A rather special celebration was set to honour Tony Johnson, a rather special and highly respected gentleman celebrating his 60 years of being a Freemason. Members and distinguished visitors alike of Royal Protector Lodge No 3471 meeting at Urmston Masonic Hall were delighted to receive Assistant Provincial Grand Master John Hutton, accompanied by South Eastern Group Chairman Mike Adams, along with fellow grand officers, Bryan Hayes, Chris McNab, David Durling and acting Provincial Senior Grand Deacon Ian Lynch, all being efficiently marshalled by Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Malcolm Bell.
The lodge business being underway, the special part of the evening arrived when John entered the lodge room in ceremonial form and was then presented by Malcolm to the worshipful master Peter Dickinson. Peter having welcomed John and his attending officers immediately offered John the gavel of the lodge to which he kindly acceded. John took the master’s position and then addressed the brethren by thanking them for their very kind welcome and that it was a great pleasure to be with the members and visitors of the lodge to share a very unique and auspicious occasion.
John began his presentation by indicating that in his office of Assistant Provincial Grand Master there carries a number of responsibilities and duties, but it also has a number of privileges and the prospect of being able to officiate at such jubilee celebrations were, without doubt the best. John then requested Malcolm to arrange a comfortable seating position for Tony, where as Tony was placed on the centre before the masters’ pedestal in what was amusingly referred to by his fellow grand officers as ‘the posh chair’.
It was at this point where John commenced the story of a certain Eustace Anthony (Tony) Johnson who was born on 13 October 1919 at Parrin Lane Monton Manchester. A number of historical events occurred in that very same week, namely KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines of the Netherlands was established, (still being the oldest existing airline in the world), the first London to Amsterdam airline service (British Aerial Transport and KLM) was also established, Richard Strauss and Hugo van Hofmannsthals premiered in Vienna, the first transcontinental air race ended, United States President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of Prohibition Enforcement Bill is overridden, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was created, the first Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to a woman and finally Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Opus 85, his last notable work, was premiered in Queen’s Hall London.
Tony, as he is affectionately known, had between the ages of five to 11 attended St Marks School in Worsley Manchester and then from the age of 11 to 16 years he studied at Eccles Grammar School. His father, who was similarly a member of Royal Protector Lodge, died in 1929 from a Great War related illness caused from when he was a prisoner of war. Tony said that his father being a Freemason and having died when he was 11 years old, afforded him the privilege of Masonic assistance in his schooling years and that, in his early life, gave him a basis for an initial link to a very strong Masonic interest.
Having completed his schooling, Tony started work at 16 years of age for Universal Furniture Products in Trafford Park, he then moved on to Gardner’s Diesel Engines in Eccles, working in the costing office and in early 1937 moved again, this time as a site clerk for W Fearnley and Sons at Barton, where he assisted in building magazines for storing shells. Later that same year, at the age of 18 years, he moved into the company’s general office in Salford.
In February 1940, Tony was called up for service to the Prince of Wales Volunteers South Lancashire Regiment where he and his colleagues moved around the country learning their basic training until being transferred finally to the Green Howards, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment. Tony and his unit eventually sailed from Gurrock on the Clyde in the Queen Mary with 13,999 other infantrymen to Tewfic on the Red Sea then on to Ismailia, that being an infantry base in the Middle East.
After acclimatisation he was moved up to Alamein and attached to the 50th Division which was anchored in the south on the Quattara Depression. Internet research states that this part of the world is a seemingly inhospitable place being a salt weathered, wind eroded 20,000 square kilometre expanse of Libyan Desert and at 144 metres below sea level in altitude, it is the second lowest point in Africa. Tony said: “It was quite literally miles of nothing but soft sand.”
When the military push started, Tony was halfway to Tripoli when he contracted yellow jaundice and had to return to the 42nd General Hospital at Alexandria. After he was finally discharged from the hospital as fit, he returned to Ismailia, where he was promoted to sergeant and transferred to the Durham Light Infantry and placed with the 32nd Beach Group which was to be a specialist Invasion Unit. Training was carried out in Persia, Palestine and Syria before being sent to Tunis in North Africa and finally to Malta where the group was attached to the American 5th Army.
Tony took part in the invasion of Italy at Salerno and later Anzio and then it was back to Egypt before sailing homewards and finally landing at Scotland. He was then moved down to the south of England in preparation for the invasion of France and landed on Gold Beach on 6 June 1944. His service years ended with him still as a sergeant at 35 Transit Camp in Calais, before making his way to Redcar where he was demobbed in 1946.
He returned to Fearnley and Sons in May 1946, he also re-joined Eccles Swimming Club where he played water polo, representing Eccles in different leagues for several happy years before taking over the role of secretary. Meanwhile a certain Myra Parkinson had started work in the office at Fearnley’s, which, as Tony said: “Did brighten things up considerably.” Tony and Myra were courting for 2 or 3 years, however, in Tony’s words: “Swimming commitments and night school severely curtailed their meetings.” Eventually Tony and Myra were married in 1952; Tony still attended night school for another 4 to 5 years where he attained his qualifications as a quantity surveyor.
