MEN WHO HAVE PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN THE BUILDING UP OF A LIVING BROTHERHOOD
Thanks are extended to Brother Mick Walker for the submission of this article
BROTHER JOHN WILSON, R.O.H.
Thereare many men in our Order who can claim the title of pioneer but few(if any) can do so in the knowledge that they have been pioneers whilstholding every major office in the Grand Lodge of England.
Belowis such a man, a man amongst men, he led from the front when the Orderwas going through difficult times and it is a tribute to his strengthof character that one can recall with pride the part he played in thebuilding up of a living Brotherhood.
Brother John Wilson, R.O.H.
Atthe Grand Lodge Meeting at the Albert Hotel Nottingham, at which theinstallation of Bro. J. T. Davies as Grand Primo 1913 was held, therewas a keen contest for the Office of Deputy Grand Primo. The Nomineesbeing Bro.’s F. Earley, F. Stephens, G. C. Storry, G. Sumner, S. Willisand J. Wilson. The result was that Bro. John Wilson was elected.
Onthe 31st January 1914, at the Albert Hotel, Nottingham. Bro. JohnWilson was installed as Grand Primo of the Grand Lodge of England.April 20 1914, his colleagues of the Northumberland and North EastDurham Province gave a Complimentary Banquet in his honour at Newcastleupon Tyne.
Itwas during an engagement at Plymouth that Bro. John heard of War havingbeen declared. The Grand lodge of England was among the first to comeforward to the assistance of our Country. A great coincidence occurredat the October meeting, as the death at the hotel of a Brotherdelegate, took up most of the time of the Grand Primo and the GrandSecretary, they had no opportunity to discuss any business prior to themeeting. From the Chair Bro. John introduced the idea of motorambulances. The remarkable thing was that the Grand Secretary Bro.Billy RoseR.O.H informed the meeting that he had also thought of this, and had asa matter of fact come prepared with plans for the building ofambulances, and many details in connection therewith.
Thefirst Ambulances purchased by the Order and donated to the Armyestablished a new idea so far as ambulances for active service wereconcerned, and a copy of the design was immediately taken up by the WarOffice. Brother John also holds the distinction of being the onlyBrother of the Order to be presented with anAmbulance jewel as the founder of the Ambulance Scheme. This jewelhangs with pride in the RAOB GLE Museum at Harrogate. It must also bepointed out that the idea of ambulances also came from the S. W. SurreyProvince. A Total of 18 were donated to the War Office.
Bro.John Wilson did a wonderful amount of good during his year of office.No trouble was too great, and no effort too much if he could dosomething to assist in the progress of the Order, and he took a leadingpart inendeavoring to collect as much money as possible for the benefit ofthose who were suffering so much at thefront.
Bro.John is the only brother of the Order who held all five Senior Offices. They were as follows:
Deputy Grand Primo 1913
Grand Primo 1914
Grand Trustee from 1920 to 1929
Grand Secretary from 1929 to 1947
Grand Treasurer from 1948 to 1949
Furtherresearch shows that Bro. John was a native of South Shields and becameaCouncilor for the Holborn Ward in South Shields in 1907 and was made anAlderman of the Borough in 1927. He represented this Ward all duringhis career as aCouncilor. His history is traced back as far as 1907, when he lived at118 Broughton Road, running a Grocery Shop, (in 1904 this grocery shopwas not owned by him) trading as J & G. E. Wilson. In 1909 this hadchanged into a Beer Sales Shop, or as we know them today an OffLicence.
1913/14he was still living at 118 Broughton Road, still trading as J. & G.E. Wilson Beer Retailers (Off Licence). His council Work included beingon the following Committees, Town Improvement, Watch, Parks &Cemeteries, Electrical, and Local Pensions.
1915/16he had opened another Beer Sales at 137 Commercial Road, and had addedto his Committees the Standing Orders, and Asylum Visitors.1920 saw him as Licensee of the Newcastle House Inn at No. 2 WappingStreet and living at No 28 Meldron Terrace still with the Beer Salesat Commercial Road. He had also added the Market and Quays Committee tohis numerous other civic committees.
