An account of Brother David Norwood
A forgotten corner stone of Lodge St John Royal Arch Saltcoats and Ardrossan number 320 has been finally re-laid. Brother David Norwood, a Master Mason of this Lodge was killed by enemy action at sea in 1941. As can be seen elsewhere on this site, the Lodge has two roles of honour in the west of the Lodge room in memory of our members who died in service of their country. Unfortunately Brother Norwood’s name was never included in the role. This oversight has, after many, many years been rectified and Brother Norwood is now listed amongst his fallen comrades in that place of honour.
On the evening of Monday 23rd May 2005, members of Brother Norwood’s family gathered with the other members of the Lodge at our regular meeting to remember their lost family member and those others lost in conflict. That meeting took the form of an exemplification of a Master Masons’ degree with members of Brother Norwood’s extended family taking over the positions of Wardens, Deacons and Inner Guard in the Lodge for the duration of the degree. The degree itself was conferred by Brother Kevin McGinn, Great Grandson and Brother John Fullerton, the husband of a Great Granddaughter of Brother Norwood. Brother Martin McGinn, Grandson, recited a short account of the sea battle, which claimed Brother Norwood’s life.
The story of David Norwood and the battle of convoy HG-76 was as follows.
David Norwood was born in the year 1898 and was brought up in the town of Stevenston. As a youngster he lived in what was known to the local folks as the Old Square. In 1914, when the great War broke out, David, being at the age of 16 years, served in the trenches of France with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. After being demobbed in 1919, David came home, was married and came to live in Glasgow Street in Ardrossan and in May 1920, he joined this Lodge. He worked in the shipyard, one of the major employers in the area where he was christened with the nickname of ‘Chippie’ due to him being a member of a squad of men who would chip the hulls of ships clean in preparation for painting. David’s wife’s family were Frews and were a well known ‘Masonic’ family in Ardrossan with many of the men-folk being members of this and other local Lodges. The majority of the Frew family immigrated to America and soon thereafter, David, his wife and daughter and two of his brothers also decided to emigrate. One of the brothers was not granted admission to America due to his failing health and returned home where his illness proved to be fatal. The depression of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s took its toll on the family and struggling to find work, David and his family returned to Scotland around 1932/33. Work was equally difficult to find here and David eventually went to sea as a stoker.
The Second World War broke out in 1939 and David along with many, many other Ayrshire men joined up to serve King and country. In 1941, Britain was fighting a losing battle and the merchant flee was being torn apart by German U-Boats working in groups. America had only just joined the war and had had little effect thus far. It was the practice of the British government to gather the convoys in Gibraltar before setting sail for America, however, Germany had agents watching their every move and this information was quickly passed up the chain to Berlin and just as quickly issued to the U-Boat commanders using the enigma system, a four bit combination of ciphers that was impossible at that time to break.
In December 1941, convoy HG-76 was crossing the Atlantic Ocean and was being followed by a number of German submarines. On the evening of December 19th an attack took place and one of the U-Boats, U-108 commanded by Captain Klaus Scholtz managed to find his way among the convoy and loosed a torpedo amongst the merchant fleet. This torpedo hit the ship ‘Ruckinge’ in the boiler room and killed the three men there. One of them was Brother Norwood and another young Ardrossan lad, a 16 year old boy by the name of Townsley who was being trained by David. The third victim was a Welshman and it appears that they were covering this duty for others who had managed to get themselves drunk whilst in Gibraltar and were arrested.
The death of Brother Norwood and others of convoy HG-76 was not entirely in vain since, as a result of this and other battles in the Atlantic a certain Royal Navy Captain named Captain F J Walker applied his own ‘new’ tactics in the fight against the U-boat packs. It was the common practice of the U-Boat commanders to follow the convoy during the day on the surface thus allowing them to charge up their batteries for the attacks which took place under cover of darkness. Captain Walker decided that it might be better to actively look for the enemy during the daylight hours when they were vulnerable on the surface. His thinking proved sound, with only two losses in the merchant fleet and two Royal Navy vessels with the U-Boat pack almost completely decimated. Unfortunately as mentioned above U-108 managed to escape those attacks and made his own attack, the result of which included the loss of our Brother David Norwood.
The foregoing is only one of any number of accounts of acts of selfless sacrifice of many Brethren of many Lodges but it is to be hoped that its telling will in some small way highlight the countless others held dear in the hearts of many Brethren and families.
Hear us when we cry to Thee of those in peril on the sea!
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