By Spencer McBride, The Guard –
Starting out in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) can be a daunting adventure for any new member, from the rigor of training and standards, to the alphabet soup of acronyms to learn. Today, there are numerous tools to help with the adjustment, as the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) all offer a wide range of support tools. However, this was not always the case for female members, and their experiences in the CAF were wide-ranging and interesting. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Airwomen’s Reunion is an opportunity for Airwomen and female aviators, both retired and still-serving, to gather and discuss their experiences in the RCAF, from WWII to today.
The RCAF Airwomen’s Reunion has its unofficial origins in 1988, when two former members, Diane White and Shirley Duff, met by chance at a department store and agreed to a lunch date. Their group of two kept growing, and now 30 years later, the biennial RCAF Airwomen’s reunions attract anywhere from 200 to 450 serving and retired airwomen, and give participants a chance to reminisce, discuss experiences in the CAF, and meet friends both old and new.
The next meeting of the group will be held this coming June in the NCR. To find out more about the event, we spoke with one of the organizers, Major (ret’d) Leah Mosher, who has a long history in the RCAF. Starting as a Supply Technician in 1973, she then took private flying lessons while working, and was selected in 1979 as one of the first women to take part in pilot training. She was one of the first three women to earn her wings, trailblazing a road for the thousands of airwomen now in the RCAF. We sat down with her to talk about what the RCAF Airwomen’s Reunion means to her.
GUARD: What motivated you to join the RCAF?
LEAH MOSHER: I joined in October 1973. Both my mother and father had been in the RCAF, and I was raised on Air Force Stations. I knew the lifestyle, and I wanted to travel, so it seemed like a wonderful choice. I was part of the Servicewomen in Non-Traditional Environments and Roles (SWINTER) trial project for pilots. We were in a “goldfish bowl”, and that put pressure on us.
G: The Airwomen Reunion seems like a great event. Can you describe the community for those who aren’t familiar with it?
LM: In 1951, the RCAF started actively recruiting women. This was a way to satisfy the increased need for personnel to work on the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) and Pine Tree sites. Many of the women stayed in touch after they left the RCAF. Then, in 1990, two members decided to hold a reunion, primarily for airwomen of the 1951-1967 era. It was very successful, and since then they have become a biennial event. A few years ago, membership was opened up to include airwomen who served from 1967 to the present. As well, there have been WW2 airwomen attendees. In fact, this year we have four female WW2 veterans registered for the Reunion. Now that we have opened up to more than one generation, it gives attendees better insight to the similarities and differences that the various generations faced.
G: Talking about generational differences sounds interesting. What other topics usually come up at the Reunion?
LM: A lot of talk centers on the change in policies over the years. In the 50s and 60s, the trades open to airwomen were very limited, in some cases women had to leave the RCAF if they got married and they definitely had to leave if they got pregnant. Many are amazed at the changes that have taken place (i.e., the trades that we were in, and to see maternity uniforms). As one of our committee members noted, the veterans of the 50s and 60s often don’t realize that they, in doing their part, paved the way for us to have the wonderful careers that we did. Personally, I’m also interested in military history, and talking to women who served during WWII and the 1951-67 era about their experiences is fascinating.
G: What aspect of the Reunion do you see as most valuable to attendees?
LM: Despite the differences in policies regarding an airwoman’s career, there are very significant similarities. Each generation formed strong friendships that have lasted for decades. We’ve enjoyed a unique experience and wonderful camaraderie that comes from going through boot camp and trade training, and serving in the military.
G: Are there any stand-out memories you have of the group that can highlight how important it is to you personally?
LM: I first started going to the reunions because my mother received invitations to the event. I asked the coordinator if I was eligible to go, and she said yes. The group had originally consisted of veterans of the years 1951 to 1967, but she welcomed the next generation. As well, there has usually been at least one WW2 female veteran there. This year, we have four WW2 veterans registered to attend. At our first reunion, Mom and I reconnected with a friend of ours, who we’d last seen in 1967. It was heart-warming to see my mom beam as she reminisced and got caught up with her friend.
I also talked to people who knew the same airwomen I’d met over the years, and we shared stories.
G: Could you walk us through the weekend? What’s in store for the attendees, scheduled events or casual conversation?
LM: Both. Although exact timings have not been finalized for all days, it follows this general format:
Friday, 7 June, 2019 – Registration during the day, then in the late afternoon the Meet and Greet starts, with a buffet meal and entertainment after that.
Saturday, 8 June, 2019 – Free time during the day, however we have organized a local outing from 1000-1230 hrs. A get-together for cocktails in the late afternoon, followed by a sit-down dinner and entertainment.
Sunday, 9 June, 2019 – A non-denominational church service in the morning, followed by brunch.
The deadline for registration is 1 March, 2019. If you are an ex airwoman or a currently serving Air Force woman and would like to send a letter or message of appreciation to the veterans attending our Reunion, please email them.
G: Any words of advice for women looking at joining the RCAF, or the CAF in general? LM: It can be a great career with lots of opportunities, but you have to want it for yourself, and not be doing it because you think it’s the right thing to do, or to prove a point. Believe in your abilities, because as long as you can do the job, you belong.
G: Thank you so much for your time!
LM: My pleasure!
You can meet Major (ret’d) Mosher and other airwomen at the RCAF Airwomen’s Reunion, 7-9 June, 2019 at the Marriott, 100 Kent Street, Ottawa. Register HERE, and learn more about the event on the association’s website.
This post is also available in: Français (French)