A diamond jubilee and a Scot’s third degree

What a unique celebration, Acacia Lodge No 4512 which meets at Liverpool Masonic Hall, arranged to honour Tom Smith in celebration of 60 years as a Freemason. Members and distinguished visitors alike, were delighted to receive Assistant Provincial Grand Master Derek Parkinson, accompanied by Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Malcolm Bell and Liverpool Group Chairman and Vice Chairman Mark Matthews and David Johnson respectively.

The lodge business having been dealt with, that special part of the evening arrived as Malcolm Bell entered the lodge room to announce the presence of Derek Parkinson, who then entered in ceremonial form. Derek was introduced to the WM Peter Howland, who having welcomed Derek and his attending officers immediately offered him the gavel of the lodge. This was accepted and returned, with Derek thanking the brethren for their kind welcome, adding what a great pleasure it was for him to be with the members and visitors to share this very unique and auspicious occasion with them.

The deputation from Lodge Irvine Newtown.

With the formalities completed, Peter called off the lodge and invited a deputation of 11 brethren from Lodge Irvine Newtown No 1662, Scotland, led by their WM Greg Ternent, together with the WM of Lodge Dramatic No 571 Sinclair Stewart. Having had a very close relationship with the Acacia Lodge for many years, it was only natural that when the idea of hosting a demonstration of the third degree, as performed within the Scottish Constitution, was first mooted, then Lodge Irvine Stewart was the obvious choice. The assembled brethren had the pleasure of seeing a masterclass of a performance, with one or two surprises not contained in the English workings. The whole demonstration left its mark on the audience, none more so than the ‘candidate’, an experience that will definitely last a lifetime. At the conclusion the room broke out in thunderous applause.

The lodge was next called back on by Peter and after thanking Lodge Irvine Newtown for their meritorious exposition, asked for the thanks of Acacia Lodge to be recorded in the minutes. Peter then proffered the gavel to Derek Parkinson, who on this occasion gratefully accepted and took his position in the chair. Derek began his presentation by indicating that the office of APrGM carried with it a number of onerous responsibilities and duties, but also a number of great privileges. The prospect of being able to officiate at jubilee celebrations such as tonight, was without doubt the best of experiences. It gave a wonderful opportunity to find out, not only about the celebrant, but about the events of 60 years ago. We experience a number of celebrations for 50 years in the Craft, a smaller number for 60 years and just occasionally we are privileged to remember greater periods of membership of Freemasonry.

Derek then asked Malcolm Bell to seat the celebrant before him and began his address by describing Tom’s life from his birth in 1925 at Birkenhead till the present day, hoping it would stir many memories, not just within Tom, but in the wider audience.

It was the year that work had started on the famous Mersey Tunnel linking the Wirral to Liverpool by road, with much of the spoil being used in the building of the Otterspool promenade. This was the second tunnel, the first being a rail tunnel opened in 1886, while the road tunnel was opened by King George V in 1934. Quite confusingly the 1934 tunnel was called Queensway, while the next tunnel, opened in 1971 by Queen Elizabeth II, was named Kingsway. Derek then remarked that quite fittingly, as our Scottish brethren were in attendance, it should be noted that it was also in 1925 that John Logie Baird, a Scotts engineer and inventor, gave the first public demonstration of moving silhouette images at Selfridges department store in London, and the following year repeated the transmission for members of the Royal Institution, as the first ever televised images.

With Tom’s father being employed as deputy-foreman in a Liverpool flour mill on Burlington Street, the family moved across the Mersey and young Thomas Smith attended the Florence Melly School in Walton. Florence Melly was the daughter of George Melly, a Liverpool merchant ship-owner, he was also the great grandfather of George Melly the jazz singer. Florence lived with her parents in Abercromby Square, just around the corner from Liverpool Masonic Hall, and dedicated most of her time to improving education in the city. The school was one of the first to be described as an ‘open air’ school with the classrooms built around a central courtyard with lots of windows and a verandah all around it. Tom left school at 14, around the same time that his father re-married and the family moved to West Derby. Tom secured employment as an office boy and also joined the local Air Training Corps. This stood him in good stead when he was old enough to be called up for service in 1943. He served in the Royal Air Force and after basic training on Walney Island and in Weston-super-Mare, boarded a ship for a posting abroad in Australia.

