Military Lodges

R.W. Bro. R.J. Sutherland, PDDG

Quarry Lodge No. 70

Note: All references in this paper are to British Military Lodges unless otherwise stated.

I am sure that you are aware that the spread of Masonry from Europe was assisted in no small way by the Military and its Lodges. Most Military Lodges were ones holding a warrant known as a "travelling" or "ambulatory" warrant permitting meetings to be held under proper conditions wherever the Regiment or Unit happened to be stationed, whether that posting was temporary or not.

Membership of a Military Lodge was primarily restricted to members of the same Regiment or Unit, and the consent of the Commanding Officer was essential before a lodge could be formed. Warrants were normally issued to an officer, in most cases the Commanding Officer, and were carried by the unit at all times. The warrant, records and regalia were usually carried in a portable chest.

The Grand Lodges of both England and Ireland would not permit Military Lodges (quote) "on any pretence to initiate into Masonry any inhabitant or sojourner in any town or place at which the Unit is stationed or passing through" (unquote). We state in the EA degree York Rite that it is "the internal not the external qualifications that recommended a man to Masonry", but in Military Lodges it is not so. That may be seen by continuing with the regulation (quote) "or any person below the rank of Corporal except a serving brother" (unquote), that is to say a person who was a Mason before enlisting or one who had been reduced in rank, and only then by dispensation from the G.M., District or Provincial G.M. These regulations were often conveniently mislaid or obscured and returns from Military Lodges were somewhat spasmodic. In fact in some cases a number of overseas Military Lodges though still active were struck from the registers, because they had not sent in any returns for a number of years.

The first purely Military Lodge of which we know was established in Gibraltar in 1728, but was a stationary lodge. The first "traveling" or "ambulatory" warrant was issued by the G.L. of Ireland in 1732 to the first British Foot Regiment (Royal Scots). By 1734 four others had been issued, again by the G.L. of Ireland. In 1743 the G.L. of Scotland adopted the practice and issued a warrant to the 55th British Foot Regiment. In 1755 the total number of Military Lodges was 29, five granted by the G.L. of Scotland, the remainder by the G.L. of Ireland. In the same year the G.L. of England issued its first military warrant to the 57th British Foot Regiment. By 1813 there were 141 English Military Lodges (116 under the Antients and 25 under the Moderns) while 190 were granted by the G.L. of Ireland and 21 by the G.L. of Scotland.

The Royal Navy had 3 lodges warranted to ships, HMS Vanguard in 1760 (became a shore/stationary lodge in 1768 and is now London Lodge #108) and HMS Prince and HMS Canceaux in 1762. These latter two are no longer in existence.

After the Battle of Waterloo (1815) Military Lodges began to die out and no Military Lodges as such are listed on the register of the United G.L. of England today, the last two being surrendered in 1947 and 1949. In 1947 the Social Friendship Lodge #497 of the 89th Royal Irish Fusiliers Regiment was surrendered; the lodge received a renewed warrant authorizing it to meet as a stationary lodge. On 1949 similar action was taken by the Lodge of Unity, Peace and Concord #316 of the Royal Scots Regiment. Both of these lodges now meet in London. In 1958 the G.L. of Ireland still listed 5 Military Lodges, and although the 1988 "List of Lodges" lists 2 lodges as being active there is in fact now, only one remaining, 4/7 R.D.G. St. Patrick's Lodge #295. I learned this in a conversation with a member of this lodge this past September, 1988, (Sgt. Onions).

The G.L. of Scotland lists 4 lodges with military titles, but these are no longer truly military lodges. The G.L. of France lists 20 military lodges (13 in France and 7 outside - in Spain and the Netherlands). Israel lists 1 military lodge and New Zealand 3; two of these restrict membership to military personnel only and the third to military personnel and members of the Merchant Marine. (Service Lodge #237, Lodge of Remembrance #318 and United Forces #245). These are stationary lodges.

