Remembering those in another place

Since the start of the First World War over 1,500,000 soldiers have died defending our freedom.

Hans Robert Sparenborg.

Hans Robert Sparenborg.

In the First World War 885,138 military men and women died, 3,200 were English Freemasons. In the Province of West Lancashire 325 Freemasons sacrificed their lives for us. Bro Hans Robert Sparenborg is the first known West Lancashire Freemason who gave his life in the Great War, he was initiated into Lodge of Furness No 995 at Ulverston Masonic Hall on 3 September 1912.

Hans was born in Calcutta, India, on 2 November 1876, the first son to his father, Mr Johann Sparenborg, an East India merchant; and his mother Annie, nee Belchambers.

He joined The King’s Own (The Royal Lancaster Regiment) in May 1900, and the 1901 census return shows him as serving with the 1st Battalion, Kings Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) at Kent, in all likelihood this would be in Dover Barracks.

Promoted to Lieutenant in January 1902, he embarked in May of the same year for Africa, attached to the West African Frontier Force, taking part in the 1903 Kano-Sokoto campaign in Northern Nigeria, and would later take command in the Kabba Province operations. In 1904 he was awarded the Africa General Service Medal, with clasps, before leaving the WAFF in the October of the same year.

In January 1910, Hans had been promoted to the rank of Captain, and in the following January, he became the Adjutant of the 4th Territorial Battalion, King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), a position he held until the December of 1913, returning then to the 1st Battalion of the regiment.

Serving as Captain with the battalion, fluent in German and a first-class interpreter, he was in one of the first contingents to cross to France after the outbreak of war. He embarked from Southampton aboard the S S Saturnia, on the morning of 22 August, 1914, arriving in Boulogne harbour late in the evening. The battalion totalled 26 officers and 974 other ranks, a total strength of 1,000 men.

As Hans and his battalion disembarked from their ship, the Battle of Mons was taking place in Belgium, and for a short period over the next couple of months it would be a war of movement, not seen again until the end of 1918. Hans and his comrades left Boulogne, arriving in Bertrey, and on to Ligny, and at night time, they marched through to Viesly.

  • On 25 August, late in the afternoon, the battalion came under shellfire for the first time, and at 9pm, when darkness was arriving, the battalion marched through Bethencourt, Caudry, back through Ligny to Haucourt.

    The following day, Wednesday, 26 August, they moved down the Cattenieres and across the slope of the Warnelle Brook, and it was here that the battalion took up positions at around 6am on the high ground.

    They came under heavy machine gun and artillery fire, and the Commanding Officer, Lt Col A McN Dykes, was killed and a quarter of the battalion, ‘C’ Company, were almost wiped out.

    After heavy and confused fighting all around, with attack followed by counter-attack, the battalion managed to re-group. Unfortunately, it was during all this fighting that Hans was killed, aged 37, on 26 August.

The Victoria Cross was awarded 628 times for action in the First World War. Over 100 recipients have been identified as Freemasons of whom 64 were members of English constitution lodges.

The Victoria Cross is awarded for gallantry ‘in the face of the enemy’ to members of the British armed forces (It may be awarded posthumously). It was previously awarded to Commonwealth countries, most of which have now established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours.

Earlier this year in the presence of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent and many other distinguished visitors a very special ceremony took place outside Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, London to remember the 64 Freemasons who received the Victoria Cross for their sacrifice during the Great War.

The Freemasons being recognised represent an astonishing one in 10 of all VC’s awarded during The Great War, and that figure becomes one in six when including those awarded to Freemasons who were members of other Grand Lodges around the world.

This special event was hosted by Broadcaster and journalist Katie Derham. Also in
attendance were Brigadier Willie Shackell, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England and other military dignitaries and current family members of the VC recipients.

During the event, the audience was entertained by The Band of The Grenadier Guards who performed military anthems, as well as The North London Military Wives Choir, while footage from World War One was shown on a large screen.

The ceremony was part of celebrations, marking this year’s 300th anniversary of The First Grand Lodge of England as well as looking ahead to 2018’s 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

To mark Remembrance Day this year in West Lancashire Mike Swift from the Southport Group suggested that the Anthony Gormley cast iron figures on Crosby beach be used to remind us of all the Freemasons who have given their lives defending us.

Pictures of the Anthony Gormley figures are courtesy of Mark Holloway and Mike Ellis.