A beautiful early summer evening saw Liverpool Masonic Hall basking in sunlight as members and friends of Everton Lodge No 823 gathered in the Corinthian Suite to celebrate a very historic event. It was a celebratory meeting to recognise the faithful service given to the lodge by two of the brethren, Herbert Illingworth and Walter Bigland, both having achieved 60 years membership.
The lodge was opened by the master Brian Gillbanks ably assisted by senior warden Steve Roberts and Paul Shrimpton as junior warden, under the careful attention of director of ceremonies Paul Robinson. Senior and junior deacons were Steve Makin and Jim Ramsay, inner guard Chris Murphy and tyler Bill Wyper.
The lodge members were pleased to welcome Assistant Provincial Grand Master Mark Dimelow who was accompanied by Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Barrie Crossley, with Everton members Bill Robinson and Bob Taylor acting as the Provincial Deacons. The Liverpool Group was represented by Dave Johnson, group secretary. On being offered the gavel by Brian, Mark was pleased to accept and occupied the chair of the lodge.
Mark commenced by saying: “Brethren, this evening we are summoned to a very special meeting, to honour and pay tribute to two brethren who have served the Craft and Everton Lodge in particular, loyally and faithfully for 60 years. I refer, of course to our celebrants this evening, Herbert (Bert) Joseph Illingworth and Walter (Wally) George Bigland Past Provincial Assistant Grand Pursuivant of the Province of West Lancashire. There are many definitions of the word celebrate, but put simply it means to do something enjoyable, because of a feeling of pleasure at some event or achievement. The fact that Bert and Wally are here today celebrating their diamond jubilee anniversaries as Freemasons seems to me, to be an achievement well worth celebrating and your presence here this evening brethren would appear to indicate that you share that view.” Mark requested of Barrie Crossley that he seat Bert Illingworth before him at the centre of the room that he might address him.
Bert Illingworth was born at Albion Street, Everton in 1928, the seventh child of eight children born to Thomas and Edith Illingworth. Thomas was a dairy farmer who originated from Clitheroe and came to Liverpool in 1914 where they subsequently kept a herd of dairy cattle on Barlow Lane, Kirkdale. Bert attended St George’s School in Everton until on the outbreak of World War II when he was evacuated with his brother Jeff to Whitchurch in Shropshire. Bert has very fond memories of this period and kept himself busy while he was there by doing a paper round and delivering milk for the local dairy. He and Jeff lived with a Mr and Mrs Williams and as Mr Williams was a member of the Local Defence Force Bert and Jeff enjoyed the privilege of being guinea pigs for them, being bandaged and lowered from the top floor windows on stretchers. Two of his sisters were also evacuated to Shropshire and lived a few doors down but unfortunately they didn’t like the family they were with and came home. Bert returned to Liverpool when he was 14 years old to work for his father. On reaching the required age Bert obtained an apprenticeship as a motor engineer with Denholm Rees O’Donnell Ltd in Aintree but was called away to do his National Service.
Bert did his initial training in Yorkshire and was then posted to Scotland for 12 months, which he enjoyed and even managed to get a month’s agricultural leave during which he was happy mucking out, milking and mowing the grass at the local hospital and cemetery. But then came the inevitable telegram informing him of a posting to Egypt, which he has always suspected was a punishment for asking for too much leave. Whilst in Egypt he was able to use his skills as a motor engineer in the workshops but this led to Bert being kept in for six months longer than the usual two years. After discharge from the army he returned to complete his apprenticeship after which he decided to start his own business and eventually would set up in his father’s premises after he retired and developed a motor business mainly involved with commercial vehicles from Liverpool Docks.
Mark then told of an incident Bert had recollected regarding his father during the war. He had by then moved to larger premises in Candia Street and during an air raid had gone to get some wine glasses from the top floor, just as he left the building it promptly collapsed behind him. Happily both he and the glasses were left unscathed. Amongst Bert’s other memories are thoughts of how different it was in those days, indeed there aren’t many people who now keep cows in the Everton area of the city and Bert laughingly recalled occasions when the cows would stroll into the street when a gate was inadvertently left open, often wandering in to people’s houses and invariably they would leave a calling card.
