Victoria Cross Memorial
Memorial to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during WW1
Three Oxford World War One Victoria Cross recipients amongst 64
"Brothers in Arms" to be honoured with new memorial
Two were members of the Apollo University Lodge and the other was a member of the Bowyer Lodge
All 64 were Freemasons and members of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE)
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Their medals represent one in 10 of all VCs awarded during World War One
The memorial at Freemasons' Hall in London will be unveiled by HRH The Duke of Kent as part of UGLE's Tercentenary celebrations
Tuesday 25 April 2017: The 64 Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during The Great War (WW1 and including the North Russian Relief Force) will be honoured with special commemorative stones bearing their names to be laid outside the iconic Freemasons' Hall building in Covent Garden, London. The building is one of the largest peace memorials of our time and was built in honour of every Freemason who fell in WWI.
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. The 64 being recognised include:
John Stanhope Collings-Wells, born 1880 (KIA France 1918)
Born to Arthur & Caroline Mary, Collings-Wells moved to Marple to live with his cousin, Will Buck, enabling him to run his father's business in Manchester.
Collings-Wells enlisted in the Hertfordshire Militia, and was commissioned into the Bedfordshire Regiment on 14 March 1904. He was made lieutenant in September 1904 and captain in January 1907. When war broke out, he travelled to France with his Regiment on 22 August 1914. In the winter of 1914-15, he was wounded and invalided home. He returned to the front lines in July 1916, with the rank of Major, in command of a company. He was promoted to acting Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1916.
Collings-Wells was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1917 for his command of a battalion, which captured and held the northern outskirts of Gavrelle on 23 April 1917. Further, on 29 April he commanded a composite battalion, attacked and captured the Oppy line. He was also Mentioned in despatches in November 1917.
He was buried at Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery (Plot 3, Row E, Grave 12). His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regimental Collection at the Wardown Park Museum, Luton, Bedfordshire.
His citation read:
For most conspicuous bravery, skilful leading and handling of his battalion in very critical situations during a withdrawal.
When the rear guard was almost surrounded and in great danger of being captured, Lieutenant-Colonel Collings-Wells, realising the situation, called for volunteers to remain behind and hold up the enemy whilst the remainder of the rear-guard withdrew and, with his small body of volunteers held them up for over one and a half hours until they had expended every round of ammunition. During this time, he moved freely amongst his men, guiding them and encouraging them and, by his great courage, undoubtedly saved the situation.
On a subsequent occasion, when his battalion was ordered to carry out a counter-attack, he showed the greatest bravery. Knowing that his men were extremely tired after six days fighting, he placed himself in front and led the attack and, even when twice wounded, refused to leave them.
Eric Archibald McNair, born 1894 (died 1918)
He was educated at Charterhouse School from 1907–1913, where he was Head of the School.
He was 21 years old, and a Temporary Lieutenant in the 9th (S) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, British Army during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 14 February 1916 near Hooge, Belgium, when the enemy exploded a mine, Lieutenant McNair and a number of men were flung into the air and many were buried. Although much shaken, the lieutenant at once organised a party with a machine-gun to man the near edge of the crater and opened rapid fire on the enemy who were advancing. They were driven back with many dead. Lieutenant McNair then ran back for reinforcements, but the communication trench being blocked he went across the open under heavy fire and held up the reinforcements the same way. His prompt and plucky action undoubtedly saved a critical situation.
He later achieved the rank of Captain. He died of chronic dysentery at the base hospital in Genoa, Italy, on 12 August 1918.
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Eastbourne Redoubt Museum, Eastbourne, Sussex, England.
Dudley Graham Johnson, born 1884 (died 1975)
Johnson served with the Wiltshire Regiment in the Second Boer War. He transferred to The South Wales Borderers in 1903.
He was 34 years old, and an acting lieutenant colonel in The South Wales Borderers, British Army, commanding 2nd Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment during the First World War when the following deed took place at the Sambre Canal, France for which he was awarded the VC.
On 4 November 1918 at Sambre Canal, France, the 2nd Infantry Brigade, of which the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment formed part, was ordered to cross by the lock south of Catillon. The position was strong and the assaulting and bridging parties were halted on arrival at the waterway 100 yards from the canal by a heavy barrage. At this point, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson arrived and personally led an assault but heavy fire again broke up the attack. He reorganized the assaulting and bridging parties and this time effected a crossing but the success of this dangerous operation was entirely due to his splendid leadership.
Between the wars he held a number of instruction and staff posts before being appointed Commanding Officer of 2nd Bn North Staffordshire Regiment in 1928. He became Commander of 12th (Secunderbad) Infantry Brigade in 1933 and General Officer Commanding 4th Division from 1938 to 1940. He was replaced as divisional commander after Dunkirk and made GOC of Aldershot Command later on in 1940 before becoming Inspector of Infantry in 1941. He retired in 1944 and was Colonel of the South Wales Borderers from 1944 to 1949.
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Powys, Wales.
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 25 April 1915.
HRH The Duke of Kent, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, will be officially unveiling the commemorative stones 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 United Grand Lodge of England, 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.
   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.