'Brothers in Arms' honoured

Leicester World War One Victoria Cross recipient amongst 64 ‘Brothers in Arms’ to be honoured with new memorial

The 64 Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during The Great War (WW1) will be honoured with special commemorative stones bearing their names to be laid outside the iconic Freemasons’ Hall building in Covent Garden, London including Leicester born Captain Robert Gee. The building is one of the largest peace memorials of our time and was built in honour of every Freemason who fell in WW1.

The ceremony is not only part of the celebrations to mark this year's 300th anniversary of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), but also looks ahead to the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 in 2018.

The Victoria Cross is the highest award within the UK honours system that recognises ‘conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy’. It can be awarded to anyone serving with the Armed Forces with no distinction of rank or class, a value shared by Freemasons who come from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Robert Gee was born in Leicester on 7 May, 1876, son of Robert Gee and of Amy Foulds. At the age of 16, he was an Apprentice to Mr. Shaw, Ornamental Metal and Iron Worker, of Aylestone but soon enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers.

On 30 November 1917 at Masnières and Les Rues Vertes, France, he was a temporary captain in the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers when an attack by the enemy captured brigade headquarters and ammunition dump. Captain Gee, finding himself a prisoner, managed to escape and organised a party of the brigade staff with which he attacked the enemy, closely followed by two companies of infantry. He cleared the locality and established a defensive flank, then finding an enemy machine-gun still in action, with a revolver in each hand he went forward and captured the gun, killing eight of the crew. He was wounded, but would not have his wound dressed until the defence was organised.

After the war, Gee went into politics. He first stood for Parliament as a National Democratic Party candidate in the 1918 General Election at Consett, where he finished second. He then stood for Parliament as a Conservative in the 1921 Woolwich East by-election against Ramsay MacDonald. A great deal of attention was given in the campaign to the contrast between Gee as a Victoria Cross holder and Macdonald as a pacifist who opposed the war. Gee won the seat which he held until the next general election the following year, when he lost to the Labour Party candidate.

He was elected MP for Bosworth at the 1924 general election and later died in Perth, Australia, aged 84. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Fusiliers Museum in the Tower of London, England.

During the Tercentenary year, the memorial will act as a further reminder of the founding principles of Freemasonry: Brotherly Love, Truth and Relief - UGLE is one of the largest contributors to charitable causes in the UK after the National Lottery. These principles were demonstrated in great abundance by the 64 'Brothers in Arms', Freemasons from all four corners of the globe.

The Freemasons being recognised represent an astonishing 1 in 10 of all VCs awarded during The Great War, and that figure becomes 1 in 6 when including those awarded to Freemasons who were members of other Grand Lodges globally. Remarkably, these include three of the famous ‘Six VCs Before Breakfast’ awarded to members of the 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers during their capture of ‘W’ Beach at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915.

HRH The Duke of Kent, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, will be officially unveiling the commemorative stones on the 25th April 2017 as part of its Tercentenary celebrations, marking the 300-year anniversary of four London lodges coming together to form the first Grand Lodge in 1717.

HRH The Duke of Kent attended RMA Sandhurst, was commissioned into The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) and subsequently served in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Hong Kong. He retired from the Army in 1976 and was promoted to Field Marshall in 1993. He has been a Freemason for 53 years and in June will celebrate his 50th anniversary as Grand Master of UGLE.

The laying of the memorial stones is part of the Victoria Cross commemorative paving stones programme – a nationwide initiative led by the Department of Communities and Local Government in which every one of the VC recipients of the First World War is commemorated. The initiative aims to honour their bravery, provide a lasting legacy of local heroes within communities and to enable residents and visitors to understand how a community contributed to The Great War effort.

Brigadier Willie Shackell, Grand Secretary of the UGLE, said: “To be awarded the Victoria Cross is the highest honour for bravery and we are immensely proud and inspired to remember our 64 brethren who exemplify the best in men.”

He continued: “It is also appropriate that this event is taking place during our Tercentenary year when much of the activity is about highlighting the values of Freemasonry that we all hold dear – fraternity, charity and integrity. Camaraderie, new friendships and support are some of the main reasons people join Freemasonry, and numerous servicemen have been Masons since our founding 300 years ago.”

Peter Norton GC, Chairman of The VC and GC Association, said: “That so many recipients of the Victoria Cross from the First World War are being honoured today is a remarkable achievement. These men, from all walks of life, were part of an extraordinary group of people recognised for their outstanding bravery. I am proud to represent them."