A Further History - The Third Fifty

When it was suggested that some form of history of the last 50 years be compiled, the then R.W.M. Bob Mitchell suggested that, instead of referring to the minute books and reeling off a whole load of dates and figures, perhaps it would be better if the Brethren who had been there and done it, should be the main contributors.

This idea appealed to the Brethren and, as excellent as the Centenary Booklet written by the late Bro. Stewart Logan P.M. was, this format was adopted and your reluctant scribe assigned to the task.


1959 to 2009 has seen tremendous changes in our lifestyle. The European Union, Decimalisation, Colour T.V., Package Holidays, the arrival and departure of Concord, the computer and the World Wide Web, visitors to the moon, the Breathalyser, the Smoking Ban and Hibs still trying to win the Scottish Cup!! Apart from the last mentioned, all the others have had a serious affect on Freemasonry in general and 392 in particular.

From the late 50’s to the early 70’s Lodge attendances remained very healthy, whilst initiating five candidates at a time was the norm. Since then we have witnessed a gradual decline in numbers with some Lodges amalgamating or at worst, handing back their Charter. However, let us not be pessimistic, because Caley is weathering the storm and the hard core of Brethren who continue to support the Mother Lodge are determined to prevail.

In the closing paragraphs of the Centenary Booklet, Brother Logan writes of the “Strong family tradition in the Lodge.” Happily this trend has continued throughout the past 50 years, something which our senior Past Master, Brother Arthur Symington, would like to see highlighted, particularly those father / sons who went on to occupy the Chair.

The Master in 1963 was Bob Foulis whose father Alex, (we all remember him as Sandy), was Master in 1955. Bob’s brother Alex jun. is also a member of 392. From 1976 to 1979 we had Willie Buckner and his son Lawrence wielding the Gavel (more about Willie later). Willie’s other two sons, Alan and Brian, are also members of 392 but never sought progressive office.

Whilst technically outwith the last 50 years, Arthur himself was Master in 1957 following his father James, Master in 1919 and his brother, James Jun., Master in 1949. There was also brother Fred, plus two sons, and James jun.‘s two sons. Some clan the Symingtons!! All those fathers installed their sons into the Chair. However, in 1969, the opposite happened when Brother Bobby Clark (1966), installed his father Len. Trust Caley to be different!

Other family names which spring to mind who have served the Lodge well are, Abercrombie, Brash, Christie, Grieve, Sinclair, Black, Martin, Gordon, Lindsay, McNeill, McLeod and of course this year’s Master, Brother Paul McDermott, whose son Mark might well have preceded him as Right Worshipful Master but for work commitments.

Brother Willie McLeod P.M. pays this tribute to his father :-
“There are three Brethren who stand out in my memory since my initiation in 1954. The first is my father, John McLeod, who joined Caledonian in 1920 and was a member for 43 years. During the war years he was the Tyler / Hall Keeper and my youngest brother, Buddy and I, helped him on occasion to set up the Lodge. This got me thinking about all the unsung heroes I would call “back room boys,” who never wanted to take office or go to the Chair, but without whom our Lodge, and others, would be worse off. The Brethren who work in the kitchen, behind the bar, cleaning, painting and decorating, carrying out repair work for the Lodge etc. perhaps some of these should go down in our history report.

There are many Caledonian Past Masters I could mention, but two stick out in my mind. One was Past Master Brother Jimmy Gray whose number of visitations to other Lodges was, in my opinion, unsurpassed in Caley. When reports of visitations were called for and Jimmy gave his, I always felt he would still be giving them when it was time for harmony! The other was Past Master Brother George Cowan, who was not only a great ritualist but when moving about the floor doing ritual, he always moved like a guardsman and it was often commented on.”
Brother Willie McLeod P.M.

Willie mentions Past Master Brother George Cowan in his tribute. George emigrated to Australia where he affiliated to MacDonnell Lodge No.10, South Australia.

