By Buzz Bourdon (late the RMR 1975-82)
Over the past 100 years, The Royal Montreal Regiment has seen more than 10,000 men and women wear its cap badge. The best were great soldiers who inspired and led their men in both peace and war. There were also various regimental characters whose personalities and activities sparked anecdotes and memories, both good and bad, long after they retired. There have been loners and losers, along with sinners, drinkers and thinkers. Some wore the uniform to serve monarch and country or because it was a family tradition. A few might have even been there for the cheap beer and a paycheque.
Retired LCol Henry F. Hall (Harry) is one of the very few, over the past century, who have served in the RMR, in different ways, for over 40 years. He joined on Aug. 30, 1969 – his recruiting NCO was John Frezza, who retired as an MWO four decades later – following his two brothers into the RMR. Bill Hall served four years, 1967-71, retiring as a second lieutenant, and John was in for two, 1968-70.
“For me, I joined for a couple of reasons, there was a family tradition of service to country and community and realistically I fell into it more out of expectation than out of any great individual desire to become a soldier,” Hall wrote in a story entitled, “Confessions of an Unrepentant Reservist.” It appeared in the 2012 Intercom, the RMR’s magazine.
Both of his grandfathers served as infantrymen during the First World War. His namesake, Henry Foss Hall, was a sergeant with the 42nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (organized and recruited in Montreal by the Royal Highlanders of Canada, now the Black Watch (RHR) of Canada), and Harry Banks Taylor was a corporal in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Hall’s father served as a BOFORS gunner on HMCS Hespler from 1942-45, in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.
Back in the late 1960s, the RMR still had some members who wore medal ribbons from the Second World War and the Korean War on their chests, including MWO (later RSM) Ron Glen, RQMS Harry Goldstein and MWO Steve Matthews. A few years later, though, practically every one of these veterans had retired, although there was the odd one here and there until the late 1970s, especially in the regular force.
As for Goldstein, he joined the RMR in 1936, fought overseas during the war and served in the unit until the late 1960s. Afterwards, he took over the Officers’ Mess as its much-respected steward and filled that position for almost 30 years, until his death in 1997. One way or another, he was there for about 60 years.
Some RMRs from that era will remember Capt Charles Levesque, the commandant of the Secteur de l’Est Battle School, based at the Longue Pointe Garrison, of CFB Montreal. He had fought in the second war. WO Tom Theall, later RSM of the RMR, worked for Levesque when he, Theall, ruled the Battle School’s Quartermaster’s Stores during the 1970s, for at least five years.
“But as a rule the majority of us were young, 16 to mid-20s. Many were first generation Canadians, of European origin, some French Canadians, WO Johnny Lavoie et al. They mixed with family-based members, the Turners, the Colgan’s, the Hall’s, the Anderson’s. It was very much a family regiment. Despite being a bilingual regiment the RMR was predominantly English and when we went to camp or on course we were paired up with the other English regiments, the Black Watch, Guards, Sherbrooke Hussars, etc,” Hall said. He was born in Simcoe, Ont., in 1953.
Morale was very high back in the day and the soldiers had great pride in the RMR, he added. “We always seemed to be singing on the bus to Farnham, St Bruno or Valcartier and we always wanted the other units to know the RMR has arrived. Training was conducted in a tough but reasonable way. Push ups, yelling, running, etc., was the norm but I never got the feeling it was done in malice. But sometimes it was pretty funny when it wasn’t happening to you.”
In 1969, the RMR was commanded by the late LCol Rhett Lawson (he died in January, 2015) and the troops respected him as a role model and field soldier, Hall said. “We were considered then, as now, as a field unit and we enjoyed being in the field, Rhett Lawson was an inspiring leader who created the MOBCOM company, aka ‘B’ Coy, and being part of ‘B’ Coy was where everybody wanted to be.”
There were three other companies in the RMR in 1969. ‘C’ Coy trained recruits, in the armoury, and ‘D’ Coy, which was disbanded in 1970, was the RMR’s detached company, based in Ste Anne de Bellevue in Montreal’s west island. “There was a lot of rivalry between ‘B’ and ‘D’ Coys but when outside the Regiment we were all RMRs,” Hall said.