His effort and determination in the workplace brought him the success it deserved, he later became chief quantity surveyor, then eventually a chief estimator, a post he held for a further 15 years. In 1958 he was appointed as a main board director and later director of four subsidiary companies covering housing, merchanting and design and build projects. Tony retired in 1984 describing his working career as 47 very satisfying years.
Myra and Tony have raised two fine sons both of whom are now married, who in turn have given mum and dad five loving grandchildren. Of course the main reason for the celebratory meeting was due to the other love in Tony’s life, his Freemasonry and what a most impressive and exemplary record he has given.
Tony joined Royal Protector Lodge as a Lewis in 1955, being proposed and seconded by two old friends of his father, namely Bill Pearson and Jimmy Crabtree. He was initiated on 26 March 1955, passed in September 1955 and raised in December 1955 and has served as WM in 1969 and 1996, then more recently in 2010 for the lodge’s centenary year and even stayed in the chair for the following year. Tony said that Myra had to put a ban on him in the end.
Tony served as lodge secretary from 1973 until 1994, charity steward from 1992 to 2003, almoner from 1974 until 1981 and became the Festival representative in 1981. He is a past master of Lathom Lodge No 2229 which had joined in 1981; he is also a past master and founding secretary (1990 to 1993) of Athenaeum Lodge of Installed Masters No 9368.
He was exalted into Royal Protector Chapter No 3471 in 1958, served as first principal in 1972 and again in 1990 and acted as treasurer from 1978 until 1990. He has also served office leading to him being a high ranking member of other degrees in Freemasonry.
As had already been recorded at his Golden Jubilee in 2005, Tony continues to be a credit to himself, the lodge and Freemasonry. He has spent many hours in the service of others, the less fortunate, the needy, not to mention people suffering from illness and the lonely.
Tony having already excelled at his duties in his lodge, his chapter and various side degree orders, he was called upon to assist the South Eastern Group by acting as group minute secretary between 1982 to 1985, group secretary between 1985 and 1991 then he became the group chairman in 1991 and served until 1996 and had thus assisted, driven and steered the group in a truly remarkable and commanding fashion. At that time, Tony oversaw 32 lodges in the group and was said to be of wise counsel, a mentor and displayed excellent group governance skills.
John continued by commenting on Tony having such an extensive Masonic knowledge and that he has very clearly contributed enormously to his lodge, the South Eastern Group, the Province of West Lancashire, the hall building and to Masonry in general for which those, his friends here during the evening and many others not present, thanked him most sincerely.
The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was aware of the evening’s celebration in the group and had personally asked John to pass on his own congratulations and good wishes for health and happiness to be conveyed to Tony. John, in conclusion of his address to Tony concurred with the Provincial Grand Master in adding his own personal best wishes. John said that during the evening we have come together in a spirit of true Masonic friendship to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Tony Johnson, a much respected brother.
Mike Adams was then called upon by John to assist him by reading the 60 year celebration certificate issued by Provincial Grand Lodge, having been read, Malcolm retrieved the certificate from Mike passed it to John for him to present to Tony, where after Tony received very worthy applause.
Tony responded to the applause by saying he felt very privileged and thanked John for his comments, Tony said he felt that John was very kind in his comments and was amazed to sit and hear of his lifetime events especially relating to so long ago, whereas he said nowadays, there are times he can’t recall what he did yesterday. He said that he made a charitable presentation to the hall in response to his golden celebration and he had the same intention with respect to his diamond celebration too, and concluded by thanking each member and visitor for their support for his evening, the very same evening he said, that 25 years ago to the night, that he very proudly received his Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies grand rank in the craft.
Finally, John said he would like to thank Austin Fletcher, secretary of Royal Protector Lodge and many others who contributed to this celebration meeting. The celebratory part of the ceremony completed, John handed the chair back to the worshipful master Peter Dickinson. Peter thanked John for his presentation and very kind words towards their highly respected member.
On the first rising, Mike Adams responded on behalf of the grand officers. Mike said: “It was indeed a pleasure and a delight for him and the grand officers to be in the presence of such a remarkable man on his special celebratory evening.” Mike, being a chip off the old block, continued by saying: “Tony was truly a Chippendale in the G Plan furniture store”, which of course was a delight to the brethren who concurred with applause. On completion of the ceremony, John requested Tony to join him on leaving the lodge room with the grand and acting officers.
An excellent festive board ensued encompassed with food and cups of cheer along with a heartfelt response in return from Tony. In his response, being a seasoned past group chairman, said he knew of his allotted response time of 8 minutes in responding to something that took 60 years to write is, on this occasion, quite a task. He said he had quite an eventful six years in early life with the armed forces and saw many parts of the world and many scenarios, he said he had enjoyed every minute of his Masonic career, he was most thankful to Brian Hayes who proposed a most amusing toast to him, he said it was a very special day and of course was thankful to the John Hutton for his presence and to Malcolm Bell for direction throughout the evening.
The affectionate message:‘Tony, Friend, Gentleman and Brother’, written on the lodge summons and table menus was clearly realised throughout the course of the evening and without doubt, the brethren will have left the celebration with a sense of pride of being in the presence of such a respected Freemason.