Members of Bryn Lodge No 6553 do like to get about and are no strangers to overseas trips to visit lodges abroad. This year, the traditional annual pilgrimage to a lodge in a different country/jurisdiction saw Flanders favour their 15th trip. Last year they visited the St Stephen Lodge No 7 under the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungary for free and accepted Masons and in previous years the team of lodge members have visited Ireland in 2001, then Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Holland (to a lodge working under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts), Portugal, Majorca, Jersey, Greece, Gibraltar, Bulgaria and Luxembourg. On each occasion they have visited an English speaking lodge and seen many variations of ritual, customs and culture. This year was a trip to Chevalier Ramsay Lodge No.4 of the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium working emulation ritual in English.
13 brethren made the trip and met at Bryn Masonic Hall at 5am on Friday morning, to meet the coach driver, who just happened to be fellow traveller David Ogden. The drive to Dover passed quickly with a general knowledge quiz and a “name that tune” game, and following a ferry crossing, with a substantial breakfast and several beers, it was on to the hotel.
The lodge meeting was not until Monday, so there was plenty of time for exploration and sightseeing. The team stayed in Mechelen, just outside the city of Brussels and visited one of the many breweries in the town, as well as the champagne and oyster bars and the restaurants around the town square. There was also the Holocaust memorial there. This was a deeply moving experience for all of the visitors, the actual museum being situated in the SS transit camp where people, mainly Jews and Roma, were gathered from throughout Belgium, brought to the camp at Mechelen and sent to the railhead to be put into cattle trucks for their journey to the notorious Auswitch Berkenau death camp in Poland. Mechelen got the name ‘Antechamber of Death’ as a result. The team had previously seen similar on their visit to Prague and seen the remains of a concentration camp in Amersfoort in Holland and seen the German war caves built during the occupation of Jersey. However, due to the fact that in 1944, the fleeing Germans had been in such a hurry to avoid the fast approaching allied advance, they left all their records at Mechelen.
The personal stories of all 25,257 men, women and children, including photographs and mementos, were there to be seen. A trip round the battlefields of the Great War 1914-1918 was equally rewarding, with a visit to the Tyn Cot memorial cemetery. The cemetery is a massive thing, with rows and rows of pristine white gravestones, almost as if they were on parade, set in carefully manicured lawns. Along the wall at the back are over 100 monuments, each depicting a regiment and the names of the soldiers fallen, who unfortunately have no graves. The battlefields tour culminated in a visit to Ypres. Being at the Menin Gate at Ypres the team were able to witness the last post, which has been sounded at 8pm every day since 1928 (1939 to 1945 obviously excluded). It also was a moving experience, with a choir singing ‘Keep the home fires burning’, and a serving soldier telling the story of a young lad from Liverpool who was killed in action bravely attacking a German machine gun position to save his comrades.
The lodge met in Rue de Royale, right next to the Palace in Brussels. It was quite a hike, uphill all the way from the railway station at Brussels North. The lodge takes its name from Andrew Michael Ramsay, a famous Freemason who was born in Ayr in Scotland in 1681, the son of a baker. He studied with Isaac Newton and was a friend of John Desaguliers and David Hume. He served with Marlborough’s army in Flanders and eventually moved to Paris where he became a close friend of Philippe d’Orleans, the Regent of France, who inducted him into the neo-chivalric Order of St Lazarus and, thereafter, he became known as Chevalier Ramsay. In 1723, King James granted him a certificate of Nobility and in 1735 made him a Knight and a Baron, whereby he became Sir Andrew Michael Ramsay. He died at St Germain-en-Laye, near Paris in 1743 and is buried in the church cemetery there. The lodge was originally an American military lodge in France, with a difficult and unsettled history, until settling in Brussels under the auspices of the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium.
Unfortunately, WM Geoff Whittle, having travelled all the way to Belgium, due to a tummy bug had to miss the meeting. The meeting however was most enjoyable and the visitors were treated to lectures, as is the custom in Belgium, whereby new initiates are given areas of study before progression and present their findings to the lodge. There was an international flavour, not just from the visitors, but lodge members being from most European countries and even further afield. A meal followed the meeting, but unlike the English tradition, it was just a meal, with no formal toasts, speeches or responses. However, at an appropriate moment, on behalf of the Bryn WM, Barry Dickinson took the chance to present an inscribed gavel to the WM.
The lodge and meal went on well into the night, and the visiting brethren found themselves running down the hill to catch the last train back to Mechelen. The journey home involved a bit of panic, first being caught in diversions around Calais because of troubles at the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp, and then a delayed ferry crossing due to industrial action, but the brethren arrived safely back in Blighty, well fed and watered, with new friends and an advancement in Masonic knowledge. It must be difficult after 15 years to find new jurisdictions to visit, so will there be a number 16?