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From TROWEL, Spring 1998, Page 4:

In Sinim Lodge on a balmy evening in Tokyo, Japan, this last July (1997) Right Worshipful Alphonse Rigod (P. D. D. G. M.- China District) did something many a Master Mason may have dreamed of, but very few ever have the good fortune to be able to do. Advancing to the altar from the East, Brother Al obligated his son, Jean Felix Rigod, as Sinim's newest Entered Apprentice Freemason.

As singular as this experience may have been for Brother Al, it is but the latest milestone in a remarkable personal and Masonic journey spanning the last fifty years. Brother Al is one of the last few remaining true "China Masons" on the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, and certainly one of the most distinguished among that remarkable but sadly vanishing breed of Masons. Although Brother Al's self-effacing modesty might preclude him from saying so himself, his story is the stuff of an adventure tale, and in the process Brother Al has experienced first hand a significant part of the extraordinary history of Massachusetts Masonry in China and the Far East.

The following Brethren are depicted in the photo, taken July 8 1997 after the First Degree Conferral of Brothers Jean Rigod, Glynn Meredith and Bruno Bertin.
Back Row: (L-R) Saburo Matsui, P.M.; John Vernon Clarke; Keith Hager, P.M.; Robert Connelly, P.M; Harold Meij, S. W.; Robert Ryker, P.M.; Dominique Conseil; Charles Raith; Benny Shirosalci; Rick Dyck, P.M.; Chikara Sekine, P.M.; Steven Harris; Frank Declomesnil; Antoine Schaefers; Benoit Blanchard; Bruno Bertin; Victor Roy; Fred Shane.
Front Row (L-R) Kenji Nakano; Brian Hedger, P.M., J. W.; Akira Yamaya, P.G.M., Japan; R.W.. Joe Diele; Wor. Janos Cegledy; R.W. Alphonse Rigod; Andre Lecomte; Glynn Meredith; Jean Rigod.
Brother Christophe Henry was the photographer.

Brother Al is a Frenchman, born in Haiphong, Vietnam (then French Indochina) on February 11, 1916. His father, Louis Victor Rigod, was a businessman and owned a movie theater in Saigon, showing only silent films in those days. When Al's father died in 1921, Al was but five years old. His mother, a plucky Japanese lady named Yuki Machida, decided to move the family to Shanghai, China. There was a large French Concession in Shanghai and Yuki-san thought this would be a much better place than Indochina to raise and educate the precocious young Alphonse. Shanghai would be his home for the next 28 momentous years in the history of China.

China had been in turmoil since the turn of the century. "The Last Emperor," the hapless Hsuan Tung (Pu Yi), was on the Dragon Throne in Peking. First there was the "Boxer Rebellion," the Manchu Dynasty's last attempt to expel invading foreign influence. Then there was the Nationalist Revolution of Sun Yat Sen, which began in 1911. When the Rigods arrived in Shanghai in 1921 they found a very European appearing city, a bustling international "treaty port" and the chief gateway for everything foreign that flowed into China. By 1924 the powerless Pu Yi was turned out of the Forbidden City. The Manchus were no more. Without central authority, that part of China not ruled by the Nationalists was in the hands of various war lords. And, perhaps as a symbol of just how defunct the imperial system had become, a war lord's marauding troops sacked the tomb of the infamous Dowager Empress, Tz'u Hsi. In 1927 came the Autumn Harvest Revolt" that started Mao and his Communists on their long journey to power.

All of this had scant effect on young Al, however, secure in the bubble of the walled and guarded "international settlement area" along the riverfront in Shanghai. He attended St. Francis Xavier College, where he also learned his excellent English, from 1922 until 1933. After graduation he decided to stay in Shanghai and tried his hand at the pharmaceutical business. At the time western medicines were very much a novelty. Al did very well as a salesman in both the Western and Chinese communities in Shanghai.

