Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes In Iraq
The History of the R.A.O.B. in Iraq 1919 to 1953
This very brief history has been compiled from information supplied by Brother
Anthony Armstrong, R.O.H., to whom the author is deeply indebted for assistance
given, and pays tribute to "Tony's" remarkable memory for names and details of
happenings of years ago.
The Rt. Hon. Sir Anthony Armstrong, or "Tony" as he is known to the many
hundreds of members of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes who have
attended Lodges in Iraq, was initiated in the Earl of Derby Lodge in 1906, and
was raised to the Second Degree in that Lodge in 1915. He was enrolled a Knight
Order of Merit In the Garden of Eden Lodge in 1925, and was exalted to the Roll
of Honour by the Royal Baghdad Lodge in 1943.
Whilst serving in the Army during the First World War, Tony arrived in the
country then known as "Mespot", and since renamed Iraq, in 1916, and, except for
two years spent in India in the twenties, has been in the country ever since.
He was a founder of the Royal Baghdad Lodge, and assisted in the opening of the
first Lodge, the Star of Babylon, ever to operate in Iraq, and in the formation
of the Baghdad and District Provincial Grand Lodge, which opened in 1921.
Elected to the office of Deputy Provincial Grand Primo at the opening meeting,
Sir Tony carried out the duties of Provincial Grand Primo for the best part of
1922 in the absence of Knight Sir W. G. Martin.
He is a Past President of the Mosul and Dhibban Examining Councils, and today
fills the office of Vice President of the Dhibban Sub Certifying Council, which
operates at Habbiniya.
President of the R.A.O.B. Institute committee, Sir Tony can, without fear of
contradiction, be called the "Father" of Buffaloism in this country. He has kept
the flag flying through the years in the face of many difficulties, and it is
due to his unfailing efforts that we "visitors" to Iraq are able to enjoy our
Lodge nights and participate in the activities of this great Order of ours.
To "Tony" I dedicate this brief history of the R.A.O.B. in Iraq, which in the
main is a story of his own great work in the cause of Buffaloism.
Habbaniya September, 1953.
"Will anyone interested in opening a R.A.O.B. Lodge in Baghdad please
communicate with W. G. Martin at the Railway Mess".
This advertisement which appeared in the "Times of Mesopotamia" early in 1919,
heralded the birth of Buffaloism in the country now know as Iraq, for as a
result of the meeting of gentlemen who answered the call, the first lodge, the
"Star of Babylon", was opened in November of this year. The founders were Bros.
W. G. Martin, K.O.M., and J. West and Keene, both the latter being Primos. The
lodge met at first in the Askinsian School, Baghdad, but later was forced to
move from place to place. At one time it held its meetings in a bedroom at the
Imperial Hotel. At last, however, a permanent home was found in a disused stable
which was converted into a lodge room. The roof of this building was covered
only by matting, and when the wet weather arrived the City Constable had to
carry out his duties under the protection of an umbrella!
Buffaloism flourished in Iraq, and early in 1920 the "Garden of Eden" Lodge was
opened at Basra, and later in the same year another Lodge, named the "Sir W. G.
Martin" after the founder of the Order in this country, was opened at the Royal
Air Force station at Hiniadi, near Baghdad.
Towards the end of this year a further lodge, founded by Knight Martin and Primo
Armstrong and named the "Royal Baghdad", was opened, with headquarters in the
With four lodges operating in the country, which in those days was the minimum
number required to form a Provincial Grand Lodge, application was made to the
Grand Lodge of England for a warrant to open a Governing Authority. This was
granted and in November of this year the Baghdad and District Provincial Grand
Lodge was duly constituted.
The first Provincial Grand Primo was, very fittingly, Brother Sir W. G. Martin,
who was installed as such by Primo Tony Armstrong, who was himself elected as
Deputy Provincial Grand Primo. Unfortunately, the P.G.P. was prevented from
occupying the "top chair" after the first meeting, and Brother Tony carried out
his duties of P.G.P. until his departure for India in the middle of 1922 after
handing over the reins of office to Brother Scott, K.O.M., who was the P.G.P.
