The Order of the Round Table came into existence on the 5th July 1908. In 1895, Dr Annie Besant started a ‘Lotus group’ for the children of Theosophical Society members in London. The meetings of this group were held at 17 Avenue Road, St John’s Wood; then the headquarters of the Society. One of the members of this group was George Herbert Whyte. He was 16 years old when he joined the Lotus group and, in time, took over its organisation from Dr Besant. He had a special interest in working for young people and his wife, Ethel, assisted him in this.
In 1908, whilst writing a series of articles about King Arthur’s Round Table for the Lotus Journal, Whyte had an idea which inspired him to try to form a round table among the readers of the journal. At the very first gathering, a simple ceremony took place - joining of hands, sharing of bread and dedication to service. There were two original aims: “Something to try to do” and “Something to try to be”.
By the end of 1908, there were four Tables in England; there were also members in other European countries, in Australia and New Zealand.
In September 1914, Whyte crossed to France to act as Secretary to a Red Cross Hospital. He returned to England in 1915 and joined the London Irish Rifle Regiment. He was stationed in France from June to October 1916 and thereafter in Greece. Wounded in an accident, he was sent to Malta to recuperate and rejoined his Regiment in June 1917 in Egypt. In between his military duties, he still found time to meet with Round Table members in Cairo.
Whyte took part in the action to recapture Jerusalem, leading his Company in the taking of a key position. For this action he was awarded the Military Cross. Sadly, he died as a result of wounds sustained during the battle. His body is buried in the British Military Cemetery just outside Jerusalem.
The following is an extract from his last letter home:
“I am taking the chance of a quiet half hour before I go off to reconnoitre for the attack this afternoon. These operations should lead to the capture of Jerusalem. I shall be in command of my company and the soldier side of me is proud of the honour, because we have the privilege of being one of the leading companies. If I fall, it will be a soldier’s end, and a fitting one for the Senior Knight of the Round Table. I have thought about things from a rather detached point of view… Nothing can come to us which is not in the Plan, and so I face whatever may come with complete equanimity… I shall be with you often… I know that love is deathless.”
His wife, Ethel, who was the first Chief Secretary of the Order said of him that “he was ever gentle with those weaker and more ignorant than himself, not proud or vain of any little extra wisdom he might have gained, but wanting to share his treasures with any who cared to have them.”
“Every civilisation, really great, has kept before it an ideal of perfect manhood to bequeath to its youth. This ideal in India was called Kshatriya in reference to those who preferred death to dishonour. In Japan these were called Samurai. In Europe in the Middle Ages it was called Chivalry and later on, Knighthood. ‘Chevalier sans peur, sans reproche’ (A Knight without fear and above reproach.) What better title of ability could we leave to posterity?” – C Jinarajadasa.