Norman’s jubilee celebration
Assistant Provincial Grand Master Tony Bent was delighted to attend Willows Lodge No 5343 at Bryn Masonic Hall to share with Norman Baskerville the jubilee celebration of his 50 years in Masonry. Tony was accompanied by fellow grand officers Wigan Group Chairman Malcolm Taylor, David Ogden, Graeme Hughes and Paul Hesketh (Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies), and supported by acting Provincial officers Barry Dickinson, Mervyn Reeves and Aiden Murphy together with group officers Geoffrey Porter, John Parrott and John Lomax. Group Secretary Stewart Blagg was also present as a member of the lodge.
Tony was received into the lodge by Worshipful Master John Thompson, who offered the gavel to Tony, who was really keen to accept it and take the chair, explaining that one of the great pleasures of the office he holds is that he gets the chance to participate in occasions such as this. He explained that 50 years of service in any capacity and in any walk of life, be it marriage, employment, voluntary organisations, the local cricket or football club, or indeed Freemasonry, is a living testament to a man’s commitment.
There have been doubtless many changes in the last 50 years, in the world in general and in Freemasonry in particular, but in a changing world what has remained constant is Norman’s love of and commitment to Freemasonry. Tony then gave a concise digest of what was happening in the world in 1926 when Norman was born and in 1964 when he joined the Craft, following which he invited him to sit in front of him in the lodge and gave an overview of Norman’s life and Masonic career.
Norman Baskerville was born in May 1926 in the family home above his father’s butchers shop on Bridge Street, Earlestown, which was the same month and year as the general strike. This was to remain his home until 1947 when the family moved to Newton le Willows. As a child he attended Gas Street (later Borron Road) Infant school. At the age of seven he lived with relatives for a year in Blackpool and attended school there before returning and taking up a place in the District school, on Market Street Earlestown. That former school was just 100 metres from the Town Hall, where Willows lodge was consecrated a couple of years earlier in April 1932. Willows lodge used to meet at the Fleece Hotel in Ashton, but would use the Town Hall for special occasions
Aged 11 Norman went to Merchant Taylors school in Crosby, leaving at age 17. He played rugby at school and rugby union for Warrington RUFC.
During the war Norman served in the Royal Navy after leaving school in 1943, and was a radar operator aboard the frigate HMS Loch Fyne on convoy duties, firstly on the Russian convoys to Murmansk and later in the Mediterranean, guarding ships en route to Malta. In 1945 his ship was part of the convoy dispatched to Sondheim in Norway to receive the German surrender in that theatre of war where, being able to speak some German, he was able to provide some interpreter services. His return to the UK was somewhat unusual as it was aboard one of ten U-boats seized by the Royal Navy and, by coincidence, he believes they were mothballed in Loch Fyne.
In May 1945, the day after his 19Birthday, Norman set sail for a tour of duty in the Far East, to his great disappointment, as it meant that he missed the VE day celebrations starting that very same day. However, every cloud has a silver lining, as for him it meant the end of active service. He spent 10 months based in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on a minesweeper, HMS Magicienne. In 1946 he was posted to Hong Kong where he joined HMS Opossum on anti-piracy duties. There were two other ships in that unit, HMS Black Swan and HMS Amethyst, later to be involved and immortalised in the film ‘Yangtze Incident’. He actually visited Shanghai on one of his tours of duty, just before the communist uprising enveloped that part of China. Later In 1947 Norman formed part of a unit engaged to dispose of American surplus war supplies and took numerous landing craft, filled with all manner of forces paraphernalia, and scuttled them in the Mindoro Sound, a particularly deep part of the South China Sea.
Norman was widely travelled and never failed to bump into someone from Newton or Earlestown. On one occasion, disembarking at Kure in Japan, he exchanged pleasantries with a young lady he had known from Newton, causing one of his colleagues to enquire of Norman, quite animated, as to the size of Newton. On a visit to Nagasaki Norman was shocked at the devastation and amazed that, right at point zero, a brick chimney stack was still standing, eerily alone!
Norman returned to Hong Kong before setting sail for the UK, disembarking in Liverpool. It was on this long journey that he learned to play bridge, which he learned very quickly as money was wagered on the outcome. On his demobilisation he became articled to D J Dunn & Co., an accountancy firm in Warrington but a serious car accident in 1953 left him with a broken neck and he was forced to spend a long time in hospital, including three months in traction. This break had had an impact on his accountancy studies, but when fit enough, he joined the Co-operative Wholesale Society at their head offices in Manchester, initially as a statistician but moving very quickly into the section responsible for looking after the company’s nine nationwide based farms that produced foodstuffs for their retail division. Having been overlooked for promotion, in 1955 he left CWS and joined the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Risley, where he was to remain until his retirement. He described the early years at Risley as dynamic and fast moving, a place where the brains of the country were gathered in the cause of the fledgling nuclear industry. He was on the committee of the Authority social club and is still vice chairman of the Authority’s retired personnel fellowship.
Norman married his wife Margret in November 1957 and they have two sons, Philip and Victor. Phillip is a Rector living in Guernsey, and Victor a former oil rig worker and industry related training manager. He and Margaret have eight grandchildren.
Norman was initiated into Willows Lodge No 5343 on 24 March 1964 by his father, William George Baskerville, who was, at the time, director of ceremonies. Norman became Worshipful Master in 1975, and was ADC from 1981 to 1988 and DC from 1988 to 1990. He served as treasurer from 2004 to 2005 and as chaplain from 2006 until present. In Provincial Grand lodge, Norman was appointed PPrJGD in 1987 and promoted to PPrGSuptWks in 1995.
Minutes of the 286 meeting of Willows lodge in March 1964 were read by Brian Honey, bringing back some happy memories to Norman. Following his address, Tony invited Malcolm Taylor to read out the certificate from the Provincial Grand Master and Tony presented the same to Ian. Tony invited Ian to retire with him after the first rising and they joined together in saluting the WM as they retired.
Ian Nairn proposed the toast to the celebrant’s health at the festive board, which was filled with energy and enjoyment. Ian told of joining the lodge 28 years ago when Norman was already an elder statesman. Describing how the celebrant had been a model member of the lodge, serving it well in several offices and attending not only lodge regularly, but also committees and practices. Ian expressed the debt of gratitude owed to Norman by every member of Willows lodge, who all hold him in very high regard. Norman was presented with a set of crystal wine glasses as a memento of the occasion.
Norman expressed his delight at the occasion and stated that he was lost for words, having so many friends who he would miss so much if he didn’t attend the lodge. Thanking the lodge members for the gift, he explained that he has been winemaking since he joined the lodge in 1964, following the removal of tax on winemaking by the chancellor back in 1963. Keeping to the wine theme, he stated that since joining the Willows lodge, every year in Masonry has been a vintage year, and he was looking forward to attending for as long as possible.