Veteran women celebrate International Women’s Day with high tea and stories of courage


By Spencer McBride, The Guard

The International Women’s Day High Tea held at the Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre in Ottawa honoured the veteran women 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 Centre’s residents, Edith Goodspeed, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in April 2019, began her training to become a nurse at 18. She joined the Nursing Sisters at 21. Helped by her daughter, Jane 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.

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 veteran women 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.

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 woman to become an Infantry Officer in the Canadian Army, joining the Royal 22e Régiment in 1990.

Maj (ret’d) Perron believes that events like this one are necessary, as recognition of veteran women’s accomplishments is still lacking in society. 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 Smith, 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.

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