On the 25th of January 2024 Tim Henderson-Ross, the head of Gloucestershire Freemasons, signed the Armed Forces Covenant in the Imjin Barracks near Gloucester. Tim was accompanied by his Deputy, David Mason, and his two Assistants, Ian Davies and Mark Smith. The Covenant was countersigned by Brigadier Jonathan Biggart MBE, Deputy Chief of Staff Strategy and Training, Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps with Major General Gianluca Carai (Italian Army), Deputy Commander NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps in attendance.
Emily Kadoch, Regional Employer Engagement Director, Wessex Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association (responsible for the Military Covenant in the South West), said in her introduction:
“The Armed Forces Covenant is quite simply a pledge by any organisation choosing to sign it, to ensure anybody that is serving, or has served, or a family member of someone that is serving in our Armed Forces shouldn’t face any disadvantage. That could be in areas such as education, healthcare and especially employment.”
Brigadier Biggart then explained why the Covenant is particularly valuable to the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps based at the Imjin Barracks. It comprises troops from over twenty NATO member countries to represent the solidarity of the NATO Alliance whenever and wherever it is deployed. As that is often at very short notice there is a greater need for support from the community for their families. The Covenant is a renewing and a strengthening of that relationship generally between the community and the Armed Forces. The Brigadier pointed out that the agreement with Gloucestershire Freemasonry had taken six months to finalise so was especially valued as it had clearly not been undertaken lightly.
In his response Tim Henderson-Ross pointed out how proud he was to be signing the Covenant on behalf of more than 2,500 members. He explained that the Covenant had a particular affinity for him by recalling his time with the reserve battalions of the Royal Scots (the First of Foot) then the Royal Anglian Regiment. He ended by illustrating the ambivalence of our relationship with our Armed Forces by quoting the well known lines from a famous Freemason, in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Tommy Atkins’:
“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot…”
The name ‘Imjin Barracks’ where the Covenant was signed commemorates the pride the county takes in the stand of the ‘Glorious Glosters’ at the Imjin river in the Korean War, a reminder that after the Second World War our Armed Forces have fought almost continuously on our behalf in conflicts around the world and continue to do so. There has always been a close affinity between Freemasonry and the Forces with many military lodges (formed by certain regiments or units, often going back over a century) on the register of the United Grand Lodge of England. When members leave the Armed Forces the transition to civilian life can take a while and many find a ready home in the camaraderie and shared experience of Freemasonry. For that reason after both World Wars there was an enormous upsurge in the number joining lodges. Many of Gloucestershire’s Freemasons have served in the Forces so will especially welcome the signing of the Covenant. All Freemasons are of course committed to supporting their communities (having given £243,000 in 2022 to local charities and donated £330,000 for scanners in the county’s major hospitals) and will no doubt be considering the ways they can fulfil the Covenant. The Covenant covers not only the Army, Navy and Air Force, both regular and reserves, but also the cadet units which several lodges already support.