Our Lodge has always enjoyed tremendous support from the Past Masters, affectionately known as “The Sleep”. In 1970 it was proposed to hold a “Past Masters Dinner,” I believe to be the first of its kind in 392. The venue chosen was the Hotel McCann in Roseberry Crescent, (no longer there..the hotel..not the street!), the date, Friday the 13th November 1970. The Immediate Past Master, Brother Arthur Gavin would chair the event with the Right Worshipful Master of the Lodge, Brother Len Clark, our guest. The format was the meal, followed by the toasts, interspersed with some harmony. Sound familiar?

The toast to “Our Mother” was proposed by Brother Dick Platt P.M., whilst the R.W.M. lauded “The Sleep”. With Past Masters George Milne and Stewart Logan there, harmony was no problem and the longer the “aqua” flowed the more harmony appeared! For the record, 26 Past Masters plus the R.W.M. attended. It may have been forty odd years ago, but what memories!

A second dinner followed on the 30th November 1973 in the Gold Medal opposite the Commonwealth Pool.

On 12th March 1969 a unique ceremony took place in the Lodge when a plaque was unveiled commemorating the 50th anniversary of the initiation of one “William Scott McDermid.” The plaque, which is situated in the Secretary’s corner and also celebrates Willies 40 years service to the Lodge as Secretary and Treasurer, was unveiled by Brother Robert Smith, who was then the Chairman of the Metropolitan District Committee, the forerunner to the Provincial Grand Lodge.

Willie was a dapper wee man, built like a bean pole, and you hardly ever saw him without his trademark hand tied floral bow tie. He was by profession, a Company Secretary, and that is how he managed Caley’s affairs. He rarely, if ever, sat down to Harmony, preferring to be in the bar / kitchen along side his blood brother Arthur, who was our Chief Steward. Those were the days when the mince and tatties were followed by coconut buns, compliments of Arthur, a baker to trade who worked in the bakery at the foot of Yeaman Place. Harmonies seldom finished before midnight back then and by the time the last of the Brethren vacated the premises, 2 or 3 hours later, Arthur went straight to work! Arthur, another Caley stalwart, was also a “50 year man” receiving his diploma on 10th March 1976. Sadly, in March 1984, Arthur passed to the Grand Lodge Above.

Willie kept his eye on virtually all that went on, both upstairs at the Meetings to downstairs at the Harmony Boards. To illustrate the point, when a Master needed his decanter refilled, Willie would send it back only half full. He was never slow to remind any Master (in the nicest possible way), that “perhaps you can afford to be liberal with your hospitality but remember the man following may not.”

Willie’s service to Freemasonry was recognised by Grand Lodge not only once, but twice, when in 1955 he was made Honorary Grand Bible Bearer and four years later Honorary Grand Junior Deacon. Willie retired from the office of Treasurer in 1972 and took over as Almoner the following year, an office he held for four years. Willie’s only fault? He was a life-long, share holding “Jambo.” Well nobody’s perfect! But to me (and many others) Willie WAS “Mr Caledonian.” An excellent obituary was written by Brother Dick Platt P.M. and can be read, in full, in the minute book of the day and also on the Lodge web site.

Brother William Scott McDermid P.M. passed to the Grand Lodge Above in October 1983.

Like many Lodges, Caley had for many years a vibrant sporting section covering fishing, bowling and golf. The Master’s “Greetin’ Meeting” was always one to look forward to as all the trophies were presented that night. Caley had a wonderful array of cups and shields and the top table groaned under the weight of all that silver. The Lodge also has a very commendable record in the McIver tournaments, both bowling and golf, having won the golf trophy on four occasions since 1959. It is the duty of the winning Lodge to arrange the presentation dinner and as Caley were winners in 1963 an evening was duly organised. The date was Friday 23rd November 1963 and it turned out to be quite a memorable night as Past Master Brother Dick Platt recalls :-

“Almost everyone, provided they are old enough, can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing between the hours of seven and seven thirty on the evening of Friday 23rd November 1963. It was at this time that the news was first heard on the media that U.S. President Jack Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

