Is it possible to belong to a gang of leather-clad bikers and stay true to the principles of Freemasonry? Adrian Foster summons up the courage to meet with the Widows Sons on their own turf and find out for himself
In a bleak, concrete-walled car park at the rear of the Masonic Hall in Goldsmith Street, Nottingham, a group of leather-clad bikers are relaxing next to their silver steeds. They have not stopped off for a break on their way to a rock festival, they are in fact Freemasons who have just presented a cheque to The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. They call themselves the Widows Sons.
For the uninitiated, the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association (WSMBA) is an international association that is open to Freemasons who enjoy motorcycling and have a desire to ride with their fraternal brethren. Though not a masonic order, the WSMBA serves as a recruiting drive to help raise awareness of Freemasonry while attending public motorcycling events, supporting Craft lodges and actively raising funds for charities and good causes.
Among the motley crew assembled today is Peter Younger, President of the Northumberland Chapter of the Widows Sons, together with Justin ‘Jay’ Waite and Chris Bush Jnr, Vice President and President of the National Chapter of the Widows Sons, respectively.
‘My association with them started when I was on the internet and I googled “Freemasonry and motorcycling” to see what came up,’ explains Jay. ‘I discovered a website that Widows Sons’ founder member Jon Long had set up, emailed them and we arranged to meet. I went out on a ride with them, had a really enjoyable day and saw that they were involved with a lot of good work for charity, so I asked there and then whether I could join them. Foolishly, they accepted me, so here I am today,’ he laughs.
MERGING MASONIC INTERESTS
Jay emphasises that the WSMBA is not a masonic lodge, although it has aspirations to form one in the future. ‘What we are is an association of bikers who are all Master Freemasons. We all belong to different lodges and we carry masonic insignia on our leathers and clothing. But when we attend our lodge meetings we all dress as you’d expect us to and wear our normal lodge regalia. Widows Sons has members as far afield as Land’s End and Aberdeen and it would be very difficult to get us all together in one place for meetings.’
Peter Younger reveals tentative plans to establish a bikers’ lodge and that the Northumberland Chapter of the Widows Sons is building up funds to enable this in the next two to three years. ‘We have had informal discussions at Provincial level and they have no objections to the idea. I started the Northumberland Chapter, so this could be my next project. I can see Freemasonry swinging more in the direction of shared interest lodges. The article in Freemasonry Today about the Morgan Lodge is a good example of this.’
But is the notion of bikers as Freemasons a contradiction in terms? ‘I’m sure people would think we’re worlds apart because I’m here dressed in biking leathers, not a suit,’ answers Jay. ‘But motorcycling is a fraternal pastime and in the biking world we refer to one another as brothers, and the two associations build bonds of friendship between their members. Both bikers and Freemasons do a lot of charitable work and I’m certain there are other overlaps too.’
Chris Bush agrees, adding: ‘It was my father who introduced me to motorcycling and Freemasonry. We are two of the remaining seven founding members of the Widows Sons (UK), which had its first meeting in February 2004 here in Goldsmith Street.’
Peter Younger admits that there is still work to be done in convincing some of the non-biking masonic fraternity. ‘It’s been a bit of a learning curve,’ he says. ‘If we’d tried to set up the Widows Sons fifteen years ago it might not have had the positive reception we get today. But the benefit is that it’s providing a new, younger face. Freemasonry is very good at hiding itself away – we hide behind doors that you have to knock on to get in, but if more people had a clearer idea of what we do they’d be queuing up to become masons.’
Peter believes that Freemasonry needs to be far more open. ‘There’s no good reason why it can’t be – I don’t think anyone in Freemasonry would say they are ashamed of what they do. I proudly wear the square and compasses on my lapel as a Freemason and I am glad to be associated with the Widows Sons,’ he says, making the point that there are golfing, fishing and shooting societies, so why not a motorcycling society?
‘We’re ordinary people who have pastimes and hobbies just like anybody else. I once heard a great saying by Woody Allen that “tradition is the illusion of permanence”. Tradition has for too long been the scapegoat for people in Freemasonry who don’t want things to change. People hide behind tradition because they’re not willing or courageous enough to try something new. I feel we need to break that pattern and new associations should be formed. Giving a public, modern face to Freemasonry is one of the most important things Widows Sons can do.’
Force to be reckoned with
The Widows Sons chooses to raise funds for The Royal British Legion (RBL) because many of its own members are forces veterans. ‘It’s a charity that’s very close to our hearts,’ says Jay, who approached Bob Privett from the RBL’s Poppy Appeal in Nottinghamshire in 2010.
‘We raise over £500,000 each year for the Poppy Appeal and spend a similar amount on the welfare of ex-servicemen and their dependents,’ explains Bob. ‘The RBL will be spending £50m over the next ten years on a new Battle Back Centre for injured servicemen returning from military operations.’
Bob admits that The Royal British Legion tends to conjure up images of old soldiers on parade. ‘This perception leads the public to assume that we are there only for old soldiers,’ he says, ‘but already this year we have dealt with 20,000 cases from the Afghan and Iraq war zones.’
Letters to the Editor – FreemasonryToday No.17 – Spring 2012