Headquarters Company, based in the armoury, controlled Battalion HQ (commanding officer, the deputy CO (a major) the adjutant, usually a captain and the RSM), the orderly room and its clerks, the pay section, the signals section, the transport section and the quartermaster’s stores. There was also a medical officer – LCol Bill Lingard was there for years until Captain Reza Mehran took over in the 1980’s. After him, the position was abolished and the role centralized at Headquarters. Maj Peter Morris was a popular padre during the 1970-80s.
“Unlike today, we did not share the armoury, except for a small Intelligence company that occupied the current BOR location. Capt Alex Maleshenko of the Black Watch commanded it and he was quite a character,” Hall said.
After passing his recruit course, where he learned to march and salute, weapons drill, the army’s rank structure, first aid and so on, Hall went to Camp Dube, in CFB Valcartier, Que., in the summer of 1970 for his six-week infantry course, followed by two weeks of advanced infantry. “The instructors were Vandoos with a smattering of regular force Black Watch. My company was composed of RMR, Black Watch and CGG. I learned how to handle weapons, to shoot, fieldcraft, individual and section battle drills, to patrol but mainly we all spent many hours running, doing the obstacle course and pushups for any imagined or real transgressions.”
It was a great experience, he said. “(It) taught me confidence and how to get along and work with people with different backgrounds and perspective. This has held me in good stead throughout my life in both military and civilian challenges. Authority is one thing; the ability to influence people and their actions is another. I learned early that the effective use of both in the right proportions can work wonders,” he said in the Intercom.
Back in Montreal for the new training year, Hall was posted to ‘B’ Coy, the RMR’s rifle company. A few weeks later, the October Crisis of 1970 exploded when a tiny group of French Canadian terrorists, from the Front de Liberation du Quebec, kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour minister Pierre Laporte. The latter was murdered by the FLQ.
That year, in November, there were no military Remembrance Day parades anywhere in Montreal for security reasons, Hall said. “So the RMR was tasked to provide the Westmount Cenotaph (sentries) only and the regular army provided sniper “overwatch” and perimeter security for the essentially civilian ceremonies.”
Hall, resplendent in his battledress uniform, webbing, helmet and FN-C1 rifle, was tasked as one of the four cenotaph sentries. The Montreal Star took a picture with him in it and the photo appeared on the front page the next day. Each sentry was posted at the corner of the cenotaph’s platform, reversed his rifle so that the end of the barrel rested on the toe of a boot – both hands were clasped on the rifle butt – and bowed his head in tribute.
He also volunteered for a full-time Christmas callout to do guard duty at Longue Pointe, the army’s big supply depot in the east end, and Camp Bouchard. The regular army needed some extra bodies, as it always does, and it was a good experience for Hall and his buddies.
After the crisis ended, things went back to normal and training at the RMR resumed. For Hall personally, the late 1960s and early 1970s was a great time to come of age in Montreal, as a “young high school student not into drugs or long hair but great music. For certain social events we were allowed to wear our Blues which we took great pride in. We also acted as guards of honour at main floor functions at the RMR and other units, New Year’s Eve balls, Tri-Service balls for the senior NCOs, so we got to see and appreciate that social aspect of the regiment and the (Montreal) garrison. Promotions for those who worked hard and took the qualifying courses came fairly quickly.”
Socially, there was lots going on in the Men’s Canteen, Hall said. Located in the basement on the east side of the armoury, that was the place where the privates, lance corporals and corporals relaxed after work, had fun and got to know each other. “A pint (of beer) was a quarter and a quart was 45 cents in the Junior Ranks Club, known as the pink palace as it was painted pink as some earlier point. Every weekend either the RMR, The Watch, the Guards or the Hussars had a party so there were lots to do and there was a lot of rivalry, but also camaraderie between units.”
That camaraderie lasted until at least the late 1970s, or later, when guys from the RMR and the Black Watch would run into each other in the basement of the old Lasalle Hotel, on Mountain Street, south of St Catherine Street. The basement held two popular bars, the Irish Lancer, for Irish music, and the Yakety-Yak, for 1950s rock’n’roll. The boys often dropped in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and a good time was had by all.
