IN DISTRESSED CIRCUMSTANCES

Most Canadian jurisdictions issued a Masonic pass to their members when they enlisted for military service. The pass was written in English, French and German. It identified the bearer as a Mason, and requested fraternal assistance in times of distressed circumstances.The pass also declared that his Mother Lodge would repay any financial burdens that this fraternal assistance might require.

Prisoners of War are a major factor in any war, and the First World War was no exception. Major Hooper of Carleton Place was knocked unconscious during a savage battle and fell into the hands of the Germans. Local tradition maintains that a German military surgeon, coming across the Masonic pass, gave him preferential medical attention that probably saved his life. Another anecdote relates that Hooper was at risk of being shot by German guards during his captivity, but that after he made a Masonic sign of distress, he was taken away to safety.

Canadian soldier and Masonic Brother Robert J Meekren was wounded in the Ypres Salient in 1916 and feel into the hands of the Germans. While in the prison camp, a German guard revealed himself to Meekren as a Mason, and at great risk to himself, the guard gave Meekren a parcel of bread and cigarettes. Meekren then tried to contact other Masonic prisoners by embroidering a square and compass on his military tunic. An Allied prisoner approached him and asked, “Have you ever been entirely destitute?” It took Meekren a moment to realize the Masonic significance of this question, and to realize that this soldier was also a Mason. Meekren was then introduced to several other English and French speaking POW’s, and they were able to hold impromptu Masonic meetings by “immemorial right.” One memorable occasion was a Masonic feast with about 20 Masons contributing treats they had secured to commemorate St. John’s Day 1917.

Meekren also benefited from his Mother Lodge. The Secretary of his Lodge wrote him on a regular basis to keep him up to date with affairs back home. Naturally, the Germans censored all letters coming to prisoners. Meekren was therefore alarmed one morning when the German camp censor asked to see him in his office. The German censor, by reviewing the letters, realized that Meekren was a Mason, and revealed himself to be a Mason. Meekren was thereafter allowed to receive extra letters from home and was given a comfortable clerical job in the camp office.

After the War, in 1927, the German General Ludendorff published a book “The Annihilation of Freemasonry Through the Disclosure of its Secrets.” In the book he stated “Freemasonry is a Jewish contrivance” and that special treatment given by German Masonic guards to Allied Masonic prisoners during the War was “national treason.” The extreme opinions expressed in Ludendorff’s book foreshadowed the official policies of the Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. Once they had gained power, the Nazis actively persecuted the Jews and the Freemasons, first in Germany and later in the occupied countries.