When & Why Belfast Volunteers Lodge No. 439 was formed.
During the First World War (1914-18), the War Office approved the formation of a semi-military volunteer body, designated the "Belfast Volunteer Defence Corps", for the purpose of relieving for overseas service some of the combatant soldiers who were stationed in Belfast on guard and security duties. The Corps was mainly manned by volunteer Belfast business men who were for various reasons exempt from or unfit for active military service. It was thus somewhat similar to the Home Guard formed in the Second World War.
The Headquarters of the Corps was established in the Harbour area in a building made available by Harland and Wolff Ltd. A Regular Army Permanent Staff Instructor was allocated to the Corps and the volunteers (who soon reached a strength of above 600 were trained in various soldiery skills - marching, musketry, guard duties etc. When volunteers were adjudged proficient, they were permitted to purchase their own uniforms. The main duties of the Corps were to guard the Harbour area, comprising docks, wharves, railway goods yards, petrol storage tanks and other installations vital to the war effort. The volunteers were unpaid and as they were of course carrying on their usual business or profession during normal working hours, their Corps duties were mainly performed at night or during weekends. Each man whilst on duty was armed with a rifle and five rounds of ammunition. On occasions the members of the Corps attended courses in musketry, gun drill, etc. at Army Camps such as Kilroot.
The enthusiasm and esprit-de-corps which quickly developed in this select band of men was very great: such was the spirit of friendship and comradeship that some of the members who were Masons were inspired with the idea of forming a Masonic Lodge in order to perpetuate, after the War, this happy spirit in a more enduring form. Warrant No. 439 was obtained and Belfast Volunteers Masonic Lodge was prepared to start on its splendid career as a unique Lodge which brings together in Masonic Fraternity former members of the Belfast Volunteer Defence Corps and others who volunteered for service in His Majesty's Forces.
The Lodge was Constituted and Dedicated in the New Masonic Rooms, 16, Donegal Square South (still popularly known as the Scottish Temperance Buildings) on 19th April, 1918, by R.W. Bro. J.H. Stirling, D.P.G.M. of the Masonic Province of Antrim, assisted by the Grand Officers of the Province.
The Grantees of the Warrant were V.W. Bro. J. Pim Thompson, W.M.; W. Bro. John W. Gillmour, S.W. and Bro. Robert Ervine, J.W. There were a further fourteen founding brethren.
In March 1921 it was decided to limit the membership of the Lodge to a maximum of 80, this figure was increased to 90 in February 1923. The early years say various presentations made by the brethren including two silver cups which were competed for from time to time.
Due to the "black out" it was decided at the October 1939 meeting to meet at 6.00 p.m. in future and this continued for the duration. The May 1941 the Lodge's usual meeting place was "out of bounds" (owing to the proximity of a UXB). W. Bros. W. Baxter and D.H. McCoubrey executed (un-observed by authority) a flanking movement to obtain the warrant and jewels and the Lodge met by candle light at very short notice in 9, College Square North. Thus 439 was able to declare "we never closed".
In February 1956 the Lodge decided to have one of its swords refurbished and presented to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim. At the same meeting the brethren made a donation of £100 to the Building Fund of the New Provincial Hall. May 1956 saw the last meeting to be held by the Lodge in the Masonic Rooms, 16 Donegal Square South and in September of that year they met in the new Provincial Hall, 15 Rosemary Street.
In January 1961 Bro. R.S. Adamson was installed as Worshipful Master, being the first of the Second World War soldiers to occupy the Chair of 439. His father was the first of the First World War soldiers to occupy the Chair of 439 (in 1935) in succession to the veterans who founded the Lodge.