In the 1920's Masonry was flourishing in China, and not just among western expatriates. There were many Chinese on the membership rolls as well. The Grand Lodge of the Philippines had six Lodges in China, with two located in Shanghai, and one each in Nanking, Canton, Ghengdu and Hangchow. The United Grand Lodge of England had eleven Lodges in Northern China-five in Shanghai, three in Tientsin, and one each in Hankow, Tsingtao and Weihaiwei. The Grand Lodge of Scotland had six Lodges in Northern China, four in Shanghai, one in Chefoo and one in Tientsin. The Grand Lodge of Ireland had a Lodge in Shanghai, as did the Grand Lodge of Vienna (Lodge Lux Orientis) and the Grand National Mother Lodge of Prussia had "Lodge Germania" in Shanghai, sometimes open and sometimes closed in accordance with the fortunes of Germany.

At the high point the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had eleven Lodges in China. Three were in Shanghai - Ancient Landmark Lodge (the Mother Lodge of American Masonry in China, chartered 1864), Sinim Lodge (originally chartered 1903), and Shanghai Lodge (chartered 1904). There were also Talien Lodge (chartered 1921 ) in Dairen, Hykes Memorial Lodge (chartered 1922) in Tientsin, Chin Ling Lodge (chartered 1923) in Nanking, Pagoda Lodge (chartered 1926) in Mukden, and Sungari Lodge (chartered 1929) in Harbin. There was also one Lodge, Delta Lodge of China, operating in Canton under a dispensation granted in 1925, but returned in 1927. These Lodges were in the charge of Massachusetts' District Grand Lodge of China, constituted at Shanghai in 1915, with headquarters at Peking.

In Shanghai, Lodges met at the "new" Masonic Hall at No. 14 Kiukiang Road, built in 1904 to replace the "old" Masonic Hall, 30 The Bund, in the center of the International Settlement Area of Shanghai. However, as more and more Lodges opened in Shanghai (eventually fourteen), the temple became very crowded. As a result, in 1928 the Massachusetts Lodges built their own "American Masonic Temple" at 128 Route Dufour, in the French Concession.

In looking over the Lodges comprising the China District, it is not surprising that a Lodge would be named after Rt. Wor. John H. Hykes. He was Massachusetts' District Deputy Grand Master for many year and credited in large measure with the firm foundation Massachusetts Masonry erected in China during the early part of the 20th century. Brother John Hykes was the American Consul General in Shanghai and also an ordained minister and President of the American Bible Society, one of the most active missionary groups in China at the turn of the century. When Rt. Wor. Bro. Hykes was called to the Celestial Lodge above in June of 1924, he was replaced as D. D. G. M. by Rt. Wor. (Dr.) Charles S. F. Lincoln.

It was under Rt. Wor. John Hykes' forceful inspiration that Sinim Lodge was organized and held its first meeting on the 26th of January, 1904. Brother (Reverend) Hykes chose the name "Sinim" for the new Lodge after a biblical passage, Isaiah 49:12, which referred to China as "the land of sinim" (silk). History proved this to be an inspired choice of names. The first Worshipful Master of Sinim Lodge was Bro. Edward Clinton Jansen. The Senior Warden was Brother Charles S. F. Lincoln, and Brother Peter C. Sturman was the Junior Warden. The Secretary was Charles Wesley Hykes and the Junior Deacon was Arthur Bownam Hykes. So, with Right Worshipful John H. Hykes hovering in the wings, it seems that the original cast at Sinim Lodge was really something of a Hykes family affair!

Masonic organizations in Shanghai had their first truly unpleasant brush with the volatile events of Chinese history in the summer of 1937. A Lodge historian. Worshipful Brother Anselm Chuh, wrote of the experience: "The Sino-Japanese War commenced in the Shanghai area on 13 August, during the summer recess. In the six weeks before our September meeting some of our brethren had been evacuated along with their families, and others sent their families to Manila and elsewhere. In spite of the fact that those brethren remaining in the city were either under arms or in the ambulance corps or in other branches of volunteer work, the meeting on September 21st was regularly held. . .and on October 19th, 1937, Worshipful Brother John P. Batson regularly installed his successor, Brother R. O. Scott, in the chair of King Solomon, though the city was in the midst of the Battle of Shanghai. "

Brother Al Rigod, not yet a Mason, participated in the Battle of Shanghai in 1937 as a member of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, perhaps unwittingly serving amongst many who would soon become his Masonic Brothers. Perhaps Brother Al developed a bit of a taste for military service in the Volunteer Corps, because soon after he found himself enlisted in the French Army as a private in the French infantry garrisoned in the French Concession Area.