This might be considered a bad year for the brethren in Iraq, as, owing to the
scarcity of brothers of the higher degrees, the Provincial Grand Lodge was
forced to close down. Knight Scott had returned to England in August, and his
place had been taken by Brother Harper, K.O.M., whose melancholy duty it was to
bring to an end the brief life of the only Governing Authority to function in
this country. Ever since this year the lodges have been under the direct control
of the Grand Lodge of England.
However, the four lodges continued to operate, and in the main flourished.
During this year Brother Tony returned from India, and became a member of the
Garden of Eden Lodge in which lodge he was raised to the Third Degree in 1925.
It was in this year that the Garden of Eden Lodge moved from the town of Basra
to the Royal Air Force station at Shaibah.
In this year the original lodge, the Star of Babylon, sailed into stormy waters
and was eventually amalgamated with the Royal Baghdad. This setback was offset
by the opening, in Baghdad, of the "Civic" Lodge, and the Order continued as
strong as ever.
It was in this year that the news was first spread abroad that the Royal Air
Force, the sole representative of Britain's armed forces in the country, was to
move to a new camp which was to be built at Habbaniya. The brethren of the
R.A.0.B., looking far ahead, began to collect funds with which to build an
institute to be used by the lodges when the move was completed.
During this year a tragic fate overtook a member of the Order. Brother Elliott,
who was acting as engineer to Sir Alan Cobham during a flight round the world,
was killed by a stray shot from the rifle of a wandering Arab whilst flying from
Basra to Nazaria. Brother Elliott was accorded the last Buffalo rites at his
funeral, and in his memory a brother of the Garden of Eden Lodge designed the
The original drawing of this jewel has been preserved, and it now occupies a
place of honour in the Institute at Habbaniya. The jewel which resulted from
this splendid drawing is now worn with pride by many of our Order who are
members of the lodges which have operated in this country.
A further step forward in this year, was the opening of the "Palm Tree" Lodge at
the Royal Air Force station at Mosul. This lodge is still operating today, and
occupies the Institute at Habbaniya, in company with the Royal Baghdad Lodge.
However, a setback occurred in that, the Civic Lodge, opened two years earlier,
fell into disrepute and a number of the brethren from Hinaidi were forced to
take possession of the dispensation and return it to Grand Lodge with a
recommendation that the lodge be closed. Grand Lodge acted upon the
recommendation and the Civic Lodge disappeared from the directory of lodges of
Nothing of outstanding interest happened until
Early in this year the Garden of Eden Lodge, the second one to be opened in
Iraq, was forced, through lack of support, to close down.
It was in 1937 that the move of Royal Air Force units to Habbaniya was started,
and about the middle of the year the Palm Tree Lodge was removed from Mosul to
the new camp and occupied a temporary lodge room pending the opening of the
institute, which was then in course of construction.
This was a red-letter year for the R.A.0.B. in Iraq, for it saw the completion
of the splendid institute at Habbaniya.
The cost of building the institute was £2,000, and the whole of this sum, with
the exception of a grant of £100 from the Grand Lodge of England, had been
subscribed by the members of the lodges in the country in only ten years.
In January the Sir W. G. Martin and Royal Baghdad Lodges moved in from Hinaidi
and Baghdad respectively, but one month later fate struck a cruel blow, for
during a particularly violent storm the roof of the institute was blown off. The
cost of replacement was £80, and again the money was found by the members of the
lodges. There appears to be no limit to a Buff's capacity to give!
The Order was further strengthened in the country when Primo Driver, a brother
from Habbaniya, was posted to the R.A.F. at Shaibah. and finding no lodge in the
neighbourhood, decided to rectify matters. As the result of his efforts the
Shatt El Arab lodge was opened at Margil.
War had come to the world and the Royal Air Force had reopened its station at
Mosul, so to cater for the needs of brethren in that district the Palm Tree
lodge moved back to its original home.
