Today marks 50 years since women were allowed to join the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). Initially, women were integrated into the GDF on January 30, 1967, to function as a reserve unit.
The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) of the GDF was formed primarily to confront the problems of there being insufficient men to defend the Venezuela seizure of Ankoko Island in the Corentyne River on October 1966.
It was the first women’s corps to be established among the Anglophone Caribbean States.
Based on research, in that year of Guyana’s independence, the GDF had only just established its first battalion of fewer than 500 men, when it was forced to deploy troops to Eteringbang to confront Venezuela’s aggression. The army then resorted to recruiting women.
Captain Joan Granger and Officer Cadets Brenda Aaron, Clarissa Hookumchand and Hyacinth King-of the first company of Women’s Volunteer Corps, underwent a special one week orientation course at Atkinson Field subsequently renamed the GDF Training Wing, Base Camp Stephenson, Timehri, East Bank Demerara.
They were then joined by 56 other women taken in as recruits on February 6, 1967 (the WAC formation day) and underwent five weeks of training in drill, field craft, skill-at-arms, shooting, physical fitness at Atkinson Field.
They were formally inducted into the GDF at a parade on March 12, 1967 and were allowed to work in departments where their skills were required. Some of the female soldiers were given attachments and on the job training. Others were trained at the British Army Public Relations Department, the Army School of Catering and at the Women’s Royal Army Corps, all in the United Kingdom (UK).
To commemorate this milestone, GDF has planned several activities, commencing today, with a thanksgiving service at the National Cultural Centre. First Lady, Sandra Granger will deliver the feature address. The following day the WAC fiftieth anniversary medal presentation parade will be held at the Drill Square, Base Camp Ayanganna.
The GDF in a Facebook post said, “Through the 50 years, our military women have held various appointments across the force. They train side by side with their male counterparts and continue to impact the force’s development.”
Captain Joan Granger was the first Commanding Officer (CO) of the WAC. She served in the GDF for 18 years, retiring on May 17, 1985.
She died on June 8, 2003.
Captain Granger did her military service on a part time basis and made herself available to deal with disciplinary cases pro bono public, establishing the practice that offences committed by women soldiers should be heard by women officers.
By January 1, 1980, she was promoted to the rank of Major, a position she held until her retirement. During her regular service, she held the appointments of Staff Officer 2 (Logistics), Staff Officer 2 (Personnel Services) and CO, Catering Corps. She attended courses both locally and overseas, among these were Junior Staff Course in 1979; Messing Management, UK in 1979; and the Army Catering Corps (ACC) Catering Advisers Course, UK in 1981.
According to www.gdf.mil.gy, “It was as Co of the Catering Corps that she faced her greatest professional challenge. During the first half of the 1980s, Guyana’s economy was in depression, funding for the force was insufficient, imported food stuff was unavailable but, nevertheless, there had to be widespread deployment of troops and frequent field exercises. These conditions tested the resourcefulness of the force’s logistics system and the integrity of the small cadre cooks.”
It continued, “Joan Granger struggled to have women reservist accepted as regulars and to have their conditions of service equate to those of men. Later, although she had relinquished the appointment as CO WAC, she continued in the role of what some referred to as “Mother WAC” in the defence and protection of women soldiers.” Aaron hails from Friendship Village, East Coast Demerara and retired from GDF in August 1994. She was Officer Commanding (OC) of the Women’s Training Division and supervised training for both female soldiers and young women recruited to the Guyana Youth Corps (GYC).
During her tenure, Aaron was also appointed Officer Commanding the Headquarters Company; Executive Officer, Base Command Timehri; CO WAC from 1981-1983; and Staff Officer 2, Force Headquarters 1983-1994. In 1991, she was promoted to the rank Lieutenant Colonel, becoming the first woman to attain that rank in GDF and probably the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Aaron also underwent a number of professional courses in the UK and attained her Bachelors of Social Science Degree at the University of Guyana (UG).
She is also the recipient of several military medals.
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