The Freemasons have signed the Armed Forces Covenant during a ceremony at Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden, London, led by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Kent.
It was particularly welcome in Hampshire and Isle of Wight which has a number of military lodges and many members and former members of the military.
And the province will be signing the covenant next year to reinforce its commitment to supporting the armed forces.
Forces’ veteran Gary Weaving who runs Forgotten Veterans, a charity based in Southsea, Hants, which is staffed entirely by volunteers, is in no doubt about the importance of the support received.
He said: “We are very thankful to our local Freemasons. Their generosity has helped us to maintain a unique crisis support service for ex forces and their families which we call C1. Able to react to anywhere in the country 24 hours a day we annually respond to over 200 desperate calls for help. We know this vital C1 service that gives short campus based respite breaks and therapy saves lives.”
The partnership aims to support members of the armed forces and ensure they have the same access to government and commercial services and products as any other person.
By signing the covenant, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) will be able to demonstrate its support to members of the armed forces in a number of areas.
These include education, family wellbeing, getting a home, starting a new career, access to healthcare, financial assistance and discounted services.
Many well-known military personnel have been Freemasons. They include Admiral Sir Peter Parker, Francis Rawden-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, General Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum, Lieutenant Elias Henry Jones, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Cyril Louis Norton Newall, Commodore Wilfred Henderson and Thomas William Gould VC.
Jon Whitaker, head of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Freemasons and a long-time volunteer with the Royal British Legion and a patron of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA), welcomed the signing.
He said: “This demonstrates our support for those serving in our armed forces and will provide practical help.
“Across Hampshire and Isle of Wight are many military lodges – some of great age – and hundreds of serving and former military personnel.
“For the Duke to sign the covenant is a statement of our support and I know it is welcomed across our membership.”
By signing the Armed Forces Covenant, UGLE demonstrates its intention to support the armed forces’ community which, in turn, allows UGLE to be recognised by the UK government’s Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS).
An ERS award shows that the recipient is delivering tangible support for the armed forces’ community.
UGLE’s Grand Master, His Royal Highness, The Duke of Kent, has a longstanding relationship with the military. In 1955, he graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as a Second Lieutenant.
He retired from active service on 15 April 1976. He was subsequently promoted to Major General on 11 June 1983 and to Field Marshal on 11 June 1993.
The Duke said: “It is my great pleasure to sign the Armed Forces Covenant on behalf of the United Grand Lodge of England. This document represents part of our ongoing commitment to support active and retired military personnel. We are proud of our long-standing relationship with the armed forces and we will continue to promote their welfare, support, and respect amongst all our members.”
Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive, said: “From its earliest foundations, Freemasonry has always had a strong relationship with the armed forces.
“Today, we want to thank those brave men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting our country and the people who live here.
“They deserve all our thanks, our respect and this is one of many steps we aim to take in helping both active and retired members of the Armed Forces and their families.”