Mariners from across the Province charted their way to the Masonic Hall at Wellgate, Rotherham in full sail, on a warm but blustery evening in June, to help R.W.Bro. George Henry Philip Birch celebrate 50 years of navigating the Province as a Royal Ark Mariner.
The date was 12th June 2017 and many present and past Rulers of the Province were in attendance to Mark the occasion. The Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. James Steggles, led the celebrations before R.W.Bro. Philip was presented with his certificates. This actually turned out to be two certificates, one from the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons on behalf of the Most Worshipful Grand Master and one from the Mark Province of West Yorkshire.
The Provincial Grand Master informed the Brethren that Philip joined the Craft in 1961 when he was Initiated into Rotherwood Craft Lodge. He was Raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason the following year and installed as Master in 1976. He currently holds the rank of P.J.G.D.
The year after he became a Master Mason he made a very important decision in his Freemasonry when he decided to join the Mark. He was Advanced into Rother Lodge of Mark Master Masons and held every Office on the ‘ladder’ before being Installed as Master in 1978. At his Installation he appointed a certain Bro. James Bennet Truswell as his Inner Guard and during the year Advanced three Candidates, including his father and W.Bro. Roy Dobson. A good year indeed for Mark Masonry.
At the end of that year, due to the illness of his Senior Warden, he was elected to the Chair of Rother Lodge for a second year, which many Brethren thought to be a good thing because he would have chance to learn the ritual properly the second time around! During his second year as Master he Advanced a further three Candidates into the Order.
On 17th May 1967, Philip made yet another important decision by deciding to join the Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Royal Ark Mariners. He joined Welcome Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners, which at that time was attached to Pudsey Mark. Welcome R.A.M. was later detached from Pudsey and attached to Rother Mark Lodge No 651.
He became Commander of Welcome Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners in 1975, which meant that it was his first chair in Freemasonry and something very special indeed. It was also R.W.Bro. Bram Morley’s first chair and Bram always said that Royal Ark Mariner was his first chair and favourite Order.
Philip was appointed to Provincial Royal Ark Mariner Grand Rank in 1986, and to Grand Rank in 1990, which was the year after he had also been appointed as Deputy Provincial Grand Master. He went on to become Provincial Grand Master for the Mark Province of West Yorkshire from 1994 to 1999.
The Provincial Grand Master then put 50 years in perspective by informing the brethren that in 1967 Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and Lyndon B Johnson was President of the United States, still fighting a war in Vietnam. The Torrey Canyon went aground off Land’s End that year, spilling 100,000 tons of crude oil into the sea and Donald Campbell was killed when his boat, Bluebird, left the water at over 300 miles per hour on Coniston Water, during an attempt to break his own water speed record.
The first ATM (Cash machine) in the UK was brought into service that year and Doctor Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant operation. Ironically, the UK also made its second, and this time successful bid, to join the EEC (The Common Market). The summer of 1967 was later dubbed as the ‘Summer of Love’ with ‘Hippies’, ‘Flower Power’ and mini-skirts getting even shorter !!
Petrol was 5 shillings (about 27p) per gallon and a new Ford Cortina could be purchased for under £750. But more importantly, George Henry Philip Birch became a Royal Ark Mariner.
Several Brethren then related some of their experiences with Philip over the last 50 years, which proved to be very entertaining, before R.W.Bro. Brian Batty presented Philip with his 50 year Certificate from Mark Grand Lodge and the P.G.M. presented him with his Provincial Certificate.
After an excellent festive board, R.W.Bro. Jim Truswell proposed a toast to Philip, was also presented with a DVD of ‘Pathe News’ items from 1967. To the delight of everyone present R.W.Bro. Philip suitably responded with his usual wit and humour, of which even Noah would have been proud !!