Honours and awards: Knightly Order of St George the Martyr and Honorary Colonel in the Hungarian National Guard

The Order of St George traces its history to its foundation as a knightly fraternity in 1326 by King Károly Róbert of Hungary. In post-communist Hungary, chivalric traditions were revived, and in 1989, the Ceremony in St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest to install the first Grand Master in modern times – Dr Frederick Khaler, the senior judge of Hungary – was attended by the President’s representative, the Cardinal Primate and the senior Protestant bishop, as well as numerous politicians. The Order was swiftly to become established in Hungary with many prominent members.

Several branches of the Order developed from its 1989 revival, of which the International Knightly Order of St George attained prominence under the Grand Mastership of General János vitez Karaszy-Kulin from 2000 onwards, with Dr Khaler serving as a Deputy Grand Master.

General vitez János Karaszy-Kulin (right) with President of Hungary Ferenc Mádl

General vitez János Karaszy-Kulin was one of the most highly-decorated officers in the Hungarian armed forces, and was revered as one of the heroes of the Second World War and of the 1956 uprising, in which his valour earned him the highest military distinctions. It also earned him a death sentence under the Communist régime and forty years in exile under an assumed name in England.

Upon the fall of communism he was able to resume his rightful place and was promoted to the rank of Major General of the Hungarian Air Force. He was received by the Hungarian President and named a Hero of the Hungarian People. He held many chivalric distinctions and was a Knight Grand Cross and Grand Officer of Merit of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus (Paris Obedience) and a Knight of the Order of the Vitez.

The Order defined its aims as to assist the needy, both mentally and materially, and to uphold the Chivalric Code of Prowess, Justice, Loyalty, Defense, Courage, Faith and Humility. Members were charged with the continuation of the traditions instituted by the medieval Order. They must provide a charitable service to humanity, support the underprivileged, hospitals, hospices, orphanages, homes for the elderly and other worthy institutions. They must reward the services rendered to humanity in all fields of human achievement.

This was reflected in an energetic programme of charitable work. In the war-torn areas of Croatia, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Czechoslovakia and Hungary the Order shipped on a regular basis 220 tons of second-hand clothing, bedding, food, hospital equipment including X-ray machines, and other medical equipment to a value of US$15 million to the aid of the needy in Eastern Europe.

The principal project of the first decade of the twenty-first century was the reconstruction and furnishing of a derelict building as a home for the elderly in Nyírgelse in the north-east of Hungary. The Hungarian Government pledged to match donations made by the Order in the ratio of 2:1. A special appeal was organized under the patronage of Rt Hon Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who was a Grand Cross of the Order of St George, and the £20,000 needed to complete the project was raised within two years. As a result, the St George’s Home was completed on schedule and opened by the Grand Master and his wife, Colonel Dame Iris, on 20 August 2002. It provided accommodation to a modern standard for sixteen elderly people in need, as well as housing a day centre, which served the wider community of older people in this deprived area.

The Order under General János Karaszy-Kulin had as its Spiritual Protector the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, and held its annual investiture in Rochester Cathedral. A representative of the Hungarian Embassy usually attended in an official capacity. As well as Hungary and the United Kingdom, the Order established priories in Poland, the Netherlands, Serbia, and Canada. György Keller, the Grand Prior of Hungary and Deputy Grand Master was also Major-General and Vice-President of the Hungarian National Guard, bringing about a close connection between the Hungarian National Guard and the Order.

The Hungarian National Guard (Magyar Köztársaság Nemzetör Gárda), under the command of the late General Professor Béla Király, was the historic Hungarian reserve force, originally founded in 1848, that mobilised against the Soviet invaders in 1956. General János Karaszy-Kulin was Commander-in-Chief of the Hungarian National Guard (Overseas), and a number of senior members of the Order of St George received honorary military rank in the Hungarian National Guard as a result.

I met General János Karaszy-Kulin through our common involvement with the Central School of Religion, of which he was an honorand and Fellow. We quickly developed a friendship and I visited him and his wife Dame Iris on a number of occasions at his home in Rochester. He appointed me to an honorary commission of Major in the Hungarian National Guard in 2002.

At the General’s invitation, I was admitted as a Knight of the Order of St George at the investiture in Rochester Cathedral in 2003.

At the investiture in 2004, I was promoted to Knight Commander.

I was awarded the Medal of the Anniversary of the 1956 Revolution of the Hungarian National Guard by the General in the same year.

In addition, I received the Grand Star of the Hungarian National Guard, its highest honour, which was awarded with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Defence. This was presented by the General at the dinner following the Order’s investiture at the King’s School Rochester. It carries the postnominal letters MKNL (the postnominal MKN signifies a member of the Hungarian National Guard, and the addition of the L represents the Grand Star).

In 2005, I was promoted by the General to the honorary rank of Colonel in the Hungarian National Guard.

The General repeatedly asked me to become involved in the government of the Order of St George, but I declined his offers. The Order had been registered as a charity in England and Wales, but the committee nature of charitable governance did not sit well with the General, whose leadership style was that of military command. Several unsuccessful appointments to senior positions had resulted in the breakdown not only of working relationships but also of personal friendships. I considered it vital that I should preserve my friendship with the General, and avoid being led into any situation of potential conflict.

Moreover, the Order was, in those days, comprised of an extremely interesting and varied group of people, meaning that the investitures and other events were not merely ceremonial occasions but also social gatherings of great warmth and fellowship. Ken Martin, who was a Deputy Grand Master, became a good friend and I regularly visited him at his home in Cambridge. He was Dean of a leading sixth-form college there, and at their annual Advent service of Nine Lessons and Carols (which was held in the chapel of St John’s College), the General and several senior members of the Order were regularly among the guests. I greatly enjoyed this occasion, which was always well-organized and musically of a high standard.

When I was involved in the foundation of Claremont International University (Seychelles) the General and Dame Iris graciously agreed to serve as joint Chancellors and were strongly supportive of the University’s aims and ethos. The General was also appointed a Fellow of the Institute of Arts and Letters (London) and made a number of successful nominations to the Fellowship.

The General was happy to hear of my ordination and episcopal consecration, and at the investiture at Rochester Cathedral in 2007, I was invited to join the other clergy in the sanctuary.

In October 2008, the General, who had been in poor health for some years, died. At his memorial service in Rochester Cathedral, my obituary for him was read by his son. In one of our last meetings, he had discussed his plans and wishes for the future of the Order, and also said that he wished to promote me to Grand Cross.

It was not long before the Order was plunged into a period of conflict and strife. At the conclusion of this, two bodies emerged tracing their common origin to the Order as it had been constituted under the General. Both are registered charities and endeavour to continue the Order’s aims and charitable mission.

The duly elected Grand Master, Tadeusz Kaczor, who had been the Order’s Grand Prior of Poland, presides over what is now known as the Knightly Order of St George the Martyr, whose English representation is based in Cambridge and which has priories in Hungary and other countries in Europe. At its investiture held at Great St Mary’s in 2017, I was promoted to Grand Cross of the Order.

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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