It was also at this time that a number of the Brethren of Lodge Caledonian were assembling in the downstairs refectory of the Lodge preparatory to attending the presentation dinner of the Tercentenary Golf Trophy, (The McIver Cup), to the winners, blood brothers George and Jack Mason, representing Lodge Caledonian 392 in the tournament which is competed for annually amongst all of the Lodges in what was then known as the Metropolitan District of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. As news of the assassination began to filter through with members of the gathering continuing to arrive, it was at first met with considerable scepticism with the excited announcement of “Have you heard President Kennedy’s been shot?” being greeted with a smile and the reply “yes, so what’s the punch line?” on the basis that such a preposterous suggestion must be a joke. However, when indisputable confirmation of the event was received, Brother Dick Platt, who as current Captain of the Lodge Golf Club was presiding for the evening, had to make the announcement from the Chair that the news was true, and that the President had indeed succumbed to the wounds received earlier in the day.

The evening then got off to a rather subdued start, but with the help of our national beverage and the efforts of the entertainers led by our ubiquitous comedian, Brother Bert Caldwell, a more light-hearted atmosphere was later attained. The cup was then presented to the winners by Brother Bert Sutherland the R.W.M. of The Lodge of Edinburgh Mary’s Chapel No. 1.

Guest of the evening was Jimmy Walker, the former Scottish amateur champion, who regaled his audience with some of his more notable golfing experiences, including his presence at the Walker Cup a couple of years previously, when he found himself drawn against a rather chubby young college boy from Columbus, Ohio, by the name of Jack Nicklaus!

Jimmy recalled that he was first on the tee and he told us that he struck, what was, for him, a corker of a drive right out of the sweet spot and splitting the fairway. He then stood back with a rather self satisfied smug look on his face as much as to say “follow that.” He then exclaimed in a voice redolent of the awe by which the event must have been witnessed at the time, “B’god his ba’ was still rising when it went ower mine.”

During the course of the evening a match was arranged for the following morning when chairman Dick Platt would partner Jimmy Walker against the Mason brothers over the Gullane No.1 links.

Possibly fortified by drink, Dick had offered a somewhat ill advised wager on his partner’s score for the round, whereby he would receive one shilling (a fair sum in 1963) per shot for every stroke under the par of 71 which Jimmy recorded, and he would pay out a similar sum for every shot over par. There were a surprising number of takers before the evening concluded and it began to look as though this could turn out to be quite an expensive venture for Dick, especially considering the huge size of the McIver Cup and the frequency with which it passed Jimmy’s lips !

By the time they reached the turn next morning, Dick was beginning to regret his recklessness of the night before as his partner had stumbled to a three over par 39. However, as the effects of the drink began to wear off, he stormed home in 32, bang on par, so no money changed hands.
Of course this was not the first time Caley had won the McIver trophy, nor was it to be the last, but one must conclude that there has never been, nor is there likely to be, a more memorable celebration of the event than that one!”
Brother Dick Platt P.M.

On behalf of the anglers Past Master Brother Arthur Symington has a wander down memory lane:-
“It can safely be stated that every Lodge has what we term as a social side and 392 is no exception. Fifty years ago our social activities would be whist drives, dances, bus trips, which in turn gave way to race nights, darts, dominoes, and the emergence of the bowling club, angling club and the most popular, the golf club. Not being addicted to the game of bowls my knowledge of the game within the Lodge is somewhat vague.

Bowlers are as enthusiastic about their sport as any other sportsman and the two I knew intimately were Len Clark and Fred Symington who were, to use the term, “as keen as mustard”. Now angling is something else! Someone once said that there are more anglers in Scotland than there are golfers. Some people say anything!