Closer to the RMR, about a 15-minute walk going east from the armoury on St Catherine Street, Alexis Nihon Plaza had three well-known places, including the Bali Hi (south seas motif), the Maidenhead and the Carabiniers, a brasserie. One Friday night, in the spring of 1976, the RMR was at the Bali Hi in force, getting ready for the District No. 1 parade at St Hubert the following day. It was quite a night, to put it mildly, but we were on parade the next morning, looking good.
Characters? We had a lot of them in the Men’s Mess during the 1970s. “I think it revolves around the type of person who was drawn to the militia, although being in the military by its nature breeds conformity. In fact the majority of people who (joined) were non-conformists – short hair in the 1960’s, a belief that a military was necessary in the real world of the cold war, Vietnam etc., looking for adventure or a challenge and not the easy way. Certainly people’s family connections and history played a role but there were many characters that just seem to gravitate to the militia. The (Wayne) Whalen’s, the (Chris) Stewart’s, the (Leo) Steinbergers, the Polish brigade ((Boris) Kwasiborski, (Tad) Sulik, (Barbara) Tarcynski, (Zoe) Zyski’s, etc., and the many more too numerous to mention,” Hall said.
The Men’s Mess was organized like the other two messes in the building, the Officers’ Mess and the Warrant Officers and Sergeants’ Mess. Once a year, an election was held and a full slate of mess officers was elected by the members. Hall himself was president of the mess committee in 1972-73. There was also a vice-president, a treasurer, a secretary and an entertainment coordinator.
The decor was pretty basic, though. There were round tables covered in formica, the ubiquitous blue chairs supplied by DND across the country for a good 40 or more years, cheap artificial panelling stained by decades of cigarette smoke, fake DND vinyl arm chairs and couches. No one was there for the decor, that was obvious. The walls were almost bare – a portrait of the Queen hung above the bar – but the far end of the mess boasted a huge painting of the RMR capbadge, painted by ‘Sweats, Inc.’ It is dated Jan. 18, 1964. It still has pride of place in the mess.
The atmosphere was what was important and the mess had plenty of that. During the NHL playoffs, you had to come early to get a good place in front of the TV at the far end of the mess. There were no big screens then, either. That was the era when the fabulous Montreal Canadiens, playing just down the street in the Forum, were winning six Stanley Cups in ten years. And there were parties, lots of mess parties, every six to eight weeks, as a rule.
The lucky guys had a girlfriend to bring to the mess parties but those of us who attended stag had each other to drink with, I guess. At the far end of the mess, a DJ spun his records – it was still the vinyl era and you stored them in milk crates – and the tunes of the 1970s crashed out. It was the much maligned disco era but the music put the people on the dance floor. At the end of the night, around 0300 hours, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was the traditional last song, a nice long one that let you hold your honey for what seemed forever.
One thing you weren’t in the militia for, in those days, was the pay. Until the early 1970s, the soldiers of the RMR were only paid twice a year, during the training year which ran from September to May. If you went to camp or on course during the summer you were paid then but otherwise, it was twice a year. Decades earlier, the officers did not even take their pay home. They were expected to hand it over to the unit fund, which bought things that the Department of National Defence could not be expected to supply.
Hall still remembers how long it took for pay to come in, circa 1969. “Pay mess-ups were always an issue. When I went away to Camp Dube (in the summer) we were paid in the field, in cash, by a paymaster, escorted by two armed guards.”
How much was he earning? A munificent $49 per week, or seven dollars per day! At least the crown paid you seven days per week, even though you likely had the weekend off. “(It) seemed like a lot of money to me so over the summer, I would make for my infantryman’s course of six weeks, a little less than $300. (On) my leading infantry course of three weeks I made almost another $150 – life was good,” he said.
But it still wasn’t a huge amount of money so Hall tried to economize where possible. That included “hitchhiking back to Montreal on more than one occasion over the summer.”
