Pioneer army woman willing to serve again
Yvonne Foster was the only woman among the almost 60 veterans represented at the National Memorial Service and Parade honouring military personnel who served in World Wars I and II.
The 62-year-old, who never served in either World War, joined the army in 1977 and was among the first set of females enlisted in the now-defunct Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Women’s Unit.
“I remember as a little girl in St Elizabeth growing up, I saw soldiers, and they were quite unique and disciplined, and I said, ‘Boy, when I grow up, I want to become a soldier’. Right after I left school, I had an aunt living in Manchester, and she said to me, ‘You know, I saw a publication in The Gleaner that they are recruiting female soldiers’,” Foster recounted following the parade at National Heroes Park yesterday.
She was successful in her entry test, which comprised reading to prove literacy, general knowledge, mathematics, and comprehension.
“It wasn’t hard because I was just coming out of school,” said the former student of Williamsfield Seventh-day Adventist Private School.
Foster, the youngest of seven girls, lost both parents at the tender age of seven and was raised later by her eldest sister, who was 21 at the time. Had her parents been alive, Foster said, she might not have entered the JDF. Although the composition of the army is evolving – with estimates gleaned earlier this year indicating that 20 per cent are women – the JDF remains a traditional bastion of machismo.
“They would have said, ‘No! No! No!’ That is too hard. They’re going to kill you, so don’t go,’” said Foster, presuming her parents’ reservations.
After leaving Newcastle, where she was trained, she served for 36 years and 99 days, exiting the military as warrant officer Class Two on May 20, 2013.
But her service to the military would not stop there.
“After retiring, I joined the Jamaica Legion for ex-soldiers, where I am presently the chair for the social committee, and I’m also on the committee for the Jamaica Legion Poppy Appeal, where we raise funds for the veterans at Curphey Home,” she said.
Foster said she was honoured to attend yesterday’s parade, at which wreaths were laid at the base of the cenotaph at National Heroes Park by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, among others, to pay tribute to the memory of the dead.
“We, as veterans, find the day quite remarkable because we respect those that went before us and paved the way,” she told The Gleaner.
Yesterday, she stood alongside her husband of 33 years, 65-year-old retired sergeant Dwight, whom she met in the army.
“If I had my life to live over again, I would do the same thing. The army shaped my life in a way that no other organisation could,” said a smiling Foster. “If they were calling back persons over 60 in the army, I wouldn’t hesitate. The army is just the place to be.”