This is a portrait of the remarkable Dame Florence Burleigh Leach who with her sister Violet formed a unique partnership throughout the war in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps where Florence was to rise to become Major General. She began her voluntary service as a kitchen help in 1915 but her determination and management ability was soon spotted and she rose quickly through the ranks. In 1910 she joined the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons as a member of Golden Rule Lodge No.1.
Field Marshalls Kitchener and Haig were both important military leaders and both Freemasons. Kitchener had been the face on the recruitment posters as the most celebrated war hero of the age and Haig commanded the British armed forces from 1915 to the War’s end. Kitchener was killed on board the “Hampshire” in 1916 on his way to Russia to offer increased support to the Tsar when the ship was hit and almost all the men on board were killed. Haig was blamed for the great loss of life in the conflict but dedicated his life thereafter to the welfare of those who fell and those who returned.
John “Black Jack” Pershing was Commander of the US army that came to our aid in 1917. He was so named as he volunteered after completing his West Point training to command the army of the African American soldiers that had been formed during the Civil War. Admiral John Jellicoe was Admiral of the Fleet at the beginning of the war but after the bad showing at the Battle of Jutland was replaced. General Sir Francis Reginald Wingate was a leading army commander during the war on several fronts. All three were active Freemasons.
When the United States entered the war in 1917 the future heroes of World War Two Generals Arnold Patton and MacArthur all took part in the conflict. Hap Arnold had just become the youngest ever, full colonel in the US army at the age of 29 and had been taught to fly by the Wright brothers. Patton commanded the US tank school in France during WW1 and was the central figure in US armoured warfare in WW2. MacArthur was a brigadier general in WW1 the most senior of the group and helped lead the 42nd Rainbow group. The future President Roosevelt was a naval attaché in WW1 and contracted Spanish flu on his way back to the US which could have led to his later disability.
This picture shows King George V decorating Lieutenant Yagle of the Signal Corps for bravery in September 1918. The King decorated 50,000 during the conflict in the field and was much loved and respected by all the men. He came to the front over four hundred times during the four year war and was a great inspiration for all the fighting men who had come to fight for King and Country as they could all claim to have been close to him on many occasions.
This was the first large-scale conflict where aircraft were used directly first as reconnaissance then as fighter planes and lastly as bombers. This led to the magnificent men in their flying machines and none more so than Captain Albert Ball V.C. who was at the age of only twenty our greatest “ace” having 44 victories and earning his V.C. posthumously. He was not just a great pilot but an aero innovator and made many improvements to his aircraft. He had already been awarded two Distinguished Service Orders and a Military Cross. When he was eventually shot down over France in April 1917 he was declared by Von Richthofen the great German ace to be “by far the best British flying man”.
The British Navy at the time of the First World War was the largest and most feared in the world. The navy was since the time of Nelson our proudest military possession and no expense was spared in furnishing it with the latest and best hardware. The Germans were aware of this and had been trying to catch up. The only major sea battle of the war the Battle of Jutland proved inconclusive and a bit of a let down for morale but enough to persuade the Germans not to try it again. The picture is of HMS Hampshire a Royal Navy Devonshire class cruiser built in 1903 and sunk in 1916 with the loss of 643 lives including Lord Kitchener.
Being truly a World War it was fought globally. The Ottoman Empire had joined the Axis and controlled the Middle East. Fighting in this terrain required special skills and our cousins from Australia came to fight with their camel brigade trained in the deserts back home. This remarkable photograph is the only colour photo in the exhibition and was taken by a German photographer.
Women volunteered to help the war effort as soon as they had sent their men off to fight. First they filled the gaps left by the men back home in the office and on the land and factories. Then almost 10,000 volunteered to go to the front to help the men fighting both as nurses and ambulance drivers and any other tasks that could spare the men to continue the struggle. This led to the forming of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. This photograph shows women in the Women’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry the FANNY drivers in their winter fur coats.
The Great War saw new strides made in treating the wounded and injured. The thousands of lives saved by the Marie Curie ambulances that the great Nobel Laureate donated and operated with mobile x-ray machines. The simple practice of making sure all medical staff scrubbed up before operating. The sterilisation of open wounds and amputations carried out in the field and the ability to remove soldiers from the field in motor ambulances. Then the care in hospitals both at the front and at home and the therapy adopted to restore the use of limbs by physiotherapy as portrayed in this photograph.
It was the walking wounded who came back from the terrible scenes that they had witnessed that required compassion and aid. This photograph shows National Service Volunteers at a reception for wounded returning servicemen being entertained in 1916 by the Freemasons in the Connaught Rooms adjacent to Freemasons Hall here in Great Queen Street. It was vital to keep up spirits of all at home and those returning to show how much their sacrifices on our behalf were appreciated.
This is a remarkable photograph as it shows General Jan Smuts from South Africa who was a member of the War Cabinet in spite of the fact that only a few years previously he had spearheaded the attacks on the British in the Boer Wars. Accompanying him is the Rajah of Bikaner another member of the war cabinet and the only member of colour showing how all encompassing the cabinet and the war effort was engaging all the members of the far reaching British Empire.
Both the Prince of Wales and his brother Albert were active in the war. The prince was not allowed to go to the front as Kitchener considered him a ransom risk but did agree to the “spare” who in the navy to be appointed aboard the HMS Collingwood where he was mentioned in despatches during the action at the Battle of Jutland. Here the prince later King George VI who was on leave in 1916 is seen pouring tea for wounded soldiers at Buckingham Palace.
This was the last great conflict where so many horses were used and lost in battle. But many other animals found roles in the conflict. Many men brought pets with them or found them on the front and adopted them for comfort. Others were used for a whole range of tasks and dogs in particular due to their ability to be trained to perform many important jobs. Some were used as messengers or for rescue as was this Alsation named later Rin Tin Tin who was taken back to the US after the war by a grateful serviceman and became a famous movie-screen star.
On the 19th July 1919 a Victory Parade was held in London to celebrate the ending of hostilities the previous year. It took almost a whole year to demobilise the armies and the Victory Parade was staged in London a month after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which marked the official ending of the war. Field Marshall Haig headed the British contingent and General Foch the French and the US army contingent was headed by General Pershing. Some 15,000 soldiers took part and were barracked in Kensington gardens.
At the end of the four-year long conflict with millions of lives lost the German army surrendered on the 11th November 1918. The picture here shows the smiling face of a relieved soldier returning from the front and giving a boy his gun in the hope that he would not have to use it again. The Freemasons had made a remarkable contribution in serving King and Country evidenced by being awarded sixteen percent of all the Victoria Crosses awarded in the war. A list of all the freemasons in this exhibition is available at the end of this website as is a series of cigarette cards reproduced showing portraits of the VCs.