Now fully qualified as an infantryman, Hall started climbing the militia’s promotion ladder. Sewing the two stripes of a corporal on the sleeves of his uniform jacket in early 1972 – “when corporals were a true leadership position” – meant he was on his way. “Like many young people I really did not know what I wanted to do so after high school I worked a few callouts, took as many military courses as I could, went to Germany (in 1973) and spent a couple of months with the Vandoos in Lahr and on exercise and then got the chance to be one of the first reservists to go on a UN mission,” he said in the Intercom.
That mission was UNEF II, in Egypt, in 1973-74. Hall served in Cairo and Ismailia along with some other RMR stalwarts of the era: Lech Kwasiborski, Bill Thibault, Peter ‘Butch’ Gannon and Ernie Loiselle. John Cozak and many others followed later. “It was a great experience that again reinforced a belief that I could do anything I really put my mind to.”
Retired sergeant Lech ‘Boris’ Kwasiborski got to know Hall when they were sent to CFB Valcartier, in February, 1974, to train for UNEF II. “Both of us shared a room in the barracks, adjacent to the Keable Club. On the night before our mile-and-a-half qualifying run we visited our neighbours at the club and enjoyed their hospitality until we overstayed our welcome and were told to please vacate the premises. After stumbling back to our beds the next recollection I have is Harry’s alarm clock sounding and a dread (feeling) that we had our run scheduled first thing in the morning.”
He was right. Kwasiborski, who served in the RMR from 1970-78 and 1980-86, knew that if he didn’t make the run in 12 minutes or less he’d likely get a dreaded RTU, or return to unit. “We meandered over to the prearranged route and were met with chuckles (from other runners) and a disapproving glare of contempt from the instructor. I felt like a bag of manure and smelled like one. Upon completing (the run) in the allotted time, with seconds to spare and chunks along the way, it dawned on me that Harry was a good man to have beside you BUT not the sharpest tool in the shed for letting us over indulge the night before.”
Three months later Hall and Kwasiborski arrived at Nadi Shams, the main UN camp in Egypt. “It was mid-May, hot and hazy. We de-bused and were stunned at the sights and sounds that greeted us, it was surreal. ‘PINKIES, PINKIES, FRESH MEAT,’ was all one could hear, it was like being on the set of a MASH episode. After staring at each other like lost pups and getting over our initial shock, we were shown to our tents.”
Serving six months in the Middle East left a multitude of never to be forgotten memories, but Kwasiborski said one particular event had a dramatic effect on both of them. “I was reading an article in a Canadian newspaper about the grenade incident in Valcartier earlier that August, when I heard an unfamiliar sputtering overhead. I ran out of the transport tent and looked up. Above me was an Egyptian Ilyushin transport (aircraft), with a feathered engine, losing altitude and heading straight for the main HQ building where Harry was working.”
But the courage and professionalism of the Egyptian pilot prevented a tragedy, Kwasiborski said. “With skill he banked his aircraft and dipped his left wing, thus avoiding the HQ. Instead, (the plane) smashed into a stone fence with a fiery explosion. There were no survivors.”
In 1975 Hall was promoted to the rank of sergeant and entered the hallowed portals of the Warrant Officers and Sergeant’ Mess. Its quarters, including the main room which features the portraits of all the past RSMs, and the group pictures going back to the 1920s, is “steeped in tradition and history,” Hall said.
“Many of the WWI and WWII NCO’s were still around, Mess dinners went all night and the tradition was (for) all go for breakfast. There was more singing as some could play the piano, there was talk of fallen comrades and lost connections, there were the funny stories of NCO’s in England, Farnham, Bruno etc, there was always someone playing pool with the old TV on and Thursday nights there was always some pool tournament. There was never a question of whether it was just the serving members mess, it was the vet’s mess. There were annual children’s Christmas parties that my ex-wife remembers, as a child, going to in the late 1950’s as a friend of the regiment. There was the Tri-Service Ball, which was huge in the 1970’s and 80’s and 90’s which the RMR was a big part of.”
But by the late 1970s the mess was a lot smaller than its golden post-war era in the 1950s. In 1948, the mess had 44 members. By 1977, it was down to 14. CWO Brian Colgan was the RSM, from 1973-79. The other mess stalwarts included five future RSMs, WO Vince Colgan, Sgt Georges Gohier, WO Tom Theall, Sgt Gilles Bussieres and Sgt John Cozak. MWO John Frezza, WOs Keith Finnie, Neil Stocker and Steve Anderson were also there, as were Sgts George Donais, Ernie Loiselle, Bill Thibault and Harry Hall.
