History of Lodge St John (page 4)

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All of the Masonic Lodges in Southeast Asia were traumatised by the Second World War. Lodge St. John was certainly no exception. Two days before the Japanese Army “officially” entered Thailand in December 1941, two military trucks full of Kempetai military police, of subsequent infamous reputation, departed Chantaburi, a former Eastern Siamese province that had been annexed by the French by force from Siam, and was subsequently handed over to the Japanese by the Vichy French government of Indochina, for the former to then hand to the Siamese government as a “sop” for their cooperation. On their arrival in Bangkok these trucks stopped at their first, and, therefore, presumably, priority target, the Gerson Building in Silom Road, at that time the Lodge’s meeting place, where the Kempetai methodically stripped the Lodge St. John premises of every single Masonic article and document they found there. It was not until 1948 that “paltry” war reparations were made for such depredation.

Fortunately, perhaps because many of the Brethren at that time were either neutral Swedish and Swiss, or because they were Siamese and German, and thus not considered as the “enemy”, the Minute Books and some other documents and photographs had been secreted away in some subsequently unknown safe place, and were to resurface undamaged after the War. (Unfortunately, however, most of the Minute books, other documents, and photographs were irretrievably lost in the late Nineties when the house in which they were being stored was burgled, during the period between leaving semi-permanent rented accommodation and entering the purpose-built Lodge St. John Masonic Hall. The items stolen, having had no intrinsic value for the thieves, must have been sold as recyclable scrap, further increasing the depth of sadness at their loss. Only the first Minute book and some important correspondence concerning the events surrounding the Lodge’s turbulent Consecration and its aftermath survived, having been in the possession of one of the Brethren at the time for purposes of Masonic research.)

Many of the Brethren and their families were interned in the same horrifying conditions which were witnessed elsewhere in the region, but due to the physical support of their Siamese, neutral and Axis Brethren, at obvious great risk to themselves and their families and friends, most were able to survive internment until they were freed in July 1945. Several of the survivors of the War, principal among whom was Brother Sir James Holt, were to play a prominent part in the re-emergence of Freemasonry in Bangkok and its subsequent expansion.

The Lodge restarted in 1946, but many Brethren who had survived did not return to Thailand, as Siam was now called, and others had died of old age, illness, during military conflict or in the internment camps throughout the region. The previous impressive percentage of Thai Brethren was drastically reduced after the War, many of the “old school Thais” having been in late middle age by its inception. There was no concerted effort to replace them by younger Thais for some years, perhaps due to mutual embarrassment caused by the British attitude towards Siam’s Declaration of War on Britain and her apparent semi-ambiguous relationship with the Japanese up to the conclusion of hostilities. (However, at least one of the small wartime Seri Thai (Free Thai) movement directed by Force 136 of the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services was to become a Mason in Lodge St. John.) Gradually, however, Thai Brethren of excellent Masonic quality, almost exclusively a new generation of “old school Thais”, and most of them brilliant ritualists, began to take their places in the columns, joined by a new generation of Europeans, mainly British and Danish. Over the years since 1911 the Brethren had represented the “cream” of Thai and expatriate business society. Sir James Holt, arriving in the Thirties as a junior comprador in a British company in Bangkok, would not have been admitted to the Lodge until he had gained seniority in his company and in expatriate society, if he had not already been Initiated, Passed and Raised in England – and even then, to quote Sir James, “I had never been to Coventry until my first year as a Mason in Lodge St. John.” But the stranglehold of the “social elite” on Freemasonry in Bangkok was about to change – in a big way. The Americans were coming!

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