An Evening with Right Worshipful Brother George Henry Philip Birch

Thursday, the 21st November 2013 and the Rother Lodge of Mark Master Masons was opened in due form the Worshipful Master, Worshipful Brother John Stuart Beaven.  After some of the usual formalities, upon a report, the Provincial Grand Master, Right Worshipful Brother James Steggles was admitted and accepted the gavel, but not for long.  Upon another report, the Pro Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother Benjamin Addy was admitted and he then accepted the gavel.


This was somewhat of a surprise to many of those present, no more so than Right Worshipful Brother Philip who, now, was of the opinion that the Honoured Guest had not arrived.  M.W.Bro. Addy said that he was delighted to be with the Brethren on this most auspicious occasion and also to be back in West Yorkshire which he loved although he had neither been born nor lived here.  None the less it was his spiritual home, probably because Addy’s abounded like confetti.  The latter, we well know Brethren.

R.W.Bro. James Steggles then reminded us that we were met to celebrate R.W.Bro. Philip’s membership of Mark Masonry for 50 years to the day.  This was when subscriptions were £3 and Grand Lodge dues 2/6d.  M.W.Bro. Addy confirmed that those prices would never return!  This was also the year that General de Gaulle vetoed the UK application for membership of the Common Market.  R.W.Bro. Philip then confirmed that it was the year he stopped drinking French wine! Quickly adding that he would drink it if someone else paid, it being discourteous to do otherwise.

R.W.Bro. Philip had been initiated into Rotherwood Craft Lodge No. 4392 in 1961 and currently is a Past Junior Grand Deacon.  After his advancement into the Mark in 1963, he became the Worshipful Master of Rother Lodge of Mark Master Masons No.651 in 1978, an office he held for two years and during which he advanced 6 candidates, including W.Bro. Roy Dobson (so now we all know who was to blame).  Thereafter his rise to the top was unhindered and he became Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master in 1994, retiring in 1999.


Yorkshire born and bred, he attended Barnsley Grammar School where he joined the Army Cadet Corps and where, at the age of 16, he was a cycle messenger for the Home Guard.  Not surprisingly therefore, at 17 he joined the Army as an Officer Cadet where, after training, he passed out as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles.  Safe to say this was one of the more rewarding periods in his life as it was his introduction to GIN.  When first appearing in the Officers Mess, he noticed that as the C.O. asked each for his preference, Pink Gin was the reply, gin and Angostura bitters.

This was not quite to his taste but he did graduate to Gin and Tonic eventually, as we all know.  In between times his men, with whom he obviously enjoyed a close bond, enlightened him on the delights of Khukri XXX rum, a speciality of the Gurkha.  Very potent, it had to be severely diluted with water and it was the duty of the Senior Officer, Captain Birch, to taste the product to ensure its authenticity, apparently a task that required numerous verifications.  It was at this time that after joining his men in a traditional dance prior to a Regimental event, Captain Birch found that he had been demoted to Lieutenant for ‘fraternising with the men’.  Undaunted, he took it on the chin to find that one month later he had been re-instated with effect from exactly the same day and time!  I should record that the V Gurkha Rifles were in the Far East at this time during the 2nd World War when they were awarded 4 Victoria Cross, two of which were posthumous.

Upon returning home he trained as an Articled Auctioneer with Shearman and Johnston, ultimately rising to Senior Partner, Livestock and General Auctioneer.  Proving that he has never lost the touch, R.W.Bro. Philip displayed his manifold talents conducting the auction of a stuffed toy sheep raising the improbable amount of £140 for the Cleeves and Whitehead Trust courtesy of the generosity of W.Bro. David Key.

One of his abiding interests has been the Longshaw Sheep Dog Society where he was President in 2007 and where, on one occasion, he was joined his good friend, M.W.Bro. Benjamin Addy. He recalls with some pride that when he stepped down, one of his eventual successors being the Duke of Devonshire, that then the organisation was going downhill!


Very much a family man, he enjoyed his diamond wedding anniversary this year with undoubtedly the love of his life, Iris, who can handle him with no bother, and he loves nothing better than spending time with his Children and Grandchildren.


The evening drawing to a close, the Pro Grand Master, M.W.Bro. Benjamin Addy, presented R.W.Bro. Philip with his Grand Lodge 50 year certificate. This was followed the Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro. James Steggles who presented the Provincial Grand Lodge Certificate, both to thunderous acclaim.


All present enjoyed an excellent Festive Board with much of the fellowship and humour we associate with the Mark Degree in evidence.  More importantly we had savoured a very pleasant evening in the company of a man we all love and admire.  R.W.Bro. Philip is a man of manifest physical stature but it is the nature of the man that impresses.  An avuncular disposition is supported an infectious sense of humour, a ready wit and a warmth that surrounds all he meets. Long may it continue Right Worshipful Brother George Henry Philip Birch.


W. Bro. Duncan Smith P.G.S.D