The ceremony of the Empty Chair was performed for the second year in succession at the Vale Lodge No 5256 regular meeting in November 2022 which was attended by grand officers Jim Wilson, past chairman of the Lancaster Group and Jim Woods accompanied by Provincial Grand Almoner Paul Broadley and Provincial Grand Junior Deacon Dave Shaw, with piper Tom Shankland from Hindpool Lodge No 1225 in Barrow.
After the opening the lodge by the WM George Fox, immediate past master Stewart Aimson swapped places with George who then took over the role of senior warden with director of ceremonies Norman Mitchell as junior warden for the ceremony.
The ceremony began with a procession led by the piper Tom Shankland preceding the entrance of an empty chair brought into the temple by the junior warden Kevin Isted and the treasurer Paul Taylor. The chair was then placed in the east of the loge and covered with a veil.
IPM Stewart placed an entered apprentice’s apron on the chair together with British campaign medals and an acacia leaf. The ancient acacia represents renewal, fortitude, and pureness throughout the world. In Freemasonry it is an emblem for the immortality of the human soul because of the ever-green nature of this bush.
The brethren were invited to form a circle around the empty chair and each placed an acacia leaf on the chair before returning to their seats. The Last Post was played and words from the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyons’ poem “For the Fallen” were read:
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.
This ceremony has been imported to the British Isles and is performed by Masonic lodges during Remembrance week. It is thought to date back to 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War when it was used in Masonic lodges throughout the United States to pay tribute to those who did not return from the war. Since then, it has been used by many American lodges on Memorial Day to pay homage to those brother Freemasons who sacrificed their lives in the service of the United States.
The first Mason honoured was a British Freemason who was killed in action in the US Army on the northern plains. John Holt Beever is the first foreign Mason to give his life in uniform in service in the region then known as Dakota Territory, which in the earlier 1860s extended west-ward to the Rocky Mountains from the Minnesota and Iowa borders north of the Nebraska border. It included significant portions of the states of Wyoming and Montana as well as North and South Dakota.
On completion of the ceremony, the WM George Fox and the wardens resumed their seats in the lodge and normal business was conducted, after which 37 brethren retired from the lodge for brunch. The raffle raised £164 and the bonus ball raised an additional £25.