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For Lodge L8479 - St Mark.

21st

Nov. 2018

Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day with the Empty Chair Ceremony

On Monday 12th November, the members of the Lodge of St Mark No. 8479, held the Ceremony of the Empty Chair, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the declaration of peace, after the Great War.

The worshipful master (WM), W. Bro. Ray Fuller, his wardens and the brethren were joined by many guests, both official and private. Foremost among which was the recently appointed Assistant Provincial Grand Master, W. Bro. Chris Bond, who represented the Provincial Grand Master in an official capacity. W. Bro. Chris was supported by his Asst. Pr. Grand Director of Ceremonies, and a Pr. Grand Steward. He was also supported by many members of his own lodge Kinson 5331, who were invited to attend by the officers of the Lodge of St Mark as part of their reciprocal visit arrangement. In total over 60 brethren were present to witness the very moving and poignant ceremony.

The ceremony was started by the WM calling his deacons to order, and requesting that they escort the representation of our departed brethren into the lodge. The empty chair, being that representation was carried by the two deacons, both ex. servicemen, one of HM Army, the other of the French Army. They placed the chair in the centre of the Lodge, where the senior warden then placed an Entered Aprentice's apron on the chair, symbolically to recognise the dedication of our departed brethren 'to the highest ideals of the Craft during their lifetime'.

The WM then placed a past master's collar and jewel on the chair, and decorated it further with medals of service from both the first and second world wars.

The chaplain placed a sprig of evergreen on the apron, a emblem of immortality, and then called the lodge to order and the 23rd Psalm was sung.

The WM, himself a veteran of WW2, having served on HMS Illustrious, and a holder of the Burma Star, then remembered all those who had given their lives in conflict and war, so that we may live in freedom as we do today. A poppy was then placed on the apron too.

Three members of the lodge then read the following:

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now
we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow, In Flanders fields.

In May 1918 Colonel McCrae was brought as a stretcher case to one of the big hospitals on the channel coast of France. On the third evening he was wheeled to the balcony of his room to look over the sea towards the cliffs of Dover. The verses were obviously in his mind, for he told the doctor who was in charge of his case: 'Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep'. The same night Colonel McCrae died. He was interred in a beautiful cemetery on rising ground above Wimereux, from where the cliffs of Dover are easily visible on sunny days.

The First World War finally came to an end in November 1918, when an Armistice was declared, so that peace terms could be arranged. At 11am on November 11th, the last shot of the war was fired.

An American lady, Miss Moina Michael, had read the poem and was greatly impressed, particularly by the last verse. The wearing of a poppy appeared to her to be the way to keep faith, and she wrote the reply:

'THE VICTORY EMBLEM'

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders' fields,
Sleep sweet - to arise anew;
we caught the torch you threw,
And holding high,
we kept the faith with those who died.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
that grows on fields where valour led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead,
In Flanders' fields.
And now the torch and poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught:
We've learned the lesson that ye taught,
In Flanders' fields.

The senior warden then led the remembrance with the immortal extract from Laurence Binyon's 'The Fallen':

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The junior warden sounded the last post on his bugle, and the lodge stood in silence for 2 minutes. After the reveille, the deacons solemnly covered the chair with a Union Flag, and finally the director of ceremonies placed a poppy wreath at the the foot of the chair.

At the festive board, the WM, thanked all those who took part and especially thanked the DC for his hard work in organising and co-coordinating the rehearsals and ceremony; making it such a special and unique occasion.

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