Soon after this Bert married Sylvia at St Lawrence Church, Kirkdale who he had first met at the church youth club and their marriage took place just one week after Bert had been initiated into the Everton Lodge. And so it was on 24 March 2015 that Bert and Sylvia celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary, enjoying a meal with the family. They spent their honeymoon in Caernarfon in North Wales and Bert has strong memories of having a wonderful time but also of the cold weather and trying to keep warm in front of a one bar electric fire. They had travelled down there in a Vauxhall Kadet with which Bert thought would impress Sylvia when he bought it. Sadly, this was not the case as the car had no doors or seats and had yet to recover from the fact that the previous owner had kept sheep in it. However a few visits to the scrap yard and using his skills as a motor engineer he soon transformed the car and changed Sylvia’s mind. The first house together, after their marriage, was in Aintree moving to their current house in Maghull when it was built in 1961.
Bert ran his business successfully for many years before taking the decision to retire at the age of 52 years, after which he leased out the premises. He has been kept busy in retirement, travelling back and forth to the 40 acre smallholding that was previously bought in North Wales, and has also enjoyed the usual foreign summer holidays and a couple of cruises. Sylvia and Bert have been blessed with three children, two boys and a girl and now have four grandchildren to keep them occupied. Bert was a keen racquets player in former days, particularly tennis and badminton but now derives pleasure from more sedate pastimes such as walking and the occasional game of bowls.
Bert was as mentioned previously, initiated into Everton lodge on 16 March 1955, proposed by his brother Harry and seconded by W M Manson, with the worshipful waster being a certain Walter Bigland Snr. His brother Jeff was also a member of the lodge for many years until he decided to give it up due to health problems. On 11 October 1988 Bert was exalted into the Southport Emulation Chapter No 3675. The pressures of running his own business and having a young family have, however, prevented Bert from taking office over the years but he always comments on how very much he has enjoyed the years in Freemasonry, particularly as a member of this ancient and distinguished Everton Lodge and has made so many friends along the way. Sadly attendance in recent years has been reduced due to number of health problems, but we all hope that he will enjoy his recovered good health and continue for many years to come.
At this point Mark invited Dave Johnson to read the scroll authorised by Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison in celebration of Bert in reaching such a memorable milestone. On completion Mark left the chair to present the scroll to Bert saying it was a moment of pure privilege and pleasure to carry out this presentation.
Mark returned to the chair and requested that Barrie now place Wally Bigland before him at the centre of the lodge. He explained on how Wally was born in Liverpool at Park Road, Dingle in 1924, his father also called Walter and his mother Maude. His father was the licensee of the White House pub on Duke Street and besides son Wally; the couple had a daughter Brenda. The White House public house in Duke Street, which still stands is now a Grade II listed building and in use as a bar and restaurant. It was, of course, famous in recent years for the mural of the rat on the outside, reportedly painted by Banksy the well know street artist.
Wally Jnr attended the local Beaufort Street School leaving age 14 in 1938 for employment with the Co-Operative Society eventually working at the shop front. As a youth Wally initially joined the St John Ambulance Cadets, Scouts, Boys Brigade and eventually the Liverpool Civil Defence Cadets, which later became the ‘Messenger Service’ during the Blitz, carrying communications across Liverpool. On reaching the age of 18 Wally signed to His Majesty’s Forces and in 1942 became a Royal Marine. Training began at the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone in Devon, and on completion of initial training Wally was posted to the Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry Castle, near Fort William, which was regarded as the finest of the Allied Special Training Centres of the Second World War.
British Commandos, United States Army Rangers and commandos from France and numerous other European countries also trained there and to convince the trainees that this was for real, each training course culminated in an “opposed landing” exercise around the area of nearby Bunarkaig, Loch Lochy, using live ammunition, this resulted in some casualties whilst training at Achnacarry, happily Walter wasn’t one of them. The castle, which was the Ancestral home of the Clan Cameron, also suffered some damage due to fire. The Royal Marines, incidentally, is the only element of the armed forces to train officers and other ranks at the same location.
Several military associations still sponsor a Commando March from time to time. Generally it is a timed seven mile march, in full battle gear, backpack and combat boots, from Spean Bridge (the site of the striking Commando memorial) to Achnacarry.
