 1914, and the Belgian Army retreated into the fortress of Antwerp.
The Germans left a screen of troops covering Antwerp, but the main body plunged into northern France and marched towards Paris. They were defeated at the First Battle of the Marne. Germany’s war plan was in ruins and the commander-in-chief, Moltke, had a nervous breakdown and was sacked. His replacement, von Falkenhayn, was one of the best generals in the First World War. He decided to drive along the Channel coast and capture the ports of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. This would cripple the supply lines of the British Army, which had gone to France at the beginning of the War and was being re-deployed into the Flanders area.
The first step in Falkenhayn’s plan was the capture of Antwerp. The attack began on 28th September 1914. The fate of Antwerp was of particular concern to Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who feared that German possession of the port would increase the naval threat to Britain. He went to Antwerp to see the situation for himself and became convinced that the Belgians would not be able to hold out. Returning to London, he persuaded the British Government to send British troops to bolster the defences of Antwerp. Churchill was worried that they wouldn’t be able to get there fast enough, so he sent a force of Royal Marines to the city. This deployment began during the night of 3rd – 4th October, and was completed by the 5th.
Antwerp’s defences were already giving way, and on the 7th October the decision was taken to evacuate the city. It was decided to withdraw the Marines westwards by the last remaining railway line that had not been cut by the Germans. The orders to retreat had to be sent out by runner, which meant that some of the Marines didn’t get the order in time. Of the 1st Brigade, only the Drake Battalion made a successful escape. Most of the Hawke, Benbow, and Collingwood Battalions did not arrive at the railhead before the last train left. They were either captured or withdrew into the neutral Netherlands where they were interned. Eventually, around 1,500 Royal Marines were interned in a camp at Groningen, which the Marines themselves called “HMS Timbertown”.
The Dutch seemed unsure how to deal with their British guests. The status of Internee was defined in international law, but the Dutch had no wish to imprison men with whom they had no quarrel. This meant that, initially, security was rather lax. Several of the internees escaped and made their way back to Britain, and in some cases this was with the help of the local Dutch. This forced the Dutch to place internment camps under military control in January 1915, and civilians were forbidden to assist escapees.
It became clear, at a very early stage, that there would be problems with 1,500 men of military age kept in a camp under guard and with nothing to do. Sometimes the British were allowed into the town and there were cases of drunkenness, with fights breaking out and Dutch police having to be called. An internee who kept a diary recorded, “One day, a group of German sailors came into the pub, and the beer pumps were used as offensive weapons. The fight ended when the police entered the pub and returned the men to camp where they were locked up.” The local girls began to show a great interest in the British Marines, and the local boys complained that the girls had “English fever”. This was a situation fraught with potential future difficulties, though there were eventually several marriages.
Both the Dutch guards and the British officers made great efforts to keep discipline and maintain morale. Initially this took the form of marching and exercise, but more imaginative ways of keeping the men occupied were soon developed. Sports were very popular, and included rugby, tennis, cricket, and athletics. By far the most popular sport was Association Football. Within a week of arrival a team of internees played the local club GVV and won 5 – 0 and The Royal Naval Brigade Football Club Association was established in late 1914. On another occasion a team of internees beat another local team, Forward, 7 – 2.
A team from the internees played Ajax Amsterdam on 3rd November 1916 and earned a 1-1 draw. After the War the internees’ goalkeeper, Arnold Birch, played professionally for Sheffield Wednesday. The internees developed close links with another local club, “Be Quick”, and after the War one of the internees, soccer trainer/coach Harry Waites, returned to Groningen to coach Be Quick and they were national champions in 1920. He also helped Feyenoord to the national championship in 1924.
From April 1915 the internees were encouraged to take paid work in the area. This enabled them to earn small amounts of money, and it also helped the Dutch economy. Although the Netherlands was neutral, they still had to mobilise large numbers of men who were not then available for productive work. The internees assisted with the harvest, and also worked in machine shops and shipyards. More than 60 of them worked in the coalmines of South Limburg.
In addition to the above there were clubs for music, drama, and crafts. The camp had a post office, a library, and a recreation hall which doubled as a church. Courses were offered in foreign languages, navigation, accountancy, and other subjects. From 1916 it was possible for internees to take recognised exams.
