When George Peterson turned 90 last year, he took out a 10-year membership in the St. Vital Historical Society.
The former prisoner of war has decided that he’s going to live to be 106 so he recently dropped off a cheque that makes him a paid up member until he’s 106.
George was one seven men from Arden Avenue who joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers at the outbreak of the Second World War. To say the Grenadiers were poorly trained and equipped would be an understatement as, due to a lack of rifles, the men were forced to train with broomsticks prior to heading off to defend Hong Kong against the forces of the Japanese Imperial Army.
The other Arden Avenue residents who joined up with George were Fred Abrahams (aka Fred Harting), Bill Lancaster, brothers Alfred, Ed Shayler and Harry Shayler and George’s own twin brother, Morris.
Outnumbered drastically, the Grenadiers and other troops from the British Empire, held off the invaders until they ran low on ammunition and on Dec. 19, 1941, were forced to surrender.
"Because of the International Date Line, the attack actually began three hours after the attack on Pearl Harbour," recalled Peterson ,who still suffers from the effect of being a POW for four years, doing forced labour in a mine.
His ankles are swollen and weak due to beriberi he developed as the result of eating moldy rice.
Peterson’s chopsticks from his POW days are on display at the St. Vital Museum, now open 10-4, Tuesday through Saturday. Also on display is the uniform he was issued following his liberation.
The valiant defence of Hong Kong resulted in Canada’s first Victoria Cross of the war when Grenadiers Sgt. Major John Robert Osborn jumped on a grenade to save the lives of several of his men.
In total, 56 men and women from St. Vital sacrificed their lives during the Second World War.
Nancy Allan honoured the St. Vital Historical Society in the Manitoba Legislature (St. Vital) when the Education Minister red a Member’s Statement into the record.
"Mr. Speaker, it is plain to see that St. Vital is fortunate to be home to people who are extremely passionate about their community and it’s history preservation. Without the St. Vital Historical Society, many of our stories would be lost.
For their commitment, I thank all the volunteers involved…"
Bob Holliday is a community correspondent for St. Vital. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org