1922 in the Spring Parliamentary Electoral Roll he was registered, still at 28 Meldron Terrace, also his wife Sarah Ann Wilson.
1923the Spring Parliamentary Electoral Roll still had them both at 28,Meldron Terrace, but the Autumn Electoral Rolls did not show Sarah Annas being a resident at either address. As he had Premises in two wardsin the town, he was at that time, allowed two votes in theParliamentary Elections, one for each address.
1926still living in Meldron Terrace he took the Licence of the AlexandraHotel at No. 12 Queen Street, as well as the Newcastle House Inn, andthe Beer Sales at 137 Commercial Road.
1928Bro. John was made Mayor of South Shields, and by this time I think awidower, as his niece Mrs. James Allan helped to make for him, as hisLady Mayoress a very successful year of Office.
Still living at 28 Meldron Terrace, but now John Wilson Junior was of voting age and living with his father.
1932 John Wilson Junior was the Occupier of 28 Meldron Terrace. John WilsonR.O.H was at this time living in Harrogate, at 73, Skipton Road.
Brother John Wilson was made a Freeman of the City of London and the following is an account of the honour conferred upon him.
BROTHER JOHN WILSON, FREEMAN OF LONDON
The Freedom of the City of London was conferred upon Bro. John Wilson, R.O.H. P.G.P. (Eng,), for services rendered to his country and to the Order of Buffaloes.
Hereceived intimation that his name had been submitted to the WorshipfulCompany of Feltmakers, who had considered his work and desired topublicly recognise it. Others to receive thedistinction with Bro, Wilson included the following: Arthur CecilTyrrell Beck, Esq., M.P. (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry ofNational Service); The Right Hon. Sir Alexander Porter, Lord Mayor ofManchester; The Right Hon. Alderman Arthur David Brooks, Lord, Mayor ofBirmingham; The Right Hon. Sir George Lunn, J.P., Lord Mayor ofNewcastle upon Tyne; Sir Harold Elverston, M.P., Sir Cyril Jackson,K.B.E. (Chairman L.C.C., 1915) ; His Worship the Mayor of Derby (EdwardJames Hulse, Esq., J.P.); His Worship the Mayor of Warrington (PeterPeacock, Esq., J.P.): James Edward Bedford, Esq. (Lord Mayor of Leeds,1914-15).
“Sir”John was accompanied by his colleagues who had previously received thehonour, the party arriving at the Guildhall at 10.30. They werereceived by the Lord Mayor, Sir Louis Newton, High Sheriff, MajorRichard Rigg, T.D., Worshipful Master and the members of the High Court.
Itwas indeed a most imposing ceremony and when we state the ceremonystarted at 10.30 and was not concluded until after 5 o’clock, the onlyinterval being luncheon, it will be recognised that the proceedings arenot hurried over.
Asignal honour was paid Bro. Wilson at the luncheon, presided over bythe Lord Mayor, he being chosen with Arthur Cecil Tyrrel Beck, M.P.,Sec. Min. Nat. Service, to reply to the toast of the new Freeman, andright well did he acquit himself, receiving well deserved applause atthe conclusion of his speech.
Itwas a memorable occasion. The Lord Mayors of Manchester, Birmingham andNewcastle and the Mayors of Derby and Warrington, all in their robesand insignia of office, and set off with effect in the great gildedchamber of the Guildhall.
Ourbrother must indeed have felt a proud man, and there can be no questionthat he has worthily deserved the honour he has received.
Bro.Frank Fleming, K.O.M., who had journeyed from Newcastle to convey thecongratulations of his Province, met the new Freeman at the HotelRussel, and, if report speaks true, celebrated the occasion in afitting manner.
Atthe P.G.L. meeting in Newcastle on the following Wednesday Bro. Johnhad a splendid reception, in fact, an ovation, and who will say he hasnot deserved the great distinction he has received?
Thefollowing is the speech made by Major Richard Rigg, T.D., Ex HighSheriff, Cumberland, Worshipful Master Feltmakers Company, and thereply of Bro. Wilson.
