Brandon veteran one of the first women to serve in Canadian Forces

·8 min read

A special ceremony at the Dinsdale Personal Care Home today will spotlight Canadian Women’s Army Corps veteran Irene Hogeland, a pioneer and one of the first women to serve in the Canadian Forces.

Hogeland (nee. Turner) became a trailblazer during the Second World War after she enlisted in the first-ever Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), established in 1941.

Hogeland and her husband Mel served in the Second World War from the ages of 18 to 21.

It was an honour and a privilege, she said.

Hogeland was born and raised on a farm northwest of Moose Jaw, Sask. She moved to town at 16 after finding a job, located in the same building as an army recruiting office.

Every day recruiters would stop her to ask when she would join the army.

Her older brother had already joined the Air Force, another was in the army, and her younger brother was waiting for his 18th birthday to enlist.

Hogeland said she was inspired to join the Canadian Forces out of a patriotic duty to her country, and she had her heart set on the Air Force, partially because she loved the blue uniform.

Hogeland enlisted in the Air Force on Aug. 18, 1943, after she turned 18.

While her parents took pride in their children serving their country, they also felt anxious their children would never return home.

“It was a constant worry for Mom and Dad,” Hogeland said.

The stress was exacerbated by poor communication and the monthslong waiting for letters to reach family members.

Hogeland said her parents were proud their children had joined the Armed Forces — a sentiment that was not always popular at the time. Some parents would not allow their daughters to enlist because it was believed the army was an unsuitable place for women.

Hogeland took her first train trip to the military depot in Regina where she enlisted as a private with the CWAC. From there she was sent to Vermillion, Alta., for four weeks of basic training.

Between 1941 and 1946, more than 21,000 Canadian women enlisted in the CWAC in strictly non-combatant roles. The women soldiers worked as office personnel, dental and medical technicians, telephone operators, secretaries, clerks, vehicle drivers, communications, drafting and other military non-combat jobs.

After completing her training, Hogeland returned to Regina and waited to see where she would be posted. She was eventually sent to the National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa.

“It was exciting,” Hogeland said.

Her first assignment in Canada’s capital was serving as a runner in the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps.

Hogeland soon received a promotion to the Department of Movement and Control; the service was responsible for meeting soldiers returning from Europe at ports in Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and New York City. Hogeland was charged with dispatching soldiers across the country to their respective depots.

While posted in Ottawa, Hogeland was eventually promoted to sergeant.

One of her proudest moments of service was being selected for the Honour Guard at Canada’s National War Memorial, where French Gen. Charles de Gaulle laid a wreath at the base of the monument.

“He was a tall man, about six feet. We lined up going to the cenotaph and he walked in. You had to look up to him,” Hogeland said. She added he took the time to introduce himself to the Honour Guard through a translator.

“He spoke very kindly.”

It was an amazing honour to participate in the event, she added, because there were so many different people who could have been chosen.

Her busiest time was at the end of the Second World War; troops returned from overseas and Hogeland’s role in the Department of Movement and Control was kicked into overdrive helping soldiers return home.

Once the war ended authorities deemed women’s services no longer necessary. Hogeland said she and many other women were disappointed by the decision because they wanted to remain in the military.

“I felt always patriotic,” Hogeland said.

Hogeland received her discharge papers at that time and reluctantly returned to Moose Jaw as the CWAC disbanded in September 1946.

Back in Moose Jaw, Hogeland attended business college at the age of 21 and went on to meet her husband — a veteran and Brandonite named Mel Hogeland.

Mel enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1943 after turning 18. He completed basic training as a Gunner with the Royal Canadian Artillery at the Canadian Artillery Training Centre at CFB Shilo. He was shipped off to Greenwich on the Empress of Scotland in June 1944 to complete additional training with the Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Unit in Southern England.

He was later drafted by the Royal Canadian Artillery and was sent to a camp for the 1st Battalion Rocky Mountain Rangers, known as the Canadian Infantry Training Unit, in North Yorkshire.

After three weeks of training, Mel was transferred to the 1st Battalion Black Watch Royal Highland Regiment of Canada as a private.

He went on to fight in France, eventually reaching the frontlines on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium on Oct. 8, 1944, for the Battle of Scheldt — a critical and bloody campaign fought by Canadian soldiers for the liberation of the Netherlands.

Mel was wounded by German artillery shrapnel on the right side of his face. He quickly covered his face with field dressing and when it was safe, he was transported to hospital in Antwerp, Belgium, for surgery on a compound fracture on his lower jawbone and pharynx lacerations.

The Battle of Scheldt continued for five more days and resulted in the eventual withdrawal of Canadian troops. The battle came at a horrendous price; 66 men killed, 36 missing and 91 wounded. Oct. 13 would become known as Black Friday for the Canadian Infantry.

On Oct. 15, Mel’s mom received word her son had been injured and it would not be until Oct. 31 she would receive a letter from the 19-year-old detailing his injuries.

He would eventually be discharged from hospital and in January 1945 was sent to the Canadian Infantry Training Regiment in Aldershot. He was preparing to return to active duty but was not mobilized to action by the time victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945.

In March 1946, he arrived back in Canada and returned to Brandon the following May.

Hogeland said they often wonder if he was one of the thousands of soldiers whose paperwork she was responsible for through her job in Ottawa.

Mel decided to head out across Canada looking for work, dying his green army uniform brown and setting off on a motorcycle for the west coast.

He did not make it far though, and found work on the farm owned by Hogeland’s family.

Hogeland and Mel married in 1947. They had three daughters and celebrated 63 years of marriage before Mel’s death in 2010.

They rarely spoke of the war.

Upon retirement from military service Hogeland connected with fellow women soldiers during CWAC reunions in Brandon. She also attended reunions in Winnipeg and Toronto.

While it was exciting to meet fellow CWAC veterans, she said, it was also disappointing because there were very few in the area even though thousands had joined the army in the Second World War.

She enjoyed connecting with women who had a similar experience, even if they did not work together during the Second World War.

“We never fought together but we all had the same memories,” Hogeland said. “I never met any of them in the army, and there were hundreds of us. It was so, so strange and disappointing.”

She wishes she could have reconnected with some of the other women she served with during the reunions but it was not to be — instead, she formed new friendships with other women who had similar experiences.

She added in Brandon she connected with other veterans through the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #3.

Hogeland was not able to become an official legion member initially because she was a woman, forcing her to join the Ladies Auxiliary instead.

It’s important to share stories of the war to ensure the knowledge is passed down on to different generations. She takes pride in sharing her story and hopes others will help honour veterans and the impact they have had in the country.

Everyone can help preserve these memories so people can better understand the impact women had on the military and the role they had in the Second World War, she said.

It’s surreal to be part of the Dinsdale Personal Care Home event, Hogeland said, because for many years women were not typically included in Remembrance Day ceremonies.

“Nov. 11 is a difficult day,” Hogeland said. “As I get older, there are fewer Second World War veterans in the community to honour and to share their stories.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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