U.K. vet recalls service during the Cold War

The journey began with a poster and a dare for Alexandra Hackett.

“My friend and I went to town on a Saturday and there was a big, free event for the young people,” she said. “And that’s where we saw the poster.”

It depicted a boy and girl serving in the army. With the words ‘Join the army. See the world,’ written across the picture.

“You know when you see something that jumps at you,” she said. “ That’s how I felt when I saw it. The poster begged us, ‘Join the army.’”

Hackett, 68, is a United Kingdom veteran who served the Women’s Royal Army Pay Corp. and NATO from 1963 to 1966. She was one of only three black women in the British Army.

“I felt tall when I first got into my uniform,” Hackett said. “It felt good.”

On Nov. 5, Hackett spoke to St. Luke Catholic School’s Grade 5 class and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School’s Grade 4 gifted students at the Toronto Public Library’s Shaw and College branch. She spoke about her role as a woman in the forces.

For the first year and half of her service, Hackett’s job at the WRAPC was to provide services for all the enlisted men. She gave money to the soldiers and their families. In 1965, she was transferred to Headquarters for the British Army in Germany. She worked there as the chief clerk, in charge of administration and payments.

“Those days women never went into combat,” Hackett said. “That was the purpose of recruiting women, so we can release the men to go into combat.”

For the past three years, Hackett has volunteered to speak to students about her experiences, through the Memory Project, an initiative of the Historica-Dominion Institute.

Alexander Herd, 35, is a project manager at the institute.

“(The Memory Project) is to engender within Canadians to become better educated about our history, our culture, our identity and our rights as citizens of this country,” Herd said. “Those things have been a premium emphasis on what our veterans have contributed to allow for us today, a free society.”

To this day, Hackett remembers her amazement when she first heard she would be serving her country.

“(My friend and I) didn’t know if we really wanted to go, but we dared each other to take the exam, like a fluke,” Hackett said.

The exam was for recruiting new soldiers, to see if they would qualify forarmy service.

“It was just something that (my friend and I) said ‘Let’s try it and see,’” Hackett remembered. “We wrote the exam and they told us to sit and wait,” she said. “A couple minutes later, the officer came to us and said, ‘You passed the test. You’re enlisted.’”