MajorRichard Rigg, T.D., B.A. (Cantab) J.P., Commissioner of the NationalWar Savings Committee, who is Master of the Feltmakers Company,proposed the election ofCouncilor John Wilson, and in the course of his remarks said: CouncilorJohn Wilson has been closely associated with all patriotic,philanthropic, athletic, and municipal movements. He became a member ofthe R.A.O.B. in 1891 and his organising and administrative ability soonmade itself felt, and he in due time became head of the Northumberlandand North East Durham Province, he became a member of the Grand Lodgeof England in 1904, Deputy Grand Primo in 1913, and Grand Primo ofEngland in 1914. When war broke out, his active brain was at onceoccupied with the consideration of the best means of furthering thepatriotic cause. He was the originator of the movement for theprovision by the Order of Ambulances for the front, 12 Ambulanceshaving been up to date supplied at an aggregate cost of £6,000. He is aDirector of the R.A.O.B. Orphanage, taking an especial interest in thefund to assist orphan children on leaving school. A keen sportsman, hewas for some time Chairman of the South Shields Football Club. He hasbeen a member of the South Shields Corporation since 1907, and has donesplendid service on various committees. He is an ablespeaker, a keen debater, a consistent, earnest and conscientiousworker, whose opinion in committee is always respected, and whose highpersonal character evokes universalregard
Replyof Bro.Councilor John Wilson, of South Shields : Worshipful Master, Members ofthis Court, and Gentlemen, I feel it a difficult task to express inappropriate and adequate terms my thanks for the honour you haveconferred upon me today.
Itake it that you have not only honoured me today, but am proud andpleased to think that in doing so, you have conferred an honour on thetown which claims me as a native and a member of its Municipal Council.
Bearingthat thought in mind, it may not be considered inappropriate if I — nowno longer a stranger within your gates — should say a few wordsregarding my native town, South Shields
Althoughits history proclaims it to be a place of antiquity, South Shields, asit stands today, is more or less a town of modern growth, and althoughits Charter of Constitution as a Borough only dates back to the year1850, one must dip into a very remote period — to the time of the Romanoccupation — to trace its origin.
Thebirthplace of a King — King Oswin of Northumberland — and the site of aRoman City, it owes its present position, however, to neither of these,but to its, commanding situation at the mouth of the River Tyne.
Ithas become an important seat of industry and the home of busy workers,where at this moment, along with its sister Borough of Tynemouth,sentinel watch is kept over the harbour entrance and rock bound coastagainst attacks of our enemy of to day.
Ittakes its name from the primitive huts or ‘sheels’ which were scatteredover its site in the olden days, and we have for our motto — ‘AlwaysReady’ — the most appropriate words which could be given to thebirthplace of the lifeboat.
Fromthe date when it obtained its Charter in 1850 the story of SouthShields has been one of advancement and progress. Within recent yearscostly street improvements have been carried out, the public health andsanitation markedly improved, and unrivalled Marine Parks provided atthe sea front for the recreation and enjoyment of the inhabitants andvisitors. The tramways and electrical undertakings of the Corporation,are numbered amongst the most successful in the country and therecently erected Municipal Buildings are but a few instances of ourlocal enterprise.
Irepresent here to day, also, a shipping community. The life of the townis inseparably bound up with the sea and our River Tyne, and no portaround the coast can lay claim to a more honourable name.
Trueto its motto — ‘Always Ready’ — it has ever been ready to renderservice in case of shipwreck or disaster; whilst the words ‘Courage,Humanity, Commerce’ on its Coat of Arms represent all that is best anddearest in the traditions of the British sailor.
IfI were to give a pen picture of the River Tyne at South Shields. Imight compare it to what the Pool below London Bridge was before thegreat Docks were opened down the river, but it is said that the Thameslacks the picturesque ness which attaches to the Tyne, where itbroadens out before it pours its water, into the North Sea. Be that asit may or not, South Shields is a flourishing seaport on whose rivercan be seen ships and shipping in all its varied scenes andcharacteristics.
