Marcus is still flying high

It had been the Assistant Provincial Grand Master’s intention, when presiding over Marcus Anthony Hill’s celebrations of his 50 years in Freemasonry, to provide Marcus with a pleasurable and memorable evening. Indeed, his intentions were that the evening should be enjoyable and notable to the mass of Masons who had congregated for the occasion. And, when Harry Cox formulates a plan, Harry Cox ensures that his goals are met – to the full! The result was a wonderful evening and an unforgettable experience.

Harry Cox (left) presenting the certificate of recognition to Marcus Hill.

Harry Cox (left) presenting the certificate of recognition to Marcus Hill.

Marcus Anthony Hill MBE is presently the master of Great Marton Lodge No 3985, having previously been honoured with the office back in 1984. His current tenure of office is, understandably, even more emotional for him, coinciding with his 50th year as a Freemason,

Throughout the presentation, Marcus, who was positioned immediately in front of Harry, was mesmerised as his life and career unfolded before him in Harry’s narrative. It was obviously an emotional moment for Marcus who had the look of a man who had just found himself on the receiving end of a small miracle. In fact, Marcus was charged with emotion prior to Harry taking the master’s chair and delivering his presentation. In the lead up to it, the working tools of the three degrees had been delivered by members of the lodge. Christopher Pye had spearheaded the recitals with a word-perfect rendition of the working tools of a master Mason and newer member David Broome had established his credentials with an impressive delivery of the tools of an entered apprentice. But the highlight of the moment for Marcus was when his son Antony presented the extended version of the working tools of a fellow craft Freemason in perfect style. It was one of many proud moments for Marcus that evening.

Accompanying Harry and supporting Marcus at his special evening were grand officers Terry Hudson, William Eardley, Geoffrey Pritchard, Ted Rhodes and David Thomas, along with Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin, his vice chairman David Cook, group secretary Steve Jelly and acting Provincial officers Stuart Gay and Gordon Ivett.

Harry began his narration by reviewing the year of 1941, a year that was, in many respects, dark days in British history. Much of Europe had already been overrun by the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ during the previous year and Britain stood alone against the might of the Nazi war machine. The RAF had resisted the onslaught of the Luftwaffe and the country was preparing to fend off invasion. The blitz on London, Coventry, Sheffield and other cities had caused devastation. As 1941 began, the news was no better. British Commander and founder of the Boy’s Scout movement Lord Robert Baden-Powell died in Kenya and five days later the Irish author James Joyce passed away in Zurich.

Times were hard! The war effort was costing Britain £11 million per day and the war budget raised income tax to a record high of 50%. 100,000 women over the age of 20 were urged to volunteer to work around the clock in ammunition factories. The German battleship Bismarck sank the Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy (a tragedy that was to significantly influence Marcus Hill’s identity – but more of that later). Two days later, aircraft from the carrier HMS Ark Royal crippled the steering of the Bismarck in an aerial torpedo attack and the following day the Bismarck sank in the North Atlantic.

In June 1941, Hitler implemented operation ‘Barbarossa’ (the invasion of Russia) and in December, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, resulting in the United States of America declaring war on Japan and Germany.

Marcus Hill (left) enjoying the festive banquet with immediate past master Rodney Barnes.

Marcus Hill (left) enjoying the festive banquet with immediate past master Rodney Barnes.

There were also some less intense news events. Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland, allegedly on a peace mission. In the May of 1941, a German submarine U-110 was captured, on which was the latest Enigma cryptography machine, which was later used by British cryptographers at Bletchley Park to break coded German messages. The film ‘The Road to Zanzibar’, starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour was released, as was Walt Disney’s animated film ‘Dumbo’. But there was even better news to come! Marcus Anthony Hill was born in Oldham, Lancashire on 3 September 1941, the second son of Alfred and Myra Hill.

At the outbreak of the First World War, aged 17 years, Alfred volunteered to join the 24th Manchester Regiment, serving as a Lewis machine gunner and was in the first battle of the Somme. In 1917 he was hit by enemy machine gun fire and was injured out of the army. When the Second World War broke out, Alfred was an aircraft inspector at the Avro’s Chadderton factory, near Oldham where the famous Lancaster bomber was manufactured and he also served as an Air Raid Warden.

His mother Myra was one of eight children but sadly lost two brothers in the First World War. She had attended school with Albert Pierrepoint who became the official hangman and who executed the Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg.

