Freemasons have served with distinction in the defense of Canada throughout our history. Many of them have been called upon to pay the Supreme Sacrifice.
Worshipful Brother and Major General Malcolm Smith Mercer
Did you know that the highest ranking Canadian soldier killed in action was also a Mason?
Major General Malcolm Smith Mercer, Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, was a member of Victoria Masonic Lodge, and the Worshipful Master of River Park Masonic Lodge in 1906, both located in what is today the Greater Toronto Area. When the Great War 1914-1918 broke out, Brother Mercer accompanied the Canadian Expeditionary Force overseas.
Always concerned for the welfare of his troops, many of whom were Brother Masons, General Mercer often went up to the front lines to observe the action first hand. On June 2, 1916, the Germans began a sudden and terrific bombardment of the Canadian trenches at Mount Sorrel. The General, caught in the barrage, was killed in action; his body was only recovered two weeks later. He is buried in the British Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery of Lijssenthoek, in Flanders Fields, marked the standard military headstone, beside his fellow Canadian soldiers and Brother Masons.
One of General Sir Arthur Currie’s Masonic Brethren serving overseas was General Malcolm Smith Mercer, hailing from what is now the Toronto area. General Mercer was a member of Victoria Masonic Lodge and was also the Worshipful Master of River Park Masonic Lodge in 1906. Like General Sir Arthur Currie, (who eventually commanded the Canadian Corp on the Western Front), General Mercer had been active in the Militia, serving as a senior officer in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. Like General Currie, his concurrent military experience and his various Lodge offices supported each other in his developing skills as a natural leader. Rapidly promoted to senior rank overseas during the First World War, he never lost his concern for the men in the trenches; many of them were of course his Masonic Brethren.
It was estimated that between 10% to 15% of all serving Canadian soldiers were Freemasons.
He would often go right up to the front lines to visit his soldiers and Brethren, and to observe the action first hand. The personal concern he showed for the soldiers in the field was greatly appreciated by everyone.
On June 2, 1916, the Germans began a sudden and terrific bombardment of the Canadian trench lines at Mount Sorrel. General Mercer was as usual right up at the front. Early on the morning of June 3, he was deafened by the the German shells exploding right on top of him, sought shelter in a nearby ditch, then was wounded in the leg by a stray bullet. He soon disappeared in the brutal artillery barrage that followed. Tragically, the General could not be found. It was feared that he had been killed in action, and buried by the thousands of explosions of the artillery shells.
Such was the affection and respect that Brother Mercer had inspired, that several small detachments of Canadians volunteered to find him, dead or alive, regardless of the risk. Accordingly, several days later, on June 21, one group of soldiers was crawling late at night in the mud of No Man’s Land near Armagh Wood on their search. They observed an officer’s boot and then the insignia of a Major General on a body partly buried by the mud. There they found the body of their General, very indecently interred. They attempted to raise the body, but were fired upon, first by German snipers and then artillery. Lying in the mud, next to the body, they dug with their hands, their mess tins and bayonets, until the body could be raised and carried back behind the lines to safety.
The body of the General was buried in the British Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery of Lijssenthoek, Belgium, in Flanders, with the standard military headstone, beside fellow Canadian soldiers and Brother Masons. General Mercer is the highest ranking Canadian ever to be killed in combat in any war.