Thepresent war has, however, changed the scene, and today we do not seethe busy scenes which we were once accustomed to witness.
Inkeeping with other towns South Shields has sent her sons to the Navyand Army, and whilst it would be invidious to give numbers, as a matterof comparison, I venture to say that it has done its duty to the fullin sending sailors and soldiers to defend our island home and nationalhonour. Unfortunately, with others, we have had to count the cost —between two and three thousand of our gallant townsmen have paid thesupreme sacrifice.
Warcharities of various descriptions have been established and supported,one, of which I would like to mention that is, a fund for the Relief ofSeamen interned inGermany.
Onthe outbreak of war, large numbers of shipmasters, officers, sailorsand firemen sailing out of the Tyne, were taken from their ships inGerman ports and interned as prisoners of war. This fund was firstinaugurated by the South Shields Gazette after receiving a statementfrom an American citizen, who had been interned in Ruhleben, of theterrible privations of the men interned there.
Ittook the form of a shilling subscription fund in order that all classesmight have an opportunity of subscribing to the relief of their fellowtownsmen. Up to the present nearly 100,000 shillings have beensubscribed, almost exclusively by South Shields people. Three parcelsare sent out each fortnight to every prisoner of war on our list, andtwice a year supplies of clothing and boots.
Afew of the aged men who have been released from Ruhleben have statedthat without these gifts the men would almost start. The cost of thefund is approximately £60 per week, with a tendency to increase underpresent conditions.
Well,gentlemen, I have spoken of South Shields and some of its work, but Iwould prefer to leave others to speak of my work. Suffice it, to saythat during the ten years I have been a member of the Town Council, Ihave given my close attention and warm support to all projects foradvancement and progress. As Vice Chairman of the ParksCommittee, I have taken great interest in the works of the Parks andthe development of the sea front. During the 26 years I have been amember of the Society of the R.A.O.B. I have ever worked for itsadvancement.
Gentlemen,for what little I have done in the spheres of public life and work withwhich I have been connected, the honour you have done me today is asplendid reward, and one that any man might be proud of.
Imay be privileged in the years to come to devote myself to stillfurther self allotted tasks for the welfare of the community. Thesacrifice of time and labour involved in carrying out these duties isleavened by the sweet and consoling thought that one has theappreciation of his fellowmen, and it inspires confidence in pursuingthe path of duty which is the path of safety.
Inconclusion I desire to express my most sincere and grateful thanks toyou, Worshipful Master, for so kindly submitting my name for approval,and to you, the Members of the Honourable Court of Feltmakers, for myelection as Freeman and Liveryman of this the most important city ofour Empire.
Iassure you most sincerely today’s ceremony and the way in which youhave honoured me, will remain with me one of the proudest andpleasantest memories of my life.
Information by a Brother of the South Shields Province tells that Bro. John was at one time the landlord of the Earl Grey Public House in Station Road, South Shields. However, no confirmation of this has been uncovered.
Bro.John passed quietly to the Grand Lodge above on May 10 1952, at 73,Skipton Road, Harrogate and the following speech was made to a hushedaudience by Bro. Mervyn Payne at the 1952 Blackpool Convention.
Brother John Wilson, R.O.H. - AN APPRECIATION
No duty that has fallen upon me duringthe years of my service at Grand Lodge has aroused in my heart suchfeelings of emotion as I am now experiencing and my grief at the lossof my old friend and colleague is the more poignant by reason of thefact that I was unable through illness, to be with him at the end or topay my last respects to his memory before his physical remains werecommitted to the grave.
He was the embodiment of all thosequalities which have lifted the Order from its early obscurity to thehonourable place it occupies in the life of the Nation to day.
He believed in buffaloism. He believedin Brotherhood. He believed in these things with an urgent faith andwith a zeal and fervour that gained strength as he applied them to hiswork. It coloured his life and actions. It biased his approach tosocial problems. His way of life from the day of his initiation can besaid to have been planned with one end in view. He was conscious of thepotential power for good possessed in our tenets. Knowing, as he didfrom personal experience in his early days how much unnecessarysuffering was caused in the world by “man’s inhumanity to man” he sethimself to make our Order an instrument that was to free the peoples ofthe world from the illusion of personal security and bring them to aknowledge and belief in the wider and more firm security that can beachieved by accepting the responsibilities of brotherhood and rejoicingin the spiritual victory over self that such an acceptance entails.
