Hot on the heels of a superb banner dedication meeting of Brotherhood Lodge No 3967, master of the lodge Stephen Booth had a further treat in store for the members and their numerous guests at the next meeting of the lodge; a lecture on a subject that stirs sentiments of wonderment, admiration and indefinable respect but which was, above all, humbling and awe-inspiring; a subject in which the stories of some remarkable and very special people were told – the story of the Victoria Cross.
Delivering the captivating lecture was Lt Col Mark Smith, Past Provincial Grand Steward of the Province of Essex, but better known to those outside of Freemasonry as BBC TV’s Antiques Road Show’s specialist in military medals.
Mark’s lecture began with a local connection – his father who had served as a rear gunner in the RAF during the Second World War was, for a time, posted to Blackpool. As fate would have it, the decorations his father won in WW II inspired Mark’s passion for collecting British medals, which began in 1969 – a hobby which was to become a life-long passion.
The lecture proceeded to recount the reason for the Victoria Cross coming into being and the personal involvements of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in realising the award. Most important was Queen Victoria’s insistence that the medal should not be made from a valuable metal, to represent the fact that any deed of valour leading to the award could never be valued in monetary terms. She also insisted on the inclusion of the letter V in the suspension of the Cross. The Victoria Cross has been awarded for ‘… most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.’
The lecture related some of the early awards from its inception at the time of the Crimean War in 1854 and the brethren were enthralled to hear of some of the unbelievably fearless acts of bravery that led to awards throughout the subsequent 160 years – and also learn about some of the myths surrounding the decoration.
They were also delighted to be able to see and hold (in their gloved hands) one of the earliest VCs won, and learn that originally VCs won by the Royal Navy had a blue ribbon and those by the Army, a red one (it was only after the formation of the Royal Air Force that King George VI declared that all VCs would henceforth have a red ribbon).
Throughout the duration of the lecture, the brethren had been riveted by the detailed history of the Victoria Cross and the many stories of valour that led to it being awarded and consequently, at each of the risings at the end of the meeting, responses were unanimous in praising Mark for the content of the lecture and for the graphic and captivating manner in which he had delivered it, not only demonstrating Mark’s unsurpassed knowledge of the subject but also the love and passion he has for it.
The success of the evening continued into the festive board, at the close of which Mark was presented with a military-style coin that master of the lodge Stephen Booth had commissioned to commemorate the lodge’s banner dedication of the previous month and which had been presented to all the lodge members and visitors on that occasion.
The evening had been a real treat for those present and all left enriched, not only in knowledge but also from the humbling experience and admiration for those national and Commonwealth heroes who represented the values of personal sacrifice for the greater good; an ethos that is at the heart of Freemasonry and a fitting reminder for our Tercentenary celebrations.