The international settlement in Shanghai weathered the storm of 1937, but did not fare so well the second time the Japanese Imperial Army came to town. In December 1941 the "Conflict in China" became the "Pacific War" (so called in Asia) and Shanghai was quickly occupied by Japanese armed forces. The Master of Sinim Lodge that year was the remarkable Wor. Peter T. S. Chau, the first Brother of Chinese extraction to hold the chair in that Lodge. Sinim's historian, Wor. Anselem Chuh, recounted: "In the next few months all Lodge properties were seized by the Japanese and a thorough search was made (by the Military Secret Police- The Kempetai) as to the identity of all members. "

Tragically, many Brethren, especially Chinese, were arrested by the Kempetai and interrogated. Some were tortured mentally and physically in an attempt to get them to testify that Freemasonry was a political organization operating against the interests of Japan. However, thanks to Wor. Bro. Chau and other Chinese Brethren, the charters, records and furniture of the three Massachusetts Lodges in Shanghai were well hidden and did not fall into Japanese hands during the occupation.

While many westerners either fled Shanghai or were interned by the Japanese, Vichy France was considered by the Japanese a "friendly" power and therefore the French Consulate General in Shanghai remained in business. These were tough times economically for any remaining in the international area, but as a speaker of Japanese (in addition to French, English and Chinese), Brother Al found livelihood as an interpreter and liaison officer between the French Consulate and the Japanese Garrison. He remained in this job until the Japanese departed in 1945.

The Massachusetts Lodges remained in recess from 1942 until 1946. In the case of Sinim Lodge, Bro. Chau continued as Master Ad Interim, and when the Lodge reopened in 1946, Bro. Chau was still in the Oriental Chair. Work began on repairing the ravaged Lodge building. At the same time, the charters and archives of the Lodges were recovered from their hiding place by Bro. Chau and his associates.

In Sinim Lodge Dr. Edwin Himrod, the Senior Warden from 1941 (before the Japanese occupation), returned from the United States, where he had waited out the war. Bro. Himrod was regularly installed as Master in September, 1946. Wor. Edgar S. Wise (W.M. 1932-1933) was installed as Senior Warden. Unfortunately, however, Bro. Himrod was recalled to the United States suddenly and left Shanghai sometime in November, 1946, leaving Bro. Wise as the acting Master for the whole of the 1946-1947 Masonic year.

The years 1947 and 1948 were truly remarkable for Masonry in Shanghai. Perhaps the arrival of so many expatriates (primarily Americans) and the general lack of alternative diversions had something to do with it, but the membership in Ancient Landmark, Shanghai and Sinim Lodges all exploded, especially Sinim Lodge. Three degree conferral meetings were held each month, usually with the maximum number of candidates (five) allowed under the Massachusetts Constitution. In the case of Sinim Lodge, with more than ninety new Master Masons each year (47 and 48), at the end of 1948 the membership roll stood at a remarkable 332, a high water mark that Sinim has never approached again. Clearly a part of the "Masonic surge" in Shanghai, Brother Al Rigod was initiated in Ancient Landmark Lodge on November 2, 1948, passed on December 7, 1948, and raised on January 4, 1949. The Master of Ancient Landmark Lodge at that time was Wor. T. S. Sun, whom Brother Al remembers fondly as a refined and cultured Chinese gentleman, always very pleasant and the epitome of brotherhood. Bro. Sun was a successful businessman and owned an important flour mill in Shanghai (which, unfortunately, must have placed him on the wrong end of things when Mao's Chinese Communists took over only a few months later).

Although he had been raised to Master Mason only a short while previously, Brother Al Rigod was elected Secretary of Ancient Landmark Lodge for the 1949/1950 Lodge year and took up his duties in September 1949. Also in September, 1949, Bro. Chau was installed once again as Master of Sinim Lodge. Ironically, that placed Brother Chau serving in the East in Sinim when disaster struck Shanghai yet again. The Chinese Nationalists and Communists had been locked in a bitter struggle since the Japanese surrender in 1945. By November, 1949, Communist forces were north of Shanghai and the situation was worrying, but the presence of a large Nationalist Army force in the area, commanded by a Lieutenant General Huang, seemed reassuring. It was therefore a great surprise when General Huang changed sides in the middle of a November night. The following morning the international community in Shanghai awoke to find "Communist" troops in their streets.