There was already a Royal Australian Air Force, but Australia was concerned that the Japanese may increase their attacks and so the RAF added to their defense. Japan did attack the Northern Territories of Australia in 1942, when there was a terrible attack on Darwin that cost many lives. Fortunately, that was almost the limit of the range of the Japanese aircraft and so they were unable to venture further into Australia. On arriving in Australia, Tom was based at Parafield near Adelaide and then transferred to Sydney. Tom was eventually posted to Cairo, where he spent about 12 months, before being demobilised.

Tom has them all smiling, pictured left to right, are: Tom Smith, Malcolm Bell and Peter Howland.

Tom returned to West Derby, Liverpool, securing a job in the costing department of Birchall’s Printers in James Street. Breaking off from his address, Derek revealed that he had actually found some information from John Carruthers who had worked in Birchalls between 1953 and 1966. John had told him that one of the most prestigious jobs the company had was to print the blank menu cards for Cunard liners. These were printed on high quality paper and had pictures of landscapes or old masters on the front, they were then over printed by the ship’s printers with the day’s menu giving a very high-class finish. These have now become collector’s items and can still be found on auction sites with prices up to about £60 each, although Derek said he had found one depicting the Mauretania from when it was launched in 1938 on offer for £175. Derek returned to his main address and told his audience that Tom continued in his career and became a representative for the printing company, with Cunard being one of his clients, along with a few other valuable accounts. In time, Tom moved to J H Leeman’s in Neston and then to Philip Myers in Warrington, where he remained until his retirement.

As a young man about town, Tom had joined the George Henry Lee Social Club as an associate member, which gave access to all their social amenities. The club was in a large house called Bradstones, in Sandfield Park, West Derby. During the First World War the house was used as an auxiliary hospital with beds for 50 patients. It was equipped by Mr and Mrs Walter Beer, cotton merchants in Tithebarn Street. Bradstones had a medical officer, a surgeon, a physician and three trained nurses and during the war over 600 patients benefitted from their skill and dedication. There were many social clubs associated with the city’s main retailers and they held regular social events such as dances and musical concerts. It was whilst at one of these dances that Tom met his future wife Sheila, who worked at the Royal Insurance in Liverpool.

Tom and Shelia married in 1962, initially living with Sheila’s parents in Allerton Road before moving to their current bungalow. Married for almost 50 years, Sheila supported Tom in everything he did, particularly in the social side of his life, sadly Sheila died five years ago.

With regards to Freemasonry, Derek explained that it began at the George Henry Lee’s Social Club, when he met Fred Flaherty and Ken Simmons. They were both members of Acacia Lodge and having got to know Tom, they suggested that becoming a Freemason may be something he’d be interested in. Fred was proposed and seconded by Tom and Ken respectively and was initiated into the lodge on Friday 20 December 1957 and passed to the second degree two months later, becoming a master Mason in April 1958. At that time the lodge had a membership of over 70 members.

Although Tom decided that taking a progressive office with a view to becoming the WM wasn’t something he wanted to do, he concentrated all his efforts into the social side of Freemasonry and the lodge in particular. Tom and Sheila were constant supporters of all the social events and the life of the lodge itself. This contribution was recognised not only by the members of the lodge but also by the group and the Province, when in 1986, Tom was given the acting rank of Provincial Assistant Grand Standard Bearer. Tom has also held the important lodge offices of almoner and charity steward at various times during his Masonic career.

Derek added that there is a wooden panel in the corridor that leads to the War Memorial and it lists the names of all the past masters of Acacia Lodge. To celebrate Tom’s 50 years as a Freemason he has had a panel dedicated to him, together with a brass plaque attached, recording the event.

At this point Derek said he would now be grateful if the Liverpool Group Chairman Mark Matthews would read the jubilee certificate, which the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison had caused to be issued, stating: “Thomas Arthur Smith, you have had a long and varied life including serving your country at a time of war and serving this lodge for over 60 years and so it is with great pleasure that I congratulate you on achieving 60 years as a Freemason in this Province and hope you will be able to enjoy many more happy years as a member of this lodge.” This was greeted with affectionate acclamation from all present.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Derek and Tom retired in formal procession, with the brethren following later to enjoy a wonderful festive board. Tribute after tribute to Tom floated around the room during the course of the meal, but the primary compliments were reserved for the more formal session of speeches. There was of course the principal toast to Tom from Derek, to which Tom responded by entertaining his audience with humorous anecdotes and tributes of his own. It was a gem of a moment from a pure diamond in Freemasonry. The evening had been a truly memorable occasion for Tom and for all who had been privileged to be in attendance. At the end of the evening, Tom received a very warm welcome from the ladies in his life who had been patiently waiting for him.

Tom with the ladies in his life.