This year (2014) marks the one hundredth anniversary of the conflict that would become known as the "Great War," and, later, World War I. Although the United States did not get drawn into the conflict until 1917, the start of the war was not ignored on these shores. While the war had been brewing for some time, the immediate cause is widely acknowledged to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) of Austria in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, on June 28, 1914. A month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary fired the first shots in preparation for an invasion of Serbia. Lines were quickly drawn along what would become the Western front between Germany and France, and the Eastern Front between Russia and Austria-Hungary. Shortly after the first shots were fired in 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Italy and Bulgaria joined the war in 1915 and Romania in 1916. In April 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies (Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Russia, prior to its surrender). With the entrance of the United States, the Allies were able to surge forward and eventually win the war. Germany agreed to an armistice on November 11, 1918. More than nine million combatants lost their lives; Germany and Russia lost territory; the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were dismantled; the map of Europe was redrawn; and the League of Nations formed to prevent a future conflict. Sadly, the League would fail just twenty years later when World War II began.
Almost five million Americans served in the war, more than four million of these in the Army. Although the front was far away from the United States, the war effort was foremost in the minds of many at home. Families with a man serving overseas often hung a “Home Service Banner” in a window. These banners, with a red border around a white center and a star to represent the serviceman, became a display of patriotism during World War I. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection includes one of these banners, but unfortunately we do not know who originally owned it (at right). It has one star, which signified one family member fighting in the conflict. A blue star signified hope and pride; a silver star indicated that the soldier had been wounded; and a gold star represented sacrifice, indicating that the soldier died in battle. If the family had more than one soldier overseas, the banner would show multiple stars. The first home service flag was designed and patented in 1917 by Robert Queissner of Ohio, who had two sons on the front lines.
Recently, the Museum & Library was given a similar flag, but with twenty-three stars (twenty-two blue and one cream-colored star) around a blue square and compasses symbol (see above). This flag shows the same red border and white center as a home service flag. The flag was found at Old Colony Lodge in Hingham, Massachusetts. The lodge did not have any information on the flag, but it may have indicated that twenty-three members of the lodge were serving in World War I or World War II (these flags were also used during that conflict), and that one man was wounded or killed. We hope that pursuing additional research into the lodge’s records may answer the question of when the flag was used and confirm this theory about its significance. Does your family own a home service banner? Let us know in a comment below!
Masonic Flag, 1910-1920, United States, gift of Old Colony Lodge, Hingham, Massachusetts, 2011.025.
Home Service Banner, 1917-1919, United States, gift of Henry S. Kuhn, 78.36.