If we trace the movements of three British regiments, we can see how Masonry would have spread overseas. The first is the 20th Regiment of Foot (Minden Lodge #63 warranted in 1748). It remained in England for 8 years after being warranted and before being posted overseas. For the next 100 years the Unit moved around quite a bit as follows:

Germany America West Indies Holland
Ireland France Egypt Malta
Naples Sicily Gibraltar Spain
Portugal India (25 years)  

The second unit is the 46th Regiment of Foot, which was sent to Sydney Australia in 1813 with its lodge (Social and Military Virtue #227). Under its auspices, a new lodge was formed in 1816 and was warranted four years later by the G.L. of Ireland. It was called Australian Social Lodge #260, and is now called the "Lodge of Antiquity." It was the first lodge to be warranted in Australia and when the G.L. of New South Wales was formed, it became #1 on its register.

The third unit is the 20th Regiment of Foot (Sphinx Lodge #263) which was posted to Yokohama Japan in 1864. The stimulating meetings held by the Lodge led the brethren in the foreign community to form a Lodge which was warranted in 1866.

Other European countries also issued warrants for military lodges as follows: (earliest date in brackets)

Germany (1739) Holland (1745) France (1756)
Sweden (1761) Russia (1761) Belgium (1832)

So you can see that with the great number of European military units and their lodges being posted all over the world, it was inevitable that masonry would be spread wherever they went, even though as stated earlier, their regulations prohibited this.

Information on U.S. Military Lodges was more difficult to obtain. The earliest travelling warrant was issued in the U.S. in 1738 by the G.L. of Massachusetts to a group to be used in the expedition to Canada. A similar one was granted, again by the G.L. of Massachusetts in 1756 for the expedition against Crown Point (a French held fort on Lake Champlain N.Y.). In both instances, the warrants were of general characteristic, and probably should be considered as deputations. The first truly U.S. Military "Movable Lodge" (as they were called in the U.S.) was warranted in February 1776 in the Connecticut Line of the Continental Army and was called the "American Union Lodge." This lodge was given authority to meet anywhere within Continental America, provided no G.M. had been appointed to that area. Unfortunately, the Unit immediately moved to New York where the G.M. would not confirm the warrant. In April of the same year, however, he gave them a new warrant called "Military Union Lodge #1 " without recalling the former warrant; thus the Lodge held two warrants from, and yielding to two Grand bodies in different jurisdictions. That is an unique situation. However, it decided to use only one name "American Union Lodge". It participated in the convention at Morristown, N.J. in January 1780 where it was proposed to nominate General Washington to G.M. over the 13 United States of America, and it also participated in the formation of the G.L. of Ohio.

During the Civil War numerous Military Lodges were warranted on both sides (e.g. in 1861 the 4th Connecticut Regiment was warranted for a Lodge known as the Connecticut Union #40). However these lodges met with a lot of opposition in many jurisdictions, which was the probable cause of the early demise of U.S. Military Lodges. They were resurrected from time to time. For example there was a Military Lodge in Japan after World War II, and still listed today in New Hampshire, is the "Gen. William Whipple Military Lodge". It is a special lodge that does not confer degrees. However, I am sure that it is truly a Military Lodge.

Before closing I would like to relate two anecdotes. The first concerns the capture of warrants or regalia. In the days before total war as we know it today, (for example, during the American Revolutionary War or War of Independence, depending upon which side one was on) warrants and regalia were often lost or captured. However, Masonry was able to overcome these lines of war, and lodge chests were often returned to their original owners, as happened to the 17th British Foot Regiment, whose chest was returned by Gen. Parsons of the Colonial Army. The 16th British Foot Regiment had theirs returned by Gen. Washington and the chest of the Dragoon Guards was returned under a flag of truce with a guard of honour. The second concerns Tylers. Quite a number of British Lodges preferred to have former members of Military Lodges, especially retired NCO'S, as their Tyler, particularly if they had medals and testimonials of good conduct. A prime requirement, however, was that they remain sober under all circumstances. These men of course, were accustomed to discipline and could be depended upon to present an imposing figure especially when marching at the head of their lodge on the occasion of public processions. They also knew how to handle the sword properly without stabbing themselves or some other Brother in the process.

In conclusion, we can see that not only did Military Lodges assist in the spread of Freemasonry throughout the world, but also added decorum to civilian lodges or as we in the military (Cavalry) say, "added a touch of class".


  1. An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry - Mackey
  2. Masonic Square Magazine - March 1988
  3. Quatuor Coronati Lodge #2076 - Sept. 1974
  4. Pocketbook History of Freemasonry - Pick & Knight
  5. 4/7 R.D.G. Regimental History St. Patricks Lodge #295
  6. Misc. Papers