Boys' Brigade veteran George Stokes will celebrate sixty years of service to the organisation alongside his 90th birthday by hosting a reunion this May.
George’s Penarth home is a short walk from Albert Road Methodist Church, where youngsters between 7-18 from the 1st Penarth Boy’s Brigade Company have gathered since 1948.
But his relationship with the brigade began far away from this cosy seaside town. George was 13 and living in Warwickshire when his mother died. As an orphan he was sent to live with his grandmother in Birmingham.
“I was a very angry little boy. I didn’t like the world and I particularly didn’t like Birmingham,” said George. “I had a young uncle who came to see me and took me to a local Methodist Church where there was a Boys' Brigade group.
“The last thing I wanted to do was join anything, I went very reluctantly. But then I got friendly with one or two people. It was really thanks to the captain and the officers in that company that I got at all interested.”
From a slow start George went on to captain many brigades across Britain, before becoming general secretary of the boy’s club for Wales in the 1970s.
At 19 years old he joined the army and found his leadership skills were in demand. “As I moved round with the army if there was a company in the area I offered to help,” he said. “My commander was an ex-member of the boy’s brigade and he was happy for me to do that.”
But George’s fondest memories come from his time in Hong Kong, where he set up the first Chinese Boy’s Brigade. At the time he never believed his involvement with the organization would take him to the Far East.
While George was living in London with his wife and family he saw an exhibition showing pictures of Chinese refugees in Hong-Kong.
“In the 1960s a lot of people wanted to leave China and they went to Hong Kong,” said George. “There wasn’t enough space for them, some of the estates were very rough. I said to a minister friend ‘I’d love to go to Hong Kong”.
Six months later George had a call from Janet Lacey, secretary for International Church Aid, now named Christian Aid. They offered him a missionary opportunity in the area.
“I had to ask my wife first,” said George. “I asked her in the middle of the nursery where she worked. At the time she was expecting our third boy and she said ‘I’d like to give birth first”.
George’s family made the journey to Hong Kong by sea, which took six months, when his youngest son was three months old. They lived there for five years and during this time George started the first boys' brigade in Hong Kong in Epworth Village, Wanchai.
The group, which offered a life-line to young Asian boys at the time, is still running today and five years ago George went back to meet its current members. It proved popular and now there are 325 boys' brigade companies across Hong Kong.
“When China took over Hong Kong we expected them to be banned but they continued,” said George. “When I went back I couldn’t recall them as boys but they remembered me.”
George’s reunion, which will take place on April 5 at Albert Road Methodist Church, will bring together former members of the boy’s brigade in Penarth to reminisce and share memories.