The week before ‘D Day’, Wally was posted to Eastbourne and billeted with Lance Corporal Eric ‘Doc’ Harden VC, Royal Army Medical Corps. On 5 June, 1944, their unit, 45 Commando RM moved to Warsash, at the entrance to the Solent, where they embarked in five landing craft infantry (small) and at 1700 hrs they slipped anchor and formed up in the Solent to take their place in that vast armada of craft that was shortly to cross the English Channel. Though the sea was rough, causing seasickness to most on board, the voyage that night proved otherwise uneventful and during the night the secrecy over the Commando’s mission was broken. It was revealed that at 0910 hours on the following morning the Commandos would land on “Queen Red” sector of Sword Beach, some two miles west of Ouistreham in Normandy.
The landing in Normandy, as momentous as it may have been, was only the start of this part of the story and Wally and Eric subsequently played their part in the advance into Europe and amongst other battles took part in fierce fighting in Maasbracht in south east Holland and it was here that Walter’s colleague Eric Harden was killed. As a result of his actions Eric was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. After the war Wally continued his military career serving in Hong Kong and Malta before discharging from the Royal Marines in 1948 and on his return to Liverpool joined the Royal Marine Reserves in 1949 achieving the rank of sergeant.
Wally returned to the Co-Op and in 1952 married his sweetheart May, who he had met at the Lucan House Social Club in Islington, and was employed at Littlewoods Pools as a clerk. After a honeymoon in London the newlyweds lived with Wally’s parents at the White House. On 18 May 1955 Wally was initiated into Everton Lodge, proposed by his father who was worshipful master that year and seconded by W H Mallock. At this period Wally had become a prison officer and was sent to Dartmoor, and it was at Lodge of Benevolence No 666, Princeton, that Walter was passed to the second degree on 12 December 1956 and raised as a master Mason on 13 February 1957. A member of the prison service for 32 years with five years at Dartmoor, the rest spent in the peaceful tranquillity of Walton gaol here in Liverpool where he lived with the family in the prison family housing on Hornby Road.
Walter and May were blessed with three sons and a daughter and now have six grandchildren; Wally also has derived great pleasure from walking and attending the horse racing. He and May also had a second honeymoon when they enjoyed a magnificent Mediterranean cruise. In Masonry, Wally for many years was head steward in the lodge choosing not to progress through the chair due to the nature of his job and the hours it involved and his wish to spend his available time with the family. He celebrated his 50 years as a member of Everton Lodge in 2005, and was awarded with the honorary rank of Provincial Assistant Grand Pursuivant on 23 May 2011. Walter had become a member of Everton Chapter No 823 on 11 April 1963 and celebrated 50 years in 2013 and honoured with the rank of Past Provincial Grand Standard Bearer on 9 April 2014.
Mark in addressing Wally said: “Wally, you are, I am glad to report, still active and enjoy walking. You also enjoy going to the races and a regular flutter on the horses. Brethren, in a couple of weeks, on the 6 June, it will be the 71st anniversary of D Day, which puts into perspective how young Wally was when he took part in it. It is impossible to fully understand what men like him went through during those weeks and months and it is equally impossible to overstate how much we owe them as a result. All we can do is to let them know that we remember and are grateful beyond words.” Needless to say this resulted in sustained acclamation from all present.
At this point Mark invited Dave Johnson to read the scroll authorised by Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison in celebration of Wally reaching such a memorable milestone. On completion Mark left the chair to present the scroll to Wally, repeating what he had previously said to Bert on how it was a moment of pure privilege and pleasure to carry out this presentation and a moment of history for the lodge to celebrate.
Returning to the chair Mark commented: “Throughout their 60 years of membership of this fine lodge, as well as in their life in general, Bert Illingworth and Wally Bigland have proven themselves to be men of integrity, dignity and commitment and this evening they celebrate their diamond jubilee in Freemasonry. I am sure that we all wish them the very best of good health and happiness for many years to come. Brethren, may I conclude the proceedings here in the Lodge Room this evening by offering both Bert and Wally my warmest personal congratulations on achieving this wonderful milestone in their Masonic life. I consider it both a privilege and a pleasure to be here this evening and to have been able to take part in such a happy and rewarding evening. Mark then invited Brian Gillbanks to resume his rightful position in the chair of King Solomon for the continuation of the evening.
