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French Prisoners' Lodges

The short paragraph on page 382 was based on French Prisoners' Lodges, by J. T. Thorp; Leicester, England; 1900. Bro. Thorp was one of those great and good men who would have been a Mason in mind and spirit had he never united with the Fraternity; and in addition belonged to that rare brotherhood of good and great men whose hearts are as large and as active as their intellects--such a one as, in the Middle Ages, men had described as "humane scholars." Once he discovered that the French Prisoners' Lodges had existed, with infinite toil he hunted out meager details about twenty-six of them, and published a book about them. But it n as not in him to stop short; he made the subject his own, kept it before him until he died; and, assisted by Bros. Crowe, Sitwell, and Wonnacott, he accumulated so much material that at the time of his death in 1932 he had a new and much larger book prepared and ready to print. In 1935 it was brought out by the Lodge of Research, Leicester, No. 2429; Freemasons' Hall; Leicester; cloth; illustrated; 304 pages; with Introduction by Lionel Vibert.

Bro. Thorp was made a Mason in John of Gaunt Lodge, No. 523, in 1870; was its Master in 1875, and in 1882. He was made a full member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, No. 2076, in 1900; was Master in 1909. He had already founded Leieester Lodge of Research in 1892, and was its first Master. "This Lodge," writes Bro. Vibert, "commenced the issue of Transactions at once, and up to his [Thorp's] death he was the Editor of them .... He was closely associated with that great student, the late Bro. Hughan, who made him his literary executor.... Besides several histories of Lodges which he published as independent works, he issued, in connection with the Lodge of Researeh, an important series of reprints of scarce Masonic works .... In 1898 he became the possessor of the version of the Old Charges that bears his name: a full account and transcript will be found at A.Q.C.; XI, 205."

Great Britain and France were almost continuously at war from 1740 to 1815. During the period called the Seven Years War the average number of French prisoners of war in England averaged 18,800; in 1763 it was about 40,000. Between 1803 and 1814 some 122,000 army and navy prisoners were interned, most of them at eight centers. Since Napoleon grabbed conscripts wherever he could lay hands on them between 1810 and 1815, sometimes emptying them out of prisons, there were among the prisoners interned in England men of a dozen nationalities; and since Napoleon remitted no money for their care (Great Britain remitted fifty cents a day for feeding its own men in France), the suffering of the men, more than 200,000 of them between 1740 and 1814, was beyond description. In some centers they were paroled; they even went into trades and secured permanent positions; in other places they were locked up in verminous barracks; the worst fate was for the thousands who were crowded into old prison hulks. There were 34 of these ships. Thorp says: "The mortality on these hulks was abnormally high." "During the period with which these records deal-- 1756 to 1814 Freemasonry was as popular in the French as it was in the British army . . . The members of the British Craft seem to have done their utmost to alleviate the distress of these French Brethren." (Note. If any Mason has the impression that the Mystic Tie is only a pious sentiment, good in intention, but of no great reality, or that the G.H.S.D. can be made in vain, he can disabuse himself of the illusion by reading Thorp's book; wherein, amid a somber blackness of misery almost too horrible to contemplate, the Craft moved with its Great Lights; and on more than one prison hulk it was the only star in a black night; the same Mason can be further disillusioned if he will read the history of a hundred or so army Lodges of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century. There are hundreds of instances on record; many as they are, they are a minute fraction of the unrecorded instances which occurred. The harder the Tie was stretched, and certainly it never was so tightly stretched as on those prison hulks, the stronger it became--perhaps it is for that very reason that it is called a Mystic Tie!)

"That the Freemasons amongst the prisoners on parole were received as visitors at Masonic meetings in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, the minutes of Lodges at Leicester, Winchester, Bandon, Selkirk, Kelso, Hawick, Melrose, Redruth and other towns amply testify, and in some cases there is no doubt they were initiated in, or became joining members of these Local Lodges. In four cases in England, viz., at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Chesterfield, Leek, and Northampton, the French Brethren obtained a permit to hold their Lodges from the Earl of Moira, the Acting Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England ...." (Page 29.)

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