Ottawa

Female war veterans share their experiences ahead of annual soirée

The annual "Take A Veteran To Dinner Night" allows the public to treat veterans and their partners to dinner — and tonight, the focus will be on female war veterans. CBC Radio's All In A Day spoke to two of them.

Sandra Perron and Connie Mooney will be part of the annual 'Take A Veteran To Dinner Night' on Sunday

Sandra Perron, left, and Connie Mooney, right, are two of Canada's veterans who'll be taken out to dinner in honour of their service. They spoke about their experience with CBC Radio's All In A Day last week. (Tobin Kelly)

Sandra Perron made military history when she became the first female infantry officer in Canada.

Connie Mooney served the country seven decades ago in the Second World War.

They're two of Canada's female war veterans who'll be treated to a meal Sunday evening at Tudor Hall for the annual "Take A Veteran To Dinner Night."

They were also both guests on CBC Radio's All In A Day last week.

Mooney, 97, was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force's women's auxiliary, serving in bomber command.

Perron did two peace-keeping missions in the former Yugoslavia and earned a commendation for exceptional service.

She's also the author of Out Standing In The Field, a memoir which outlined her experiences in the armed forces — experiences that included sexual assault and harassment.

Here's part of their conversation with All In A Day host Alan Neal.

Connie Mooney served Canada in the Second World War more than seven decades ago. (Juno Beach Centre/YouTube)

Neal: You were in 'bomber command' stationed in Yorkshire, England. Tell me what you were doing there.

Mooney: When I first landed there, they looked at me — a physical trainee — and they said, "Well can you do anything else?" I said, "Well, I can drive a truck." And they said, "OK."

So I did both jobs. It was called a telecommunications van. It was full of radio equipment. And I took one other person with me each time I went out. And she was the operator. I was really just the driver. She would go to the OP centre, get a sealed envelope telling us where to go ... We would drive out to where the bombers were stationed and park nearby. And as the bombers headed to Germany she would write down everything the ground said to the pilot and the pilot said to the ground, until they were out of distance. And we just waited until they returned. 

It was quite a different story coming back. Not a lot of chit-chat. Some were wounded. That wasn't the happy time.

Neal: Sandra, what's going through your mind when you hear these stories?

Perron: I can listen to this all day. I'm in awe of the history. And this is the type of story we hear at "Take A Veteran To Dinner." I find it so inspiring, because people like Connie — they are the ones that paved the road for women like me to serve in combat. They're our pioneers. Really, I'm in awe. I'm speechless.

Sandra Perron is the author of Out Standing In The Field — a memoir about her experiences as Canada's first female infantry officer. (Courtesy of Sandra Perron)

Neal: Sandra, at the time [during the Second World War] PTSD was not being diagnosed in that same way. I wonder, when you talk about the soldiers today, if those services are still lacking. Are there still gaps in the system? 

'Spend one night at the Perley and hear the screams coming from our veterans that are reliving and the nightmares and it'll give you goose bumps.' - Sandra Perron

Perron: I think we're deploying tremendous efforts to close those gaps. There's still a lot we don't know with regards to PTSD. One thing I know for sure is dinners like this one support those outreach programs that help veterans [and] make sure they stay off the street.

Transitioning between military and the civilian life is a very vulnerable period in a service person's life ... I work at the Perley-Rideau and when I hear these stories from back then, I realize the importance of centres like that, [centres] that provide a soft landing for our veterans.

Because if anybody doesn't believe that these veterans need special care in their retirement, all they have to do is go spend one night at the Perley and hear the screams coming from our veterans that are reliving the nightmares. It'll give you goose bumps, and you will be committed to making sure they stay off street and [get] into a home they deserve.