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Senior Service

6

January 2018

Pele Tower Lodge started the masonic year in Hebburn by celebrating a significant milestone in the already full life of their present Worshipful Master, Jim Neil.  John Watts was on hand to present Jim with a well deserved certificate to commemorate 50 years of membership.

Jim’s freemasonry is closely linked with his years of marriage to Rae because a condition put on by his father-in-law John James Parker in granting his daughter’s hand in marriage was that Jim joined his lodge.  This was one of many times that Jim immediately said ‘yes’, as illustrated by his membership of many a side order.

1968 was a bountiful time for candidates in freemasonry and having completed his 1st & 2nd degrees Jim was keen to avoid having to wait a year for his ‘spot’ on the rota so made a rather especial effort to be in attendance for his 3rd, first even though he was based over in Germany.  It was fortunate that a particular Meteor was in need of a flight test and Jim was ‘selected’ to take it across to RAF Acklington, just in time to pop down to Hebburn and back.

Jim spent many happy and eventful years in the RAF, with tales of Hawker Hunter under the Forth Bridge, staying with Earl Mountbatten at Broadlands who, when on business in Scotland, would tell his adjutant “let’s go see Neil at Leuchers”, guard duty events with Dambuster Johnny Johnson and many other stories that the official secrets act direct be untold.

The connection with Mountbatten started when Jim was writing his thesis as a Halton brat.  He had decided to write about a subject close to home, HMS Kelly, a ship that was built in Hebburn and commanded by Mountbatten, who also lived in Hebburn and had offices at Hawthorn Leslie during the construction.  The future Earl replied to Jim’s letter positively and made several introductions to the Imperial War Museum and the shipyard to allow Jim to carry out his research.  It didn’t end there though, as Jim was invited to stay with the Mountbattens for a long weekend in order to work through the books and mementos stored at Broadlands.  The end result was pleasantly received and Jim treasures a letter from Mountbatten telling him of a single error and an aside that the Queen Mother enjoyed looking over his work.  Jim did have to work his charm on a young WAAF though to persuade her to type out the 6 copies that Mountbatten asked of him to stock various repositories.

Jim rose to the notable rank of Squadron Leader before retiring and starting a new career with Kimberly Clark that allowed a more regular family life and more time in his lodges.

Having joined Pele Tower in 1968, working away with the RAF meant that it took Jim 24 years to reach the Chair but he has since made up for that by using full retirement to best advantage by taking the top post in Pele again at the grand age of 78, helping them out for a year as they look to the future with hope and plans.

Jim reflected on what freemasonry has done for him with the most telling thought being that he has met so many people and made so many friends, one of whom was the speaker for the night Malcolm Byrne.  Malcom is a Royal Navy veteran, retiring as Lieutenant Byrne and despite the inter-service rivalry has become a firm friend of Jims and was happy to honour a 12 month promise to attend during Jim’s year in office to present one of his superb lectures.  There is a traditional inter-service rivalry in the forces but on this occasion both the senior and junior services were in concord finding common ground as the talk was on aircraft carriers.  Malcom’s delivery was excellent, as ever, and held the attention of all, with JIm having the final say as he remembered his sole landing on a carrier being an event that he was happy not to have to repeat!

This was a super evening made special for everyone just by seeing the joy on Jim’s face throughout the proceedings that was completed when, on behalf of the lodge, Tom McIntosh presented Jim with a bottle of Glenmorangie and a lovely bouquet of flowers for Rae.

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