by Trevor Harris
The formation of The Third King’s Own Light Dragoons was not unusual in itself, considering the hostilities which were taking place at the time of its formation. What was unusual, however, was that just over one hundred years after its formation, the Dragoons had no less that three Masonic Lodges, under two different constitutions, all operating at the same time!
It was the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 which led to the formation of the Queen Consort’s Regiment of Dragoons, and when William the Third landed at Torbay, the regiment immediately declared allegiance to him, and fought in his campaigns in Ireland and Flanders.
When the regiment arrived in Spain during the war of Spanish Succession (1702-1713), it fought in the battle of Almanga in 1706, where there were many British casualties. The name of the regiment was changed to the King’s Own Regiment of Dragoons in 1714. The newly renamed regiment was stationed in both Lancashire and Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, and captured the Old Pretender’s Standard.
Following the rebellion, the regiment went through a prolonged period of inactivity, until it took part in the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, when the regiment captured a pair of silver Kettle Drums. They also fought at the battle of Fontcury in 1745, where their casualties were heavy. That same year they came home to help suppress the 1745 Jacobite rebellion which was led by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
During the Seven Years war, the regiment stayed at home, although several detachments were active in the coastal regions of France in 1758. A little later, the regiment became heavily engaged in anti-smuggling operations on behalf of the Customs and Excise.
The Regiment’s first Masonic lodge
The regiment remained on home duties for the duration of the American Civil War and the French Revolution, and in 1785, its first lodge, named The Royal Arch Union Lodge, and numbered 211, was formed, under The Grand Lodge of Scotland.
Their next adventure abroad came when they supplied 100 men for service in the West Indies. These men did not return home, however, but became the nucleus for a new regiment, the 26th Light Dragoons, which later became the 23rd.
The Regiment was active in the Napoleonic Wars, suffering heavy losses in 1809. In 1811, the Regiment went to Portugal, where it was active in Cindad Rodigo and Badajoy. It also saw action at Salamanca, and at the retreat at Vitore, Pampalima and Toulouse.
At the time of the Battle of Waterloo, the regiment again found itself at home, but then landed at Ostend and took part in the occupation until 1818. On Xmas day of that year, their name was again changed, to The Third King’s Own Light Dragoons.
They then went to Ireland, where they were to remain for many years, supporting the Civil Authority. It was during this spell in Ireland that William Mitebell was initiated into the lodge, receiving his Grand Lodge certificate on December 18th 1827.
The Grand Lodge certificate belonging to Bro. William Mitebell
presented in 1827 during the regiment’s stay in Ireland
The certificate reads as follows-
“In the name of God Amen. We the Worshipful master Wardens and Secretary of the 3rd King’s Own Regt. of Light Dragoons Royal Union Lodge No. 211do hereby certify to all men enlightened that Brother William Mitebell was entered an Apprentice, passed a Fellow-Craft, and as a recompense due to his Zeal, Diligence and Capacity we have given him the sublime degree of a Master Mason and as such have admitted him to Our Most Mysterious and Secret Works. Given under our hands and seal of the Lodge at Dublin this 18th day of the month of December in the year of Masonry 5827 AD 1827”
The certificate was also duly signed by the Lodges Master, Wardens and Secretary.
In 1837 the Regiment was posted to India, and formed part of the army that went into Afghanistan, fighting its was through the Khyber Pass, eventually taking Kabul, where they managed to release many British prisoners who had earlier been taken captive. They fought in the first Sikh War in 1845, and three years later in the second Sikh War. In 1853 the Regiment again returned to home soil.
The Regiment was soon to see action again, this time during the Crimean War. It returned to Ireland in 1857, where their name was changed yet again in 1861, to the Kings Own Hussars. Seven years later, the Regiment returned to India, and although these were relatively tranquil times, it suffered terribly from illness and disease at the notorious Inhow Station.
The regiment returned home, moving from garrison to garrison, until 1898, when it returned yet again to India. This however, was only for a short interval, as in December 1901 they travelled to South Africa to see action in the Boer War.
After hostilities ended, they returned to India yet again, returning to South Africa for brief visits in 1907 and 1911. In 1958, the regiment amalgamated with The Queen, Own Hussars to become The Queen’s Own Hussars.
The Masonic history of the Regiment is extremely complicated. There were three Military Lodges attached to the Regiment, all of which appear to have worked simultaneously. Two had charters from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and the third from the Athol or Antients Grand Lodge of England.
Scottish records show that the Dragoon’s first lodge, No. 211, was formed on the 7th February 1785, and named The Royal Arch Union Lodge in the Third Dragoons, and in 1826 the lodge was re-numbered 159.
The Regiment’s second and third Masonic lodges
The second lodge, also under The Grand Lodge of Scotland, received its charter on the 2nd May 1796 as No. 260 as the Union Royal Arch Lodge in the 3rd Dragoons. However, after only 20 years, the lodge was erased in 1816.
The third and only English lodge, used the dormant Antients warrant for Lodge No. 197, which had a very eventful beginning. It was first used by the 1st Royal Lancashire Militia Lodge, meeting at Dover, which was formed in 1776, but lapsed about two years later in around 1778.
It was re-formed with the same name and number in 1805, only to lapse again in 1806 when the Militia moved to Devonshire.
By this time The Third King’s Own Light Dragoons had also moved to Devonshire, at Exeter, so when the Warrant became available for the third time, they were happy to take it.
However, the lodge became dormant just two years later, when the Colonel, who was the 3rd Dragoon’s Commanding officer, forbade the lodge from either assembling or holding meetings.
One reason for this might have been because by this time the 3rd Dragoons already had two other Masonic lodges, and their commanding officer probably felt that this was more than enough.
The warrant was transferred in 1808 to The North Hants Militia, and in 1838 the lodge was finally erased. It was not uncommon for a regiment would have two lodges working simultaneously – one lodge for the regiments Officers, and one for Non-Commissioned Officers and other ranks.
Partly due to their travelling, and of course when they were on active service, Military Lodges were renowned for their frequent failure to make regular returns. Sometimes an overseas lodge might cease to function, and it could be decades before Grand Lodge found out. And it often went the other way.
The first Dragoons lodge, No. 211, was still using their No. 211 many years after The Grand Lodge of Scotland had reduced its number to 159. It is highly likely that the Grand Lodge of Scotland did not even know to which part of the world Lodge 211 had been posted to inform them of this, and the lodge itself was certainly unaware that its number had been changed.
Very little of note occurred in the working lives of the three lodges. On the 24th June 1796, the constitutional lodge Beverley No. 525, had eight military visitors from the barracks, including Colonel John H. Kruger from the 3rd Dragoons, but unfortunately they never gave their lodge number.
And in 1815, when the late Bro. Rev. John Parker, who had been Grand Chaplain in the York Grand Lodge, was buried in York, his funeral was attended by 60 Masons, including, as written in the York Courant, “those of that respectable lodge, in the Third or the Kings Own Regiment of Dragoon Guards”.
The lodge was given the following numbers (from the Book of Old Scottish Lodges)-
1785- No. 211. 1816- No. 157. 1822- No. 156, and in 1826- No. 159.
Eventually, the lodge was erased in 1853.