The Officers’ Mess, in the spring of 1977, was even worse off in terms of numbers. Besides the CO, LCol Jacques Girardin, there were two majors, Ross Fletcher and Dave Trafford, four captains, Chuck Hamel, Dennis Dalpe, Albert Noreika and Capt Gilbert. There were two lieutenants, Karen Ford (the adjutant) and Gary Tuff, and one officer cadet, Frank Gufler. Less than three years earlier, when the RMR celebrated its 60th anniversary from Sept. 20-22, 1974, the Officers’ Mess boasted 23 people.
By the end of the 1970s Hall realized he wanted to be a different type of leader, and definitely not a follower. After his promotion to warrant officer in 1978, Hall was approached the following year by the new CO, LCol George Javornik, and offered the Queen’s commission as a full lieutenant. “By the time I graduated from Concordia University (in 1979 with a BA in political science and history) I was married with one child and another on the way so I understood it was time to settle down and built a future. Through the RMR ‘mafia,’ especially Brian and Vince Colgan, I was able to get a job at Air Canada and through hard work and good luck I progressed fairly rapidly.”
Leaving his friends and mates from the Sergeants’ Mess wasn’t easy, but they wished him good luck. “There was never an issue from my fellow senior NCO’s, only encouragement. I have always been very proud of having been a senior NCO and coming from the ranks. It gave me an appreciation of what makes a good leader and what makes a bad leader, and what the roles of officers and NCOs are.”
He’d had a lot of experience by then, including time with the regular force, during his first ten years with the RMR. “I had also been to Germany on Reforger exercises, served in the Middle East with UNEF II. I had taken and instructed on many courses, including Leading Infantry, Advanced Infantry, Junior NCO, parts 1 and 2.”
Hall also took the machine gunner’s course, winter warfare, the driver’s course and the administrative clerk course. For further promotion, he took the senior NCO course, part 1 and part 2, senior NCO Infantry Pt 2, the warrant officer’s Infantry course (instructed by senior NCOs of the Canadian Airborne Regiment – it was the best course ever, with lots of C4 demolitions and what we now call IEDs). “The best line ever was from my Canadian Airborne Regiment sergeant-major: ‘When I am finished with you, you will be nothing but ribs and p_cker,’ which was not far from the truth. You were only limited by your availability and determination.”
Kwasiborski said that Hall was easy to work with and never over excitable. “One incident comes to mind. I was platoon 2 i/c and he was (the platoon commander). It was Friday night and we were preparing for an exercise in Farnham. The armoury was filled with nervous excitement, only those who have served would understand what that entails: stores, weapons, kit, timings, personnel, transport, rations, etc., etc. The platoon was near the water fountain and Harry was in the B Coy office. I was doing my platoon checks and verifications when I noticed a deficiency.” I tried to solve the issue but the stores were closed.”
After informing Hall, Kwasiborski went about his business but that wasn’t the end of it. “After about a half hour the RMR’s deputy commanding officer, Maj Chuck Hamel, came storming down the stairs (next to the commissionaire’s desk) and yelled out at me, asking what my problem was and that I should get myself in order, I replied that I had been trying to do exactly that.”
Still annoyed, Hamel started to lecture Kwasiborski in front of the troops on the proper use of the chain of command and why I had not informed my direct commander. Not wanting to embarrass the officer corps, I stood silent, when out of the B Coy office Harry’s voice was heard, stating the fact that I had followed the chain and that the responsibility laid with him. A rather prolonged hush came over the armoury. Finally Chuck replied, ‘well done and carry on.’”
Kwasiborski, who was awarded the Star of Courage in 1993 for rescuing three men from a car crash, was happy to hear that, to put it mildly. “This not only reassured me but gave me greater respect for both Harry and Chuck, Harry for standing up for his men and Chuck for acknowledging an error. In short, Harry is a fine officer, he learned the in’s and out’s of our unit, first as a private then in logistics and administration and finally as a fully integrated junior/senior officer.”