Unfortunately, during this year an epidemic of cholera struck the town of Basra
and the nearby R.A.F. camp at Shaibah was barred to civilians from the town. The
outcome of this was that the attendances at the Shatt El Arab lodge dwindled and
finally the lodge was closed.
The Second World War, which had been raging since 1939, hit Habbaniya in this
year. Raschid Ali, a rabid Iraqi Nationalist who was aided by the Germans,
attacked the station and held it in siege for some months. The institute was
loaned to the R.A.F., who used it as an operations room, and for about three
months no lodges were able to meet. After that period of time the brothers were
given the use of a room in the Education Centre, and they held their meetings
there for about fifteen months.
During this time the furniture of the institute was held in safe storage by the
N.A.A.F.I. and as the bank was unable to function, the funds of the lodges were
placed in the N.A.A.F.I. strong room for safe custody.
Sad to relate, Knight Bishop, one of the leading brothers of the day, was killed
during Raschid Ali's attack when a shell exploded on the doorstep of his room in
the Station Sergeants' Mess.
Whilst I have not attempted to give any details of the many acts of benevolence
performed by the lodges in Iraq but have devoted myself to "history", at this
stage I would like to digress and tell of one of the numberless good works done
by the brethren during the 34 years that lodges of our Order have been operating
in this country.
It came to the notice of the brothers that Knight Bishop had a daughter who was
studying for a degree at one of the English universities and, through lack of
funds after the death of her father would have to give up her studies. This,
decided the Buffs, was not to be allowed, and a gift of £100 was immediately
sent to Mrs. Bishop to enable her to pay for the remainder of her daughter's
stay at the university.
There is a happy sequel to this sad story, for a few months later the brethren
heard from Miss Bishop that she had passed the examinations for her degree and
was all set for a brilliant career in her chosen profession.
In this year the Institute having been thoroughly redecorated by the Royal Air
Force, was returned to the brethren, having played its part in the war effort,
and the Royal Baghdad and Sir W. G. Martin Lodges moved back into their old
meeting place which they have occupied ever since.
"Tony's" long and sustained efforts on behalf of Buffaloism were recognised
during this year for he was exalted to the Fourth Degree by the Royal Baghdad
Lodge, of which he was a founder. His exaltation had been approved by Grand
Lodge two years earlier, but, owing to there being no brother of the necessary
degree in the country to carry out the ceremony, he had to wait until this year
before receiving the honour he had so richly deserved.
Life flowed on, and brethren came and went, but the lodges kept going until
This year saw the demise of the Sir W. G. Martin Lodge, the lodge which had
brought Buffaloism to life in Iraq.
It was found that even so large a camp as Habbaniya could not sustain three
lodges, and the Sir W. G. Martin was amalgamated with the Palm Tree Lodge which,
earlier in the year, had returned to Habbaniya from Mosul and occupied the
Institute with the Royal Baghdad Lodge.
These were the only two lodges operating in Iraq until in
The Order was further advanced by the opening, at the R.A.F. station at Shaibah,
of a new lodge which took its name from that of the station. This was the first
lodge to operate in that area since the Shatt El Arab closed in 1940 and has
proved to be a lusty and thriving child.
So we come to the present year, and it finds the three lodges, the Royal
Baghdad, the Palm Tree, and the Shaibah, still keeping the flag of Buffaloism
flying in Iraq.
All are flourishing, and despite many difficulties such as having very few
brothers of the higher degrees to occupy the Royal Chair, continue to bring many
hours of pleasure to those members of our brotherhood who are called upon to
serve so far from the Mother Country.
Perhaps, in some distant year, some brother will continue this history from
where I have left off, for I am sure that there will be things to write of then,
and so long as Britishers live in Iraq there will be found the R.A.O.B.
For any omissions or errors in the foregoing I most humbly apologise, and would
say to my critics
"NEMO MORTALIUM OMNIBUS HORIS SAPIT".
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