Nevertheless we had many enthusiasts in the Lodge. I recall Alfie Hunter watching his new “Pope” rod slip quietly over the side of the boat and finish up at the bottom of Loch Leven never to be seen again! The poem goes “meet with triumph and disaster and treat these two impostors just the same”. The loss of a fishing rod doesn’t rate high in terms of disasters but can be very vexing. Alfie’s response? - “I’ll have to buy another one”

Past Master Brother Armstrong Sinclair was a great companion on angling outings. Armstrong was a painter and decorator to trade and used to tell the story of when he emerged from painting the dressing rooms at Tynecastle the local youngsters thought he was Tommy Walker, a Hearts legend (Not many of them about). Armstrong was always dapper. Later, when the bairns discovered their mistake, they gave him all his psuedo autographs back! He was a keen angler and would sit for hours on a boat casting and casting with an optimism that beggared belief which to Armstrong was preferable to standing thigh deep in some river under inhospitable conditions, the monotony being relieved by the occasional cloudburst.

Past Master Brother Willie McIntosh was another keen angler (when the pubs were closed). Tom Ferguson and Bert Darling, another two members of the constabulary were no mean anglers, with Tom coming up trumps at Harlaw reservoir last year. Tom also slips across to Canada where he “puts up” his rod with some measure of success. (So he says) I also recall Alex Patterson who would catch the bus to Balerno, then walk the remaining six miles to Harper Rigg, then, late in the evening , after a “successful” day, make the same journey in reverse.
Beat THAT for enthusiasm!

I remember Davie Watt, a glass merchant to trade, who charged his glass oftener than most. Davie, who resided in downtown Leith, slipped out to post an important letter one Sunday evening, still wearing his house shoes. Considering the letter’s importance he bussed it up to the G.P.O. (late night pick-ups in those days), where he bumped into some of his cronies who were about to entrain on one going south. They cajoled Davie into joining them at the bar on the train. Time never stands still standing at any bar, it simply gallops! Off it went with Davie still on board. He sent a telegram to Peggy “Fit and well and on my way to Newcastle”.

Russel Forrest, Davie and I motored down to Fala once for a days fishing on the reservoir. Our pit stop was the Crook Inn. When given the sad tidings that the bar was closed, Davie remarked “a puncture would be better news”.

Of the three clubs in the Lodge the golf club has always been the strongest numerically.

The ability of the golfer is gauged by his handicap.

I don’t recall many scratch members in the Lodge but we did have several low handicappers, some of whom went on to success in the McIver Cup. The finest ambassadors in the Lodge were Jim Christie sen. and Sandy Foulis who played regularly in the “McIver.” They never came close to winning the cup, indeed the nearest they got was a bye into the second round, but their sportsmanship was second to none. A credit to both the Lodge and the game of golf.

At the moment outings are virtually a thing of the past but lets hope our three clubs will flourish again.”
Brother Arthur Symington P.M.

Up until the early 70s the “Caley” golf club enjoyed huge success. Four outings per year, attracting upwards of 25 members each outing, was the norm. Many who still play and enjoy the game to-day swung a club for the first time at a 392 outing.

The golf secretary then was Brother Alan Crawford, a three time winner of the aforementioned McIver Cup. Alan’s partners on these occasions being Bill Mc Mahon in 1973 and Andrew Legget in 1978 and again in 1982.

Alan’s handicapping system was quite simple. If you won an outing you were penalised heavily, thus allowing the less talented golfers the chance to win some silverware. This not only encouraged the Brethren to continue to play but added greatly to the enjoyment we all experienced in those happiest of days.
The “Caley” Golf Club can also lay claim to introducing draught beer to the Lodge.
In the days before the alteration to the Refectory, the kitchen and bar were one and the same. Space was tight with little room for the provision of draught beer, so if Brethren fancied a pint they would nip up to the corner pub.

Past Masters Stewart Logan and George Milne always did this between the meeting finishing and the start of the harmony. Mainly to keep the golfers together during the winter months we held dart & domino nights. On one of these nights we decided to get in a barrel of draught which we operated with a foot pump. Happily, enough Brethren turned up to do the beer justice; an 88 pint keg takes a bit of shifting! It proved to be the thin edge of the wedge, leading eventually to the major alteration to the refectory and the excellent harmony room it now is.

More of that later.

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