Prince Albert ANAVETS mark 80th anniversary

Matt Gardner
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At a time when many branches of the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans (ANAVETS) are closing down across the country, the Prince Albert club stands apart.

One of the oldest ANAVETS clubs in Canada and the oldest in Saskatchewan, Unit 222 --- as the Prince Albert branch is officially known -- has continued to flourish over the years.

Last weekend, the Prince Albert ANAVETS celebrated its 80th anniversary with a three-day extravaganza from Saturday to Monday that featured live entertainment, a beer garden and petting zoo for the kids. All proceeds went towards paying for upgrades to the club.

Offering her thoughts on the longevity of the Prince Albert branch, manager Holly Chow compared the situation to that of Regina, where a branch of the ANAVETS recently closed its doors.

“Regina’s how much bigger than Prince Albert, and they couldn’t find enough members,” Chow said.

“I think we have a strong membership and we’re very active in the community,” she added, noting that the club’s membership also includes younger veterans who served in Afghanistan.

“We put on community functions and do stuff with our community that other clubs don’t do.”

The work of the local ANAVETS unit extends far beyond support of veterans to encompass a wide range of activities.

Among the events hosted by the Prince Albert ANAVETS are its annual children’s Christmas party and veterans’ Christmas dinner, various Winter Festival events, Decoration Day services, assorted provincial sporting functions, sponsorship of minor softball and the 38 Squad Air Cadets.

Chow noted that over the last 17 years, the ANAVETS have handed out more than 30,000 teddy bears to children as part of its yearly program with Parkland Ambulance.

Another unique aspect of the Prince Albert ANAVETS are the military-themed paintings on the wall created by local artist James Stonechild.

“We take great pride in the fact that all the artwork in here on the wall was hand-done by James Stonechild … No other club has that in Canada,” Chow said.

The overwhelming focus of last weekend’s anniversary celebrations, however, was the veterans themselves.

On Monday, the festivities culminated in a procession through the ANAVETS hall led by a full-colour party, sergeant-of-arms and esteemed local Second World War veterans including Ed Laird, Floyd Trusty and John Hall (the latter a member of the ANAVETS for 60 years).

Taking the lead in thanking the veterans was country star Julian Austin, the headlining musician for the weekend.

I think we have a strong membership and we’re very active in the community. We put on community functions and do stuff with our community that other clubs don’t do. Holly Chow

“To me it’s a great honour,” Austin said, noting that his own father was a Second World War veteran.

A strong supporter of the Canadian Forces, Austin has performed at military bases across the country as well as far-flung locales from Bosnia to Afghanistan.

Addressing the veterans, he said, “I just want to say to you wonderful, selfless souls -- thank you so very, very much for everything that you’ve done and the sacrifices you’ve made.”

“We know what it means to be Canadian and we’re proud as hell to be Canadian,” he added. “And we thank you for giving us that right and that honour and that privilege to live in a country as great as Canada and to be Canadians.”

Before starting his set, Austin told the story of his late friend Jack Howard Graham, a Second World War veteran who fought in the Dieppe Raid and was subsequently taken prisoner for 34 months.

“On his deathbed, he told me, ‘Julian, I just hope that they don’t forget all we've done,’” an emotional Austin recalled. “And I said, ‘Jack, we will never forget, and I’m going to write you a song that’s going to pay tribute to you and your comrades.’”

The country singer then played his song The Boys From Dieppe for the assembled ANAVETS members and supporters.

Commenting on the anniversary celebrations and tributes, Second World War veteran Trusty -- who turns 102 this year -- noted, “I’m proud to think that it’s still remembered.”

Serving from 1941 to March 1946 as a military cook, Trusty modestly downplayed his own contributions.

Though expressing his appreciation for those who thank veterans for their service, he noted, “We didn’t do it for that. I didn’t see action, but as soon as you signed up there, you belonged to the government, you did what they were told.”

“I was a soldier,” he added. “I did what I was told.”

While Trusty is not a member of the ANAVETS -- having joined the Royal Canadian Legion in 1947 -- he noted the strong ties between the two organizations, which he referred to as “brothers.”

“The Legion and the ANAVETS are two organizations, more or less the same, you might say … They both do a good job looking after veterans.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Canadian Forces, Royal Canadian Legion

Geographic location: Canada, Regina, Afghanistan Saskatchewan Bosnia Dieppe Europe

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