Marcus’ brother William Joseph was named after his two uncles who had been killed in WW1 and Marcus was named after his mother’s cousin Petty Officer Marcus Richard Prescott who had perished when the German battleship Bismarck had sunk HMS Hood in May of 1941.

In 1947 the family moved from Chadderton to Riponden Road, Oldham where Marcus’ mother acquired a drapery and millenary business. It was at this time that Marcus first became a choirboy at St Ambrose Church – probably inevitable that he had a talent for singing when one considers that his peers of his birth-year of 1941 included vocal legends such as Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan, Otis Reading, Cass Elliot (better known as Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas fame), Chubby Checker and Art Garfunkel.

At the time, his father was employed at the engineering firm of Mather & Platt but the company suffered a downturn in business and Alfred was laid off in 1953. Finding alternative employment was not easy and Alfred had to resort to working at the Hawker Aircraft Company in Blackpool, necessitating him living in digs during the week and only returning home at weekends, an arrangement that was far from ideal.

Pictured from left to right, are; Harry Cox, Marcus Hill and Antony Hill.

Pictured from left to right, are; Harry Cox, Marcus Hill and Antony Hill.

At around the same time, Oldham Corporation demolished a large area of properties in the vicinity of his mother’s shop and, consequently, a huge proportion of her customers were relocated and the business suffered to such a degree that it became unsustainable. Selling the shop at a loss, the family moved to Blackpool where they rented accommodation.

During his early schooldays in Oldham, Marcus became goalkeeper for his school soccer team (perhaps the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson shared the same birth-year with Marcus played some part in this talent) and was also selected as goalkeeper for the Oldham Junior Boys and played a match on the Oldham Athletic pitch at Boundary Park. Marcus also represented the school at boxing, resulting in him breaking his wrist three times – but the uppercuts to his opponent’s chin were more damaging!

Moving to Blackpool, leaving his friends and starting a new school were traumatic for a young boy about to enter his teenage years. But life in Blackpool soon improved for young Marcus. He was accepted into the choir of Holy Trinity Church, South Shore, a much larger all male choir and, when choir practices ended on Mondays and Fridays, he was able to attend the youth club that met in the church hall.

He was also introduced to ‘bagging’, a new phenomenon for the boy from Oldham and the first weekend he partook of the employment he earned more than five pounds (and that was without a cart and carrying the cases by hand). Having established with his father that he had earned this small fortune legitimately, his father constructed an enormous cart for the following weekend and, from then on, Marcus was able to earn an average of in excess of seven pounds, almost as much as his father earned in a week as an aircraft inspector.

But it was aircraft that most interested Marcus and he would spend the majority of weekdays during the school summer holidays at Blackpool Airport quizzing pilots while they waited for a full plane load to gather. One can only imagine the excitement that Marcus felt when a Polish pilot named ‘Ossie’ invited him to have a free flight – an opportunity that was afforded him on three occasions. Marcus also directed his attentions to the aerial photographer’s shop of L Ash Lyons who, out of the blue, offered him sixpence an hour to accompany him on a working flight in which Marcus sat in the rear seat of an Auster and passed different cameras to Mr Lyons. It was little wonder that Marcus became hooked on aeroplanes and dreamt of becoming a pilot.

He joined the Air Training Corp 177 Blackpool Squadron and spent every opportunity he could at the airport. Coincidentally, the Air Training Corp was formed in the UK in the year that Marcus was born, on 5 February 1941. In order to spend as much time as possible around aircraft, he spent Saturday nights loading Sunday newspapers bound for Ireland onto an Avro York, receiving two shillings a shift.

While in the fifth form of his school, ballroom dancing lessons were organised in preparation for a school Christmas dance. In attending, Marcus was to discover that there are some things even more interesting than aircraft. His eye was immediately drawn to an attractive blonde named Jean Hellon who, after a great deal of pestering from Marcus, agreed to be his girlfriend, despite his furnishing a crew cut and sporting braces on his teeth. The unlikely match was ideal however and after a seven year courtship, they married. That was 54 years ago.

During his time in the ATC, Marcus attended numerous summer camps and it was at Duxford, Cambridgeshire in 1956 that he had the thrill of flying in a Gloucester Meteor 8 jet trainer, travelling at over 600 mph and experienced the sensation of loop-the-loops and ‘G’ turns. At Kinloss, Moray the following year, he was given the opportunity of landing a Chipmunk Trainer and had a flight of nearly eight hours in an Avro Shackleton Coastal Command reconnaissance aircraft flying over the Arctic Circle.