This turn of events made it impossible for the Lodges of the China District to prepare as they had before the Japanese invasion. Straight away the Communists began to seize all "foreign" properties, eventually including the American Masonic Hall on Route Dufour. Chinese and non-Chinese brothers alike began to flee as the Maoists' grip tightened and the persecution began.

Most American and British nationals departed as soon as they could, but some non-American brothers, those with identity documents not deemed at the moment hostile to communists, were able to stay on in Shanghai for at least a while longer. These few brave souls were the ones who kept the Lodges operating for the most part. Brother Al stayed on and proposed his first candidate for the degrees, a German long-time resident of Shanghai, Paul Jauer, who was raised in Ancient Landmark Lodge in February, 1950. Due to the paucity of remaining members, Bro. Jauer began to serve immediately as Treasurer. (Wor. Paul Jauer was to become Master of Sinim Lodge in Japan, 1967-1968).

As the Communists continued to tighten their grip and expatriates departed, the economy began to collapse, at least as far as westerners were concerned. Brother Al tried to hang on as long as he could, hoping for better times ahead. But by November of 1950 he was at the economic end of the road and he applied to the communist authorities for a "permit" to leave (an eloquent sign of how things had changed for expatriates in China by that time). This permit was granted, eventually, but by that time there were no more passenger steamers calling at Shanghai. With almost no money left in his pocket. Brother Al took his family (by that time consisting of his mother Yuki, wife Francois and three children- aged 4, 8 and 11 years) overland northwards to the port city of Teintsin. There they languished for five weeks and became entirely destitute. They might well have starved or frozen to death except for the charity of a well-to-do carpet factory owner, a brother from Hykes Memorial Lodge. Eventually a steamship came and the Rigod family were bound as refugees to a new and strange country, the still war-ravaged Japan.

Instead of calling Lodges back on from the summer recess in 1950, Grand Lodge ordered most China District Lodges into recess. The District Deputy Grand Master, R.W. Raymond G. Vilodaki, departed for Australia in November 1950, vacated the position. Ancient Landmark Lodge, however, was able to operate well into 1951. Fittingly then. Ancient Landmark was the first Massachusetts Constitution Lodge to be established in China, and the last to cease work there. Masonic darkness came to China as the Bamboo Curtain began to descend around it.

The only major Masonic artifact surviving from the 1949/1950 debacle in Shanghai was the charter of Sinim Lodge. Wor. Peter Chau saved the charter by rolling it up and giving it to Brother John Azadian who was traveling on a Swiss passport and was thus able to carry Sinim's charter out with him to Hong Kong. In August, 1951, Wor. Peter Chau finally succeeded in getting himself and family out of China and arrived in Hong Kong. Later that year over lunch at the Parisian Grill (which is still in business) on Queens Road Central, Hong Kong, Wor. Bro. Chau shared with his luncheon companions, Brothers Anselm Chu and Joseph Sbath (both Masters of Sinim Lodge after its later rebirth in Tokyo), the incredible news that the original Sinim Lodge charter (dated 1903) had been saved. (Wor. Peter Chau certainly deserves being remembered for his courage, dedication and zeal in saving Sinim's charter not once but twice during a very troubled ten years.)

More and more of Massachusetts' China Masons began to turn up in Japan in 1950 and 1951. Eventually the idea was born to reopen the China District and one of its Lodges, in effect in exile, in the "open Masonic territory" of Japan. Sinim Lodge was selected over the more senior Ancient Landmark Lodge, some say because there were more Sinim members present, but the existence of Sinim's original charter must also have weighted the decision. In any event, Grand Lodge was petitioned and the Grand Master, M. W. Thomas S. Roy, granted a dispensation to open Sinim Lodge in Tokyo, Japan, on April 19, 1952.

Sinim's first General Meeting was held at the Tokyo Masonic Temple (formerly the Imperial Japanese Navy Officer's Club), September 16, 1952. Brother Roger S. Ormberg was installed as Master, Anselm Chuh as Senior Warden and Donald Hykes (a descendant of John H.) as Junior Warden. Brother Al Rigod made his first appearance on the Sinim slate of officers as the Inside Sentinel. Right Worshipful Hyman Hodes, appointed the acting Deputy District Grand Master for a revived China District, was the Installing Master. In this new beginning for Massachusetts Masonry in East Asia, Sinim Lodge membership stood at 272, of which 23 were resident in Japan.

