Mary Cole-Minett was 19 years old when she tried joining the army in 1939 to serve in the Second World War.
She was turned away because she had to be 21.
Two days later — with an angry father by her side still mad over her first attempt to try and serve in the war — Cole-Minett made a pledge with her best friend Flo Ellis to apply for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). They both got in.
According to Forces War Records, the WAAF was formed on June 28, 1939, to help women aid in the war effort and to help change the social status and attitudes of women at the time.
By 1943, the organization employed more than 180,000 women.
Born in 1919 in Liverpool, England, Cole-Minett still remembers the Air Force decision that would set a precedent for the rest of her life.
“I was mad at all of the people fighting. I didn’t have any idea at the time of what was going to happen,” Cole-Minett recalled.
“Me and Flo made the decision to help fight what we thought were these terrible people at the time, and that was that.”
Cole-Minett was the eldest of seven siblings in her family. She and her brother were the only two family siblings that served in the war.
During her four years with the WAAF, Cole-Minett helped to assemble, package and fix broken parachutes for pilots in the war.
She still remembers her day-to-day tasks while serving.
“I would go to the local airport to meet the guys coming back from their trips and fighting. I’d get all of the broken parachutes and take them back to the maintenance facility to fix them all up again.”
Photos of Cole-Minett and her friend Flo Ellis (Connor Trembley file)
Cole-Minett still recalls some of the sadder moments from the war, such as pilots not making it back home.
“Sometimes, the men wouldn’t come back after being on duty. You knew all the pilots and everybody. I guess it was kind of sad. Some of them you liked more than others when they came back.
“After the pilots returned, people would sometimes ask, ‘where’s Joe today?’ I guess he didn’t make it.’”
Even 70 years later, Cole-Minett remembers all of the familiar faces she’s kept in contact with over the years.
“I’ve managed to keep in with friends with pretty much everyone in that era. I think of different friends at different times, especially Flo Ellis. I remember her so well.”
Cole-Minett later joked that she’s pretty much outlived all her friends, including all her siblings.
After Remembrance Day, Cole-Minett said she will carry on plans she has already started to mark her 100th birthday next month.
“I’m going to have big piles of tea. The neighbours are all talking about giving me a party.”
“We have the nicest neighbours that you could meet anywhere in the world. All of the places I’ve lived, Kelowna’s the nicest.”
Cole-Minett is also expecting a birthday card from Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as part of the celebrations.