There was only one John Wilson; he was more than a member of the Order;he was for many years its inspiration. He was more than a GrandSecretary; he was the living example by which we set our course on thesea of our endeavour. He was almost the last of the small band ofpioneers who, a half century ago envisaged the possibilities of weldingthe forces of brotherhood into an organised Machine for softening themisery and suffering that inevitably followed illness or death in thefamilies of our people. The birth of all our present day benevolentschemes and the birth and passing of those which served their day andgeneration such as our Orphanages was due to the vision, energy andfaith with which they pursued their objective.
The men who inspired these things havepassed on; the work they brought into being remains with us, prospersand expands as we develop the ideas they fostered. The name of JohnWilson, and those who were his close associates and co workers, willlive in the joy they created in their lifetime.
John was, in spite of his great naturalability, a simple man in all things. Direct in his dealing with all menhe scorned to take advantage of another’s weakness and rejected withouthesitation any proposal that he might shelter himself against the manystorms which blew over him as his dynamic personality made its mark inour deliberations.
He was first initiated into the Order atthe General Gordon Lodge No. 109 in 1891 and within two years hadreached such a stage in the regard of his fellows that he was electedSecretary of the Northumberland and North East Durham Province. Hebecame their delegate to Grand Lodge in 1904 and, with one singleexception, attended every Grand Lodge meeting up to the date of hisprotracted illness in 1948.
The last time he spoke at Grand Lodgewas at York last year when, as many of you will remember, hisappearance at our March meeting was greeted by a spontaneous ovationthat spoke volumes for the place he held in our hearts.
He was elected Deputy Grand Primo ofEngland in 1913 and occupied the office of Grand Primo in 1914, theyear of the first world war. With characteristic energy he threw allhis great power and ability into an effort to provide ambulances foruse on the battle fields of Europe and there were few places in GreatBritain that did not hear and respond to the power of his great oratoryin those dark and fearsome days.
It was he who, at the Swansea Conventionin 1915, moved the motion that resulted in the formation of anExecutive for the Order and he remained a member of that body until hewas asked to take the position of Grand Secretary in 1929 on the deathof that other great pioneer, Bro. Billy Rose.
In the eighteen years he held thatoffice the Order took tremendous steps forward and emerged finally asthe strongest, most powerful and most useful unit of buffaloism, inexistence.
In public life honours came easily to him. He could have achievedalmost any position in Local Government had he decided to follow hisearly leanings in that direction.
He was Mayor of South Shields for 1927/28 and he was made a Freeman of the City of London.
As a comparatively young man he wasinterested in Masonry and became a member of the Tyne Dock Lodge ofwhich he was a Past Master.
All these things, however, had to give place to Buffaloism which hejudged to be nearer the heart of men and whilst we deplore his passingfrom our ranks we can still thank God that he was permitted to live andto give his life in our service.
Many years ago, in an idle moment, I wrote a verse about him that arosefrom a talk we had been having as to the hereafter. I passed the verseacross the table to him and he cherished it as a vision of the thingshe would love to have come true.
These are the words:
“Some day old Father Time will come and take our John.
His labours done.
Then, in the great Grand Lodge above, A million Buffaloes will acclaim,
the coming of our John; and then,
Our John will start his work again”.
And that is how I like to leave him. Happy and serene in the knowledgethat he would be met by friends on the other side and that he, too,will be watching with a welcoming smile, those of us who were hisfriends on earth and who go forward to meet him in the great unknownbeyond the veil.
The picture below shows Brother JohnWilson resplendent in his Grand Primo's regalia. Very few pictures ofhim wearing his regalia exist (at least not that I can find), thisparticular picture has been scanned from a picture postcard that is ondisplay in the RAOB Museum,Harrogate.