With a tear rolling down his cheek, Elise Lepine’s father bid her farewell with “Be good” as she headed off from their Cloverdale dairy farm to join the Canadian Army.
“I joined on Oct. 1, 1952,” Elsie Bevan explained.
It was during her time in the military that she met her husband and together they were stationed around Canada (Comox, Vancouver, Kamloops, north of Montreal, and Ontario) as well as Tacoma, Wash., and Duluth, Minn.
Bevan is one of the women of Canada who heeded the call when their country needed them.
She served as a Royal Canadian Air Force corporal during the Cold War, working in classified environments at a time when international tensions were running high.
“The first thing we were taught was ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ So you kept your mouth shut absolutely,” Bevan said.
She is a resident of Chartwell Renaissance Retirement Residence in Willoughby and is one of the Chartwell residents the seniors facility company is honouring for Remembrance Day.
“Remembrance Day allows us to recognize all of the men and women who have sacrificed so much in the name of justice and liberty. Without them, we would not have the country we have today; the peaceful, welcoming place we are so proud to call home,” said Brent Binions, president and CEO. “I know I speak for everyone at Chartwell in expressing gratitude and appreciation for their courage and devotion.”
Serving on home soil, the threat felt no less real. Bevan would awake from terrifying dreams of being at work facing an imminent Russian invasion.
“One time, there was some secret information that had to be passed on, and I had a briefcase that was chained to my arm with a key to take it where it was sent off,” she said.
The Cold War was a period of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945 to 1990.
But her service, from 1952 to May 1957 (curtailed with the birth of her first of four children) was one of the best times of her life.
“Absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was a privilege to serve.”
Bevan didn’t start out wanting to join the military. She was fascinated with the massive window displays at the Woodwards and applied to work there after finishing school at Lord Tweedsmuir High School.
“They said ‘We hired women during the [Second World] war, but now we only hire men’,” Bevan explained.
Elsie was working on the large family dairy farm on Halls Prairie Road three miles north of Cloverdale.
“I was the most muscled girl in Cloverdale,” she joked. “We shipped six to 800 pounds [of milk] per day.”
Bevan took the advice of her sister.
“My sister said ‘Why don’t you join the military and see the world?’” Bevan explained.
She asked her mom about joining the navy and was shot down. She asked about joining the army and her mom reluctantly conceded.
Starting with their involvement in the First World War, Canadian women changed the face of the national military forever. Women took on non-traditional roles and excelled, side by side with military men.
“We have a desire to serve,” the 87-year-old Bevan said. “Women pour themselves out.”