At the Stated Communicaton of Doagh Union Lodge 317 held on 18th October 2016, a presentation of a Past Master’s Apron and Certificate belonging to the late W. Brother Noel Bell was returned from Canada. W. Brother Bell received the Apron and Certificate after he served as W. Master of the Lodge in 1966 – fifty years ago. The Lodge was reunited with the items thanks to W. Brother Bobby Cameron, a member of Oldstone True Blue Lodge 56 and also of Belfast Polytechnic Lodge 756. After formally presenting the Apron and Certificate to the W. Master, he then related how they came to be in his possession.
Brother Cameron was brought up in the Crosskennan area of Antrim and was a neighbour of the Bell family. Noel Bell’s widow had contacted Bobby to see if he could return the items to Lodge 317. However, although Bobby had traced the Lodge to the Masonic Hall in Doagh, he turned up on the night that Doagh Olive 467 was meeting. This gave rise to Bobby relating the story of his old friend John “The Chief” Kerr, who passed away at 100 years of age in 1999. In his youth “The Chief” had cycled to meetings in Doagh from his home in Islandmagee. Bobby then related the war time experiences of John Kerr, who was a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy in World War II.
On the night that seafaring friends gathered in Islandmagee Masonic Hall to celebrate John Kerr’s 99th Birthday, John had said to Bobby that he had a phone call that day which had a German connection. He was referring to a phone call made by someone who had read the press account of the evenings proposed activities, and had telephoned John to tell him that he had recently spoken to the radio operator of the German submarine U110 that had sunk John while he was on the SS Bengore Head in May 1941. His name Georg Hogel, who was the enigma operator on the U110. However, the Royal Navy had deployed depth charges which forced the U-Boat to surface which let to it being rammed by HMS Broadway. This hastened the wireless operator and the other radio petty officers to rapidly abandon ship, and in doing so they omitted to carry up with them the secrets of the German signalling system, namely the Enigma M3, and priceless signal log ciphers and the current tables for use in setting the Enigma keys. In the end, Germany paid a heavy price for sinking the Bengore Head which was carrying a cargo of rope from the Belfast Rope Works.
John Kerr was to make ninety one return trips on the North Atlantic run. At the great evening in Islandmagee Masonic Hall, on a rare occasion, the Chief wore his service medals and was piped into the function by W. Brother Bobby Cameron. Upon hearing the account of this function, W. Brother Robert Cameron, a member of Doagh Union 317, and a former marine engineering officer, said that he had been present himself on the night along with Bobby Cameron for this birthday celebration of their friend “The Chief” John Kerr. W. Brother Cromie went on to say what a pleasure it was to have Bobby in the Lodge Room. Bobby himself is a wonderful, talented character. He is an author, was an apprentice in Shorts, a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy, Lecturer, local historian, player of traditional music, an accomplished piper, keen cyclist before it became popular, a Freemason and a friend to many. All of his story including the Bengore Head story can be found in his book entitled “Before That Generation Passes” – well worth the read!