All that time and dedication had its price, as Hall said in the Intercom in 20012. “I tried to balance family, civilian career and Regimental commitments, not always in that order. I took all three obligations very seriously and loved all three in different ways. I used to say to my (first) wife that I had a mistress and it was the Regiment. In many ways, from both a time and emotional perspective, it was true. As a lieutenant, (this) involved more training and more responsibility (since) at the time the Regiment was in a rebuilding cycle. The good news was I got to spend more time in the field with the boys practising our craft, the bad news it has a profound effect on my marriage.”
After taking his Infantry officer courses, Hall commanded an infantry platoon from 1980-81 as a lieutenant, then took his Combat Team Commanders Course. He was promoted to captain in 1981. “I commanded ‘B’ Coy from late 1982 to early 1985. After spending some time as adjutant I became the operations officers, as a major, in 1985. I was appointed deputy commanding officer in 1987, to 1989. In May of 1989 I took command of the Regiment from Chuck Hamel, so it was a relatively quick rise to command.”
Life in the Officers’ Mess was a bit more “subdued” than across the armoury, Hall said. “When I (commissioned) under LCol George Javornik, there were only a handful of officers, Chuck Hamel, Dennis Dalpe, Toby Glickman, Richard Garber, Frank Gufler, Karen Ford, to mention a few, and we were in a rebuilding mode.”
His transition was smooth because he had been a warrant officer and the courses he needed to take were relatively easy,” he said. “There was very little social life in the mess aside from Tuesday nights and Saturday lunch. The fact that Major Dave Peebles and Major Paul Barre were always there sharing their thoughts, experience and suggestions was of great comfort for me. As the rebuilding progressed the social life got better but it never really compared to the Sgt’s Mess – (that’s) just my personal opinion, which may have something to do with the differences in age and maturity.”
The numbers in both senior messes were a lot better when he took command on May 28, 1989. The officers were 22 and the senior NCOs, across the floor, had 24, including four MWOs: Tom Theall, Georges Gohier, Robbin McIntyre and Max Delpinto. The first three were future RSMs of the RMR – McIntyre had the job twice – while both Delpinto and McIntyre were later RSM of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal. Gohier and McIntyre were also RSM of 3 Field Engineer Regiment.
Finally, let us not forget John Cozak, who became RSM of the RMR in 1981, aged only 27. He was later twice RSM of the FMR, and of 2 Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. Both Cozak and Delpinto were the RSM of 34 Canadian Brigade Group. Can any other Canadian militia regiment boast such an outstanding record with its senior NCOs in the space of only 30 years?
Hall’s first term of command, from 1989-92, was very exciting, he said. “The Oka crisis, UN and NATO missions in ex-Yugoslavia, the annual Quebec area training exercises in Gagetown to train at unit, sub-unit and sub-sub unit levels with all the support and kit to do so.”
The RMR winning both the LGen SC Waters Trophy (for infantry small arms proficiency) and the Sir Casimir Gzowski Trophy (as the best infantry reserve unit in Canada) were big achievements. Hall also got the chance to command Battalion Vaudreuil, a full, composite infantry battalion composed of the RMR, Fusiliers St-Laurent and Fusiliers de Sherbrooke, at the SQFT militia concentrations in Gagetown in 1990 and 1991.
“I talked (later) to Gen Dallaire regarding that time – he was the commander of 5 CMBG in Valcartier – and he spoke very fondly of that time and the cooperation between the regulars and reserves.”
In 1996, Hall was asked to come back and command the RMR for a second time, which is did until 1999. He was only the fourth officer to command more than once, over the 100 years of the RMR’s existence. MGen Basil Price, the father of the RMR, commanded 1920-24, then 1927-29. BGen Victor Whitehead first commanded 1932-36, then 1940-41, overseas in Britain at the beginning of the Second World War. The RMR had mobilized in September, 1939. The third officer was LCol JE McKenna, who commanded 1924-27, then 1940-42 with the second battalion, during the war.
