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Female Veterans Celebrate International Women’s Day with High Tea and Stories of Courage

By Spencer McBride, The Guard –

International Women’s Day is an important event at the Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre, as it provides the community a perfect opportunity to recognize the contributions of so many of the female veterans living there. Held this year on 5 March, the International Women’s Day High Tea honoured the female veterans of World War II and the Korean War, and featured gifts of flowers and chocolates, coffee, sandwiches and of course, a high tea service.

“The event is meant to recognize those who have spent a long time feeling like they did not deserve recognition,” said Sara Francis, the Centre’s Development Coordinator, one of the event’s organizers. “It helps people reflect on what they accomplished, and understand the importance of their service.”

Edith Goodspeed, with Daughter Maureen

Speaking to some of the women in attendance, the stories they tell speak to that significance. Edith Goodspeed, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in April 2019, began her training to become a nurse at 18, and joined the Nursing Sisters at 21. Helped by her daughter, Maureen Goodspeed, in recounting her story, she spoke about arriving in England in 1943, and helping the soldiers on bedrest get back on their feet. “I was always happy to help them, our boys were wonderful.” Her daughter interjected, saying “Of course you think that, you married one of them!”

Indeed, Edith met her future husband, Donald Goodspeed, at the hospital where she worked, and they were married only six weeks after their first meeting. She claims to have loved him as soon as she tasted his excellent vegetable soup. “I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight,” she laughed, “it was love at first soup!”

She is a very humble woman, and when asked about the contributions she made to the war effort, she talks mostly about the contributions of the soldiers. As her daughter reminded her though, the soldiers wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much without her help. At the time, Edith never gave a thought to being recognized for her efforts, being too focused on the crucial nursing work that often stretched into a 24/7 operation. It could be dangerous too, and Edith recalls how many near bombing misses there were near the end of the war. She still remembers one particularly close call, where a soldier ran into her tent, and shouted at her: “Get down, Sister!” She lay on the floor seconds before shrapnel started whizzing overhead. When asked if her great efforts and years of service helped contribute to the place of women in modern society, she said simply, “Well I hope so!”

Deputy Minister of the Department of National Defence, Jody Thomas

The speakers at the High Tea event confirmed her hopes. Deputy Minister Jody Thomas delivered a speech, addressing all the other women like Edith. “You women veterans showed us, and the world, that women can do anything. Women like me are in the jobs that we are in today because of you.” Speaking about her own time in the Royal Canadian Navy, she recalled the challenges she, like female veterans of earlier generations, had faced in trying to receive equal treatment, from limited professional options to sexist colleagues. But she also spoke about how attitudes had evolved, how the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) had improved their approach to women, and how much the female veterans of WWII and the Korean War had done to Mrs. Thomas said, “and how they get things done… We could not have done it without you.”

One of the event’s initiators, Major (retired) Sandra Perron, also spoke about the importance of recognizing the veterans. Maj (ret’d) Perron was the first female Infantry Officer in the Canadian Army, joining the Royal 22e Régiment in 1990 and serving on a peacekeeping mission in former Yugoslavia. She is now on the Board of Directors at the Perley Rideau, and counts this event as one of her favourite times of the year.

Major (retired) Sandra Perron

Maj (ret’d) Perron believes that events like this one are necessary, as recognition of female veterans’ accomplishments is still lacking in society. “Women veterans are often invisible. They are invisible in our textbooks, at the [Royal] Canadian Mint, and online.” She pointed out to numerous women in the crowd for their remarkable feats, including Doris Jenkins, who had worked as a Repair Mechanic overseas during WWII, Jessie Chenevert, who had risen to become a Director of Nursing during the same period, and of course Edith.

Asked what inspired her to create an event that gave these women that recognition, she recounted, “I deliver talks sometimes at schools, for children in grades three and four. I will be standing at the front, in full military gear, with medals on my chest, and they will still all be waiting for ‘Major Perron’ to arrive, never expecting a woman.” Changing societal perception of what roles women can serve in the CAF is a large part of what keeps her motivated.

“Recognition like this puts women at the forefront, and that is where they can be mentors to each other, and support each other.”  Finally, she thanked Mrs. Thomas for her attendance, “The most important message to the Defence Community is to keep supporting events like these, because recognizing each other like this is the best way for us to grow stronger together.”

The International Women’s Day High Tea also helps collect funds for the Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre, both through silent auctions and the sponsorship of Remembrance Poppy Shawls for the women vets living at the Centre. To support the program, you can learn more about the program and how to sponsor the shawls on their website, or purchase Maj (ret’d) Perron’s memoir about her time in the CAF, Out Standing in the Field.

The event ended with Maj (ret’d) Perron’s praise of the performances from the Canadian Military Wives Choir Ottawa and the Army Voices Choir, a final congratulations to the female veterans for their service, and an invitation to all to join them at the Centre again next year, 3 March 2020, for the third annual International Women’s Day High Tea at the Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre.

Photos courtesy of Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre staff

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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