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Exhibition: Brothers In Alms – Peace Through Sacrifice

 

As we come to the centenary of the end of the First World War, an exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall in London pops up to display the conflict in a whole new light. I’m sure you’re wondering, “why the Freemasons’ Hall?” Perhaps it’s a reflection of this new light being shone on the nature of conflict but there is a Masonic motif in the first half of the 20th century where there was a wholesome amount of attention given to the welfare of soldiers.

However, and much to the delight of schools who should visit the exhibition, there is very little text accompanying the images. A brief caption tells us who the subjects are but nothing to tell us how we should feel. We spoke about this theme in ‘How to get into photography on a budget’. Curator Brian Deutsch tell us in the intro of the photobook: “A picture does not need text to explain it, for it tells the story better than words”.

So what does the exhibition tell us? In the corridor leading to the main exhibition room, we’re greeted by thoughtfully arranged mosaics that make and break your interpretations in quick succession. On one wall sits a mosaic of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig. He was a career soldier subsequently criticised for the heavy loss of men. But like many distinguished solders at the time (Horatio Kitchener, John Dimmer, Bernard Freyberg to name a few) Haig was a Freemason and cared deeply for his men. So much so, that he founded the Royal British Legion, founded the Poppy Appeal and devoted his life to supporting ex-servicemen.

Another surprising aspect of the collection is the warmth. There are very few pictures of people in solitude. Instead, we see a sense of camaraderie that epitomises the British and the allied forces. But it’s not just camaraderie towards our friends, it transcends nationalities and even species as animals feature too. They played a hugely significant role as carrier pigeons sent secret messages and dogs dragged the injured away from danger.

The collection is also genuinely authentic too. There is very little posing, and the setting of the main exhibition helps too. Situated in the Past Grand Officers’ Robing Room, huge mosaics are placed on the backs of coat racks. Compared to your usual gallery settings which can feel cold and sterile with their sharp bright lights, this feels raw and real. And it was. As you saunter round, the companionship in the images consume you in a way that makes you think, “maybe this war thing isn’t so bad”.

But it was. The Great War was a truly global conflict with significant losses and bloodshed. ‘Brothers In Alms – Peace Through Sacrifice’ doesn’t show any of that. As the title says, it shows humility, empathy and companionship. Many Freemasons are featured giving back to the world. Their generosity is so prevalent that one in six Victoria Crosses in the Great War were awarded to Freemasons. This exhibition could have been called many things. For me, ironically for a collection centred around conflict, it’s a celebration of life.

To see the images featured by Alamy, we’ve made a lightbox for you.

Brothers In Alms – Peace Through Sacrifice
Freemasons’ Hall, London
Runs through to summer 2019

 

F95N99 British Navy, Aircraft Carriers.
Universal Images Group North America LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

 

JWJ4TJ Elephants ploughing in Surrey, WW1. Image shot 1916. Exact date unknown.
Historical Images Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

 

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