“(My) second tour (was) more difficult because of the times and the requirement to prove the unit’s viability. We were forced into the position of justifying our existence based on metrics that were questionable (at best) and ridiculous (at worst.) That was the biggest challenge but as per usual we came through with flying colours and of course the ice storm of ’98 with the Regiment providing much needed support locally (Westmount, NDG) and the “Triange Noir” in the Eastern Townships (was a highlight).
“(Without) the support from Richard Garber, George Petrolekas, Colin Robinson and John Shone it would have been an almost impossible task,” he added.
Hall, who worked at Air Canada from 1978 to 2006, retired as vice-president, Supply Chain Management. Since 2006, he’s had the same position with Bruce Power in Ontario. “I have two children, Darren, born in 1974 and Cynthia, born in 1979. My marriage to my first wife Colleen ended in 1997 and I married my current wife Anne in 2004. I have seven grandchildren, Leonard and Devon, and Samuel, Sarah, Dylan, Kayla and Adrianna.”
After finally retiring from the militia in 2002, after 33 years, Hall was appointed honorary lieutenant-colonel of the RMR in 2004. This was a honour, to be followed by a greater one in 2008 when he was named honorary colonel. He retired from that in May, 2013. Every militia unit has these two advisory positions, usually, but not always, filled by soldiers who enjoyed a long career in the unit climaxed by commanding that unit.
What did he do during those nine years as an honourary officer? Plenty. “Essentially the role of the Honoraries is to act as the guardian of the Regiment’s customs & traditions, provide advice to the CO, promote the Regiment and the military within the community, and support the greater Regimental Family,” said the current HLCol, LCol Colin Robinson.
Until recently, Hall enjoyed a double privilege: not only did he attend the annual Officers’ Mess dinner, he also got to go to the Sergeants’ Mess dinner. Overall, he was a member of all three of the RMR’s messes. How many can say that in the RMR over the past 100 years?
Looking back over the past 45 years, Hall said he “was always cognizant that my actions reflected on my Regiment, which helped drive me through many tough experiences. I learned long ago that it is not what you get from the unit it is what you give to the unit that counts – the unit to me was never a career, it was always a labour of love. I would like to believe that I learned something and matured as I progressed but also that I maintained certain values and qualities from when I began to today – a sense of humour, sense of duty and honour, respect for individuals, an open mind, never forgetting where I started, embracing the good role models and discarding/learning from the bad.”
Why did he serve for so long? “A couple of reasons. First and foremost my comrades, second was that as long as I was adding value I wanted to be there. This was hard on my family and probably ultimately cost me my first marriage, but I was drawn to the RMR and never really wanted to serve anywhere else, although I truly enjoyed working as an Instructor at the Command and Staff College in Kingston at Fort Frontenac, truly great experience made better by the fact that I was working with and for Chuck Hamel and later working with the Americans as the first Canadian Reserve Exchange Officer with the Command and General Staff College in Vermont and Fort Dix, with a quick sojourn to Fort Leavenworth to qualify as an instructor.”
Hall said he counts himself “truly fortunate to have come up through the ranks, I am very proud of the fact that I was a Senior NCO, having had the opportunity to participate on REFORGER Exercises in Germany with 1 R22eR, my United Nations experience as part of the first group of reservists to go on tour and on a tour that was marked with tragedy of the loss of nine comrades, the largest single loss of any UN Roto ever, but for me it was a huge life altering adventure all of which formed me into the soldier, husband, father and executive that I became.”
He understands the sacrifices being made “on a day to day basis by reservists, either when away on a mission or in your balancing of work, family and Regiment. I know it is not easy and I know it is not appreciated by those who have not walked in your shoes. Despite that, I don’t think I would have changed very much in how I have served or how I have lived my life. I regret not spending more time at the Regiment as an honorary and not having gotten out into the field like I used to love but I have tried to represent our interests as best I could. We have a great regiment with sound values, a strong history and great leadership in that we should all be proud. Ducimus!”
Editor’s note: Upon relinquishing his position as Honorary Colonel, Harry Hall was presented a unique parting gift of lifetime membership in all three of the RMR Messes (Officers’, WO’s & Sgts’, and Junior Ranks Club).