From 1951 onwards, Brother Al was associated with a French firm, Rondon and Company, handling import and export of minerals and metals, French wines and spirits, perfumes and cosmetics and Browning sporting arms-quite a combination!

Masonically, Brother Al soon won a reputation for his enthusiasm for the Craft and became known for his ability as a ritualist, no doubt plumbing the depths of his English language education at the hands of the Marist Brothers in Shanghai. He also learned Lodge work from the ground up, serving successively (from 1952 through 1956) as Inside Sentinel, Senior Steward, Senior Deacon, Junior Warden and then. Senior Warden. Brother Al was Master of Sinim Lodge in 1957-58.

Not one to rest on his laurels, after his year as Master, Brother Al went on to serve as Treasurer, Chaplain and then Marshal (1958-67), and for six years (1967-73) as Secretary. Given this record of service and his reputation, it was only natural to select Brother Al to replace Right Worshipful Hyman Hodes as District Deputy Grand Master when Brother Hodes passed to the Celestial Lodge in 1974.

Brother Al's commission appointing him as Deputy District Grand Master for the China District, signed in 1974 by M. W. Stanley Maxwell, Grand Master, lists five Lodges under the D. D. G. M.'s care, Ancient Landmark - Shanghai. Shanghai - Shanghai, Sinim - Tokyo, International -Peking and Hykes Memorial - Tientsin. Ancient Landmark, Shanghai, International and Hykes Memorial remain on the books because they all still have a number of living members and thus figure in the annual returns of the China District. Sungari, Pei-he and Talien Lodges have become extinct through attrition of members. Two Lodges folded prior to the 1950 debacle: Chin-Ling Lodge's charter was returned in 1927 (after all expatriates left Nanking as a result of the Japanese Imperial Army "rape of Nanking" incident). Delta Lodge of China, in Canton, folded before it could be chartered and its dispensation was returned in 1927. Only Sinim Lodge in Tokyo remains active today, uniquely the only American Masonic Lodge operating in the Far East.

Brother Al is remembered for having served as D. D. G. M. of the China District with true dignity and distinction. He retired from business and departed from Japan in 1979, after turning over the reigns of the China District to Rt. Wor. Joe A. Diele, the present D. D. G. M.

"This Really Takes The Cake " Rt. Wor. Al Rigod and his son, Bro. Jean Rigod, on the occasion of
Bro. Jean's initiation in Sinim Lodge July 8, 1997.
Pictured left to right: Bro. Andre Lecompte, Marshal; Bro. Jean Rigod and Rt. Wor. Al Rigod.

This is Brother Al's 81st year. He and his lovely wife Francois live in genteel retirement in Corneilla Del Vercol in the South of France. From afar it seems idyllic, but when one speaks with Al it soon becomes clear that he longs still for the exotic excitement of the China that he knew in his youth, and for the Craft, especially "The Craft in The East," of which he has been such a distinguished feature for nearly a half century. The Far East may have changed. Brother Al's love and enthusiasm for the Fraternity has changed not. Masonic Career of Brother Alphonse Rigod.

  • Bom: February 11, 1916, at Haiphong, French Indochina.
  • Initiated: November 2, 1948, Ancient Landmark Lodge, Shanghai, China.
  • Passed: December 7, 1948.
  • Raised: January 4, 1949.
  • Affiliated: April 19, 1952, Sinim Lodge, Tokyo, Japan.
  • Offices Held:
    • 1949, Secretary, Ancient Landmark Lodge.
    • 1952-53: Inside Sentinel, Sinim Lodge.
    • 1953-54: Senior Steward.
    • 1954-55: Senior Deacon.
    • 1955-56: Junior Warden.
    • 1956-57: Senior Warden.
    • 1957-58: Worshipful Master.
    • 1958-67: Treasurer, Chaplain, Marshall.
    • 1967-73: Secretary.
    • 1975-79: Deputy District Grand Master, China District.
  • Other Masonic Organizations:
    • Scottish Rite (S. J.) Tokyo Bodies.
    • Tokyo York Rite Bodies (Chapter, Council and Commandery).
    • Nile Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S.

Distinguished Brothers