But all was not fun at Duxford. A few days after the thrill of the Meteor 8 Jet flight, Marcus collapsed in a cinema with Asian flu. The prompt actions of a nurse got him admitted to hospital where he recovered. The following day however a young pilot officer was also admitted with flu but succumbed to the infection and sadly died. He was only in his 30’s.

Although Marcus’ wish was to join the RAF, it was not to be. Instead, Marcus obtained five year articled training as a building/quantity surveyor with William Eaves Building and Civil Engineering Contractors at Marton. The training necessitated three nights a week attendance at night school plus one full day release studying for the Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) and Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Building. The published results of his first year examinations revealed: Mathematics 97% – Distinction; Geometry 84% – Credit; Building Science 84% – Credit; but Building Construction 26% – FAILED!

His boss at work was not happy. He ordered Marcus to again draw what he had submitted in the exam and, unbeknown to Marcus, he wrote to the Examination Board, enclosing the drawings that Marcus had redrawn. Within two weeks, the Examination Board replied, apologising for an error and explaining that, during collation of the marking, some of Marcus’ papers had become detached and that the Board had revised the mark. It then read Building Construction 84% – Credit! As a consequence of the revised mark, Marcus not only passed the course but won first place throughout all the 11 counties in the North of England that had run the exam. Marcus went on to pass in all subsequent years, attaining a Higher National Certificate at only 20 years old and passing all his professional examinations before reaching 25. He went from strength to strength in his job, gaining numerous awards in his field and becoming a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 1976. Marcus may not have taken to the skies as his first wish would have wanted him to but he was certainly flying high in his career.

In 1971 Marcus became a founder member of the Staining Development Association and was instrumental in obtaining a £300,000 grant from the National Charities Lottery for the construction of a community centre in Staining. Between then and the opening of the Village Hall in 1999, he worked tirelessly (without remuneration) in producing drawings and specifications and project managing the construction. He has remained as treasurer and unpaid caretaker of the hall right up to the present day. His dedication was rewarded in 2000 when he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, the citation stating that it was in recognition of ‘Services to the village of Staining in Lancashire’.

Antony Hill proposed the toast to his father’s health.

Antony Hill proposed the toast to his father’s health.

Turning to Marcus’ Masonic career and his initiation into Great Marton Lodge on 16 March 1967, Harry Cox invited lodge secretary Rodney Holt to read the minutes of that meeting. Following his passing ceremony of 15 May 1967, Marcus was raised on 18 December of that year in a ceremony conducted by his father-in-law Stanley Hellon. Progressing through the various offices in the lodge, Marcus was installed as master of the lodge in 1984 and, since then, has held the position of treasurer for 17 years and almoner for 14 years until being installed in the chair again in the current year. But his proudest moments in Freemasonry were when his son Antony was initiated, passed, raised and installed as master of the lodge, all ceremonies in which Marcus played key roles.

Marcus was appointed to Past Provincial Junior Grand Deacon in Provincial Grand Lodge in May 1992 and promoted to Past Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works in October 2003, being further promoted to Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden in November 2009.

He was exalted into Fidelity Chapter No 1256 in May 1971 and served in all progressive offices before being installed as first principal on 12 March 2009 and was appointed Past Provincial Grand Standard Bearer in Provincial Grand Chapter on 11 April 2016.

At this juncture of the evening, Harry invited Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin to read the certificate of recognition from the Provincial Grand Master James Anthony Harrison before warmly presenting it to Marcus, a visibly emotional moment for Marcus.

And there were still further presentations to be made. Vice chairman of the Blackpool Group David Cook requested a few moments to present Marcus with a special lapel badge in recognition of the dedication that Marcus has shown to the Blackpool Group and the respect and admiration felt by the members. At the festive banquet that followed the formalities, Marcus’ son Antony, in proposing the toast to his “Worshipful Dad”, presented Marcus (on behalf of the members of Great Marton Lodge) with a magnificent watch. Such is the admiration and respect that Marcus has earned from his fellow Masons – and we can expect Marcus Anthony Hill MBE to soar to even greater heights over the coming years.

Pictured from left to right, are; John Turpin, Stuart Gay, Geoffrey Pritchard, Ted Rhodes, Harry Cox, Marcus Hill, Antony Hill, Terry Hudson, David Cook and David Thomas.

Pictured from left to right, are; John Turpin, Stuart Gay, Geoffrey Pritchard, Ted Rhodes, Harry Cox, Marcus Hill, Antony Hill, Terry Hudson, David Cook and David Thomas.