If Mark thought he could sit back and relax he was mistaken for the next item of business was the presentation of a Grand Lodge certificate to Joseph (Joe) Andrew Chatterton. Joe is the son of the immediate past master Andy Chatterton and was the first ‘Lewis’ to be initiated into the lodge for over 120 years or so. Mark explained the certificate to Joe in an exemplary manner and after congratulating Joe on starting his Masonic career advised him he would not go far wrong if he aspired to follow in the footsteps of Bert and Wally.
On completion of the ceremonials the brethren retired for a celebratory festive board of exceptional quality in the banqueting suite. During the toasts Dave Johnson had the honour of proposing the toast to Grand Lodge and mentioned how fortunate the Liverpool Group was in having Mark Dimelow responsible for the group. The group consisted of 27 lodges who meet at Liverpool Masonic Hall and just under 20 or so Chapter’s. He had since taking up the position visited every lodge in the group at least once as well as attending many other meetings, all this carried out while also holding a season ticket for Goodison Park.
Reference was also made to the research that Mark puts into all his presentations such as we had all witnessed this evening, he takes time to personally visit the celebrant prior to each of these occasions coupled which in itself although rewarding and enjoyable is also time consuming. In response Mark thanked Dave for his very kind words and he counted it a privilege to be invited to Everton Lodge to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Bert and Wally. It was also a great pleasure to present young Joe with his master Masons certificate. Mark then continued in saying he would also take this opportunity to give his personal thanks to a number of people present tonight for their assistance over time. Firstly to Barrie Crossley who regularly travelled from Ulverston to assist within the Liverpool area, more so since the recent sad death of Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies John Chute. To Bob Paterson, Everton Lodge secretary, who had done much in organising tonight’s celebration and who had just completed his year as Provincial Grand Sword Bearer, and sitting alongside him Steve Callow who served as Provincial Grand Steward. Mark also remarked that there were two people who he particularly wanted to thank for their work over a number of years, the two publicity officers, Bob Hodgson who has recently retired and Geoff Cuthill who is here this evening. Mark also addressed the two celebrants who he said had shown themselves to be a pair of gentlemen of distinction for 60 years.
The WM in his toast thanked Paul Sinclair the current WM of Liverpool Charter Lodge No 7650 for his attendance on the night along with a healthy deputation of his members in support. Now meeting at Prescot Masonic Hall it was pleasing to see that Paul was planning to continue in his present role for another year. Brian continued by saying that he felt it to be a fantastic honour for himself to be able to toast not only both Bert and Wally but also Joe, the youngest man in the lodge, and reiterated what an example Bert and Wally had set over the years, a beacon for everyone to aspire to. Brian also announced that over £200 had been collected on the night for benevolent causes.
Brian then had the pleasurable task of presenting some tokens of esteem on behalf of the lodge members to Bert and Wally, including a 60 year service pin badge each and leather wallet’s containing £60, equalling a pound for each year as a member. Each also received a bottle of Scotland’s finest liquid refreshment with the compliments of the WM Peter Ramejkis and brethren of Abercromby Lodge No 3699.
Bert thanked all for their good wishes and said he had enjoyed a very happy 60 years at Everton and made very many good friends. Walter in his reply gave a warm thank you and said it was an honour to be invited to sit at the top table at last. Another surprise for Wally was the presentation of recently published book ‘Commando Medic Doc Harden V.C.’ in which Wally is mentioned on numerous occasions. A review of the book has, ‘Eric Harden was the only British army medic to be awarded the nation’s highest honour for battlefield bravery during the Second World War and remains the only rank and file member of the Royal Army Medical Corps to be recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross. As a pre-war member of the St John Ambulance, he saw service during the 1940-41 Blitz and later volunteered for the Commandos, under-going the same rigorous training as the fighting men before being attached to 45 Royal Marine Commando. He landed with his unit on D-Day and was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the Normandy campaign. During a bitter battle on the Dutch-German border, Harden, known throughout his unit as Doc, was killed saving the lives of wounded men trapped in no-man’s land.’ Commenting on the posthumous award in a speech to the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for War at the time, the Rt Hon James Grigg was sufficiently moved by his selfless actions to say: “I do not remember ever reading anything more heroic.”
Sadly the night was waning fast and it was soon time to call a halt to the evening festivities which will remain a very pleasant memory for all in attendance.