Our Roots - the Hong Kong Veterans' Association

History of HKVA

Discussion with WG Gerry Mabley of Winnipeg and Barry Mitchell in May, 1997

Following the war, there was a period of settling back into civilian life but also a deep desire to keep in touch with the comrades from the Regiment. Thus in late 1947 or early 1948, the first meeting of the Winnipeg Hong Kong Veterans was held in the War Amps Hall at Langside and Portage. The main floor of the building was occupied by the Manitoba Liquor Commission with the meeting rooms upstairs, later to become the Club Morocco.

The first executive was formed that night with Jack Norris (Capt.) as president. Unfortunately, Jack would pass away during his first term in office. Other members of this initial executive included Freddy Adams, Paddy Keenan, Alec McFayden, Charlie Watson, Bob Boyd and Gerry Mabley as secretary.

The group was to be kept on the move as far as meeting locations were concerned and the following year they assembled at 194 Main Street, known as the Winnipeg Grenadier Building (Reserve). Next, they met at the Guards Club, just off Portage Avenue, followed by quarters at the Free Press Building.

It was at the Free Press location that the first Hong Kong Veterans Association newsletter was published, but it was done by Charlie Watson, a hard line Communist and without the permission of the rest of the members. The newsletter was filled with Communist propaganda and the group was severely taken to task by all who read it. Charlie, of course, was asked to take his campaigning elsewhere and he did. Today he and Gerry Mabley are the only living members of the original executive.

Remaining on the move, the HKVA then met at the Duke of Kent Legion, followed by the ANAF on Young Street and finally the ANAF on Ellice Avenue.

The main instigator for forming a national association, however, was Charlie Clark of Toronto. The Hong Kong Vets from Eastern Canada belonged to the Royal Rifles of Canada and Brigade while those from the West were with the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Brigade. It wasn't until 1956 that a truly national organisation took shape when Gerry Mabley, Bert Delbridge and Swede Olcen representing the West, went to Toronto and met at the Royal York Hotel with Charlie Clark, Johnnie Stroud, Wally Gray and Colin Standish of the Royal Rifles. Here the first close ties between East and West were established and with the leadership of Charlie Clark, a truly national organisation was born. The two groups got along famously and lifetime friendships were formed. The real fun began when a national reunion was held in Edmonton in the 1960's and that camaraderie continues to this day.

Another occasion of note also took place in Edmonton at a reunion in the 1980's. George Porteous, an officer with the YMCA attached to the Grenadiers, had gone on to become Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan and was attending the reunion in the capacity of a veteran. At one of the functions, he was seated at the head table with the serving Lieutenant Governor of Alberta and it is believed to be the first time the two L.G's had met on any kind of a formal basis. Also, George Porteous was the first Native Canadian to be appointed Lieut. Governor (unsubstantiated}.

Past Presidents of the Manitoba Chapter who have been very active in Association affairs include Bert Delbridge, Robby Ashton, Harry Atkinson and Art Lousier. All held office for many years and have devoted much of their life to the affairs of the Hong Kong Veterans Association.

While the Association was originally formed for the purpose of keeping in touch, many causes came up over the years--first overall in nature but later individual challenges that needed to be dealt with. As Gerry states, the group was made up of many characters, which he fondly refers to as "loveable scallywags". It sounds like there are many stories that can be told but won't!

Gerry Mabley joined the Manitoba Government after the war and worked in the Land Titles Office until his retirement in 1974. He then moved to British Columbia but returned to Winnipeg in 1990. As much as he likes his home province, he is realistic about the weather and returns to B.C. each winter. Gerry keeps in touch with Bob Ferguson, a school teacher in Neepawa, Manitoba, who collects memorabilia from the Grenadiers' action in Hong Kong and has it on display in the Neepawa Legion. Speaking of Neepawa, Len Seaborn, who lives there and is known for his fabulous woodworking skills, is 87 years young and is likely now the oldest Grenadier in Manitoba. The oldest Hong Kong veteran in Canada, however, is "The Old Warrior" Lionel Hird of the Royal Rifles in Quebec who turned 91 this year.

Gerry has given most of his mementos to the school in his hometown of Kelwood but stays active and in touch by retaining membership in B.C. and Quebec & Maritimes Branches as well as the Manitoba Branch of the Hong Kong Veterans Association. He attended the 50th Reunion in Ottawa in 1991 and enjoys as many social events as time and health permit. He tells us that almost all the vets believe the Association is Great!! and it has battled through many issues on their behalf. Recommended reading on Hong Kong includes " No Reason Why" and "To Hell and Back".

Excerpt from an article written by Barry Mitchell following a meeting with Gerry Mabley on May 26, 1997. Gerry passed away in 1999. This history was first printed in the national H.K. Veterans' Commemorative newsletter and is being reproduced for the interest of all Manitoba members.

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