By reason of the hard work of the organisers, and the co-operation of the Dutch authorities, the camp became a true community. It was in this environment that, on 22nd May 1915, the Masonic Lodge ‘Gastvrijheid’ (Hospitality), was founded. This was given warrant number 113 under the Grand Orient of the Netherlands. After the War, on 7th April 1919, the lodge transferred to the United Grand Lodge of England with the warrant number 3970. The Commanding Officer of the British, Commodore (later Admiral) Wilfred Henderson, was himself a Freemason and became the first Worshipful Master.
This may have suggested to Orangemen in the camp that they too could start a lodge. At some time before July 1916 the Grand Orange Lodge of England issued warrant number 874 to William Aldridge of the Hawke Battalion. The Lodge was sponsored and financed by Liverpool District Lodge No 1, and all correspondence was to be addressed to J H Green, the District Secretary.
The internees produced a monthly magazine for most of their time in the camp, and the surviving copies provide an invaluable record of what camp life was like, with all the activities that went on there, and the many colourful characters among the internees. The first issue, produced in April 1915, has an item about a boxing contest held on 18th March 1915. The winner of the Middle Weight category was Leading Seaman W Aldridge of the Hawke Battalion. This must have been the Worshipful Master of Loyal Orange Lodge 874.
As the War went on ways were found to make the lives of the internees more bearable. Occasionally, men were allowed to return to the United Kingdom for a short time on condition that they agreed to return at the end of the period. This sometimes caused problems. In September 1916 ten British internees were travelling from Flushing to England aboard the Dutch freighter “Prins Hendrik”, when their vessel
was stopped by a German ship and the men were taken as Prisoners of War. This devious behaviour was condemned on all sides, and even the Dutch Government made a formal protest, but to no avail. Even worse was to come when, in September 1917, during a period of “unrestricted U-Boat Warfare” by the Germans, the SS Copenhagen was torpedoed and three internees in transit died. They were J D Ewings, R H Guppy, and H J Selkirk.
When the War finished in November 1918 the internees were allowed home quite quickly. During the period of the internment, from October 1914 to November 1918, several of them had died in the camp from natural causes. In a cemetery called Zuiderbegraafplaats there are the graves of nine of the internees. They are, -
John MacLeay, Seaman, RNR, B2588, Collingwood Battalion, Died 26th August 1915, aged 33 years.
Donald McLeod, Seaman, RNR, A3409, Benbow Battalion, Died 1st March 1916, aged 25 years.
Leslie E Whitehead, Able Seaman, RNVR, L4/2861, Hawke Battalion, Died 18th March 1916, aged 22 years.
Albert T Vigar, Stoker 1st Class, RN SS 100877, Benbow Battalion. Died 29 September 1916, aged 33 years.
Percy H Hedger, Able Seaman, RNVR, L7/3464, Benbow Battalion, Died 21st February 1917, aged 22 years.
Thomas Bennett, Stoker 1st Class, RN 163931, Hawke Battalion, Died 8th June 1917, aged 42 years.
John Smith, Seaman, RNR, CH/2742/A, Collingwood Battalion, Died 18th October 1917, aged 42 years.
Ernest Bruce, Able Seaman, RNVR, T2/169, Collingwood Battalion, Died 14th November 1918, aged 24 years.
Sydney F Fowler, Private, RMLI, PO/1604/S, 1st Royal Marine Battalion, Died 30th November 1918, aged 35 years.
The street is called Engelse Kamp, to mark the site of the original camp. There is a small monument which was placed there by the Freemasons of Groningen, and it bears a plaque which tells the visitor that on 22nd May 1915 the English Freemasons’ Lodge ‘Gastvrijheid’ (Hospitality) was established there.
For anyone wishing to know more about the internees, I recommend two web sites. The first is http://groningencamp.co.uk/ , which is a collection of the Groningen Camp Magazine already mentioned. The collection is not complete, but the compiler
is still at work obtaining them, so we wish them well. The compiler is the grandchild of one of the internees, and the site is a worthy memorial.
The second site is http://www.wereldoorlog1418.nl/englishcamp/ , which is largely the work of Mr Menno Wielinga, who has taken a deep and sustained interest in the subject and has provided a very detailed record of it.