Barrow in Furness Masonic Hall was the venue for the meeting held to celebrate Alan Steel’s golden jubilee as a Mason. Somewhat unusually, Alan became the fifth present member of Semper Sursum Lodge No 5622 to achieve that milestone. As the junior member, he joined Harry Wildgoose, Ron Pryer, Jack Fawcett and Ralph Walker in that rather unique club in a lodge which is flourishing and contains a very healthy number of junior brethren within its number.
Leading the celebrations was Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger who was accompanied by Furness and South Lakeland Group Chairman Peter Schofield. Also in attendance were the newly appointed acting Provincial Grand officers in the persons of David Cole, Keith Halligan and Phil Burrow, as well as reappointed officers Barry Fitzgerald and Andrew Ridal.
Once the celebrant had been placed before him, David commenced his address in explaining that Alan had been born in 1937 in Strathaird Avenue on Walney Island in the house where he lives today. The family moved to Johannesburg, South Africa when Alan was three years of age. His father suffered from ill health however and it was decided to move back to England in 1943.
The rail trip from Johannesburg was problematic with unexpected delays, causing the family to miss their ship from Cape Town. When recounting the tale later, an obviously emotional Alan explained how the ship they had been due to catch was attacked and sunk by a German U-boat. There were no survivors.
It took three and a half months to get back to Liverpool, which included a crossing of the Atlantic to Nova Scotia and back again in a convoy. The family arrived in Liverpool a few days before Christmas and Alan and his siblings were given pillow cases containing bananas, pineapples and other fruit by the ship’s crew. Alan recounted how his father had asked them to distribute it amongst the neighbours in Strathaird Avenue and recalled how one boy had refused the offer of a banana as, during those times of rationing, he had never seen one before.
Following his school years, Alan served his apprenticeship as an engineer in the local shipyard and subsequently went to work for the Peninsula and Orient Steam Navigation Company, now P&O, and covered mainly the Australia and Far Eastern runs. The ships he served on were by coincidence all built in Barrow-in-Furness. They included the Strathaird, the ship after which his address is named. During that time he met his wife Bessie. The union was blessed with three children.
Alan eventually came back to the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness rising to the position of manager of the machine shop. Ill health and a heart bypass led to his taking an early retirement but as Alan has often said, he has ‘kept taking the tablets’ and this has enabled him to enjoy his retirement with holidays all around the world.
On 17 May, 50 years to the very day of the celebration, Alan was initiated at a meeting of Semper Sursum Lodge and in 1980 he ascended to the chair of the lodge. The installing master was one of the other members of the ‘golden jubilee club’, Ralph Walker.
After his journey through the chair, Alan served the lodge as, firstly, assistant director of ceremonies and then chaplain. In 1990 he was honoured with the Provincial rank of Past Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies.
Following the oration Peter read the certificate from the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, which was then presented by David. However that was not to be the end of the celebration in the lodge as, at the command of the Provincial Grand Master, David concluded by promoting Alan to the rank of Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon.
To mark the occasion David was presented with a cheque for £400 in favour of the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival by master of the lodge Colin Taylor. This amount brought the total donated by the lodge as sufficient for it to become a Vice Patron of the Festival. Group charity steward Richard Wilcock was on hand to present Colin Taylor with a certificate acknowledging this.
Following the formalities in the lodge a splendid celebratory meal was enjoyed in the Fairfield Suite. Lodge secretary Bob Durkin was called into action to propose the toast to the celebrant. During the course of it he explained how he had been one of those under Alan’s charge in the vast machine shop in the shipyard. He described him as a very capable and well liked manager although he was not averse to taking the occasional unexpected stroll through the shop to make sure that his charges were gainfully employed and not sat reading a newspaper.
In his response to the toast to his health Alan gave further details of his interesting life and his joy at entering Masonry. It was quite obvious from the manner of his reply that he enjoys Masonry, the company of other Masons and continued to be extremely proud to be a member of Semper Sursum Lodge.