This article follows my previous article, “Listen well, my friend. Collectively, we are a voice to be heard.” The following story is an extract from an information folder given to members of the Australian War Widows’ Guild when joining.
JESSIE MARY VASEY, OBE, CBE – 1897-1966.
“Yet it is no mean destiny to be called upon to go on for a man who laid down his life, as Christ did, to save mankind from the power of the Beast”.
These are the words spoken by the founder of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia, Jessie Mary Vasey, after the death of her husband Major General George Vasey in early 1945. With her natural ability as a leader, her charm and intellect, she gathered around her a group of talented, able and determined women to start a craft guild which taught weaving and other handicrafts to members so that they could augment their pitifully inadequate pensions. So was the beginning of a powerful lobby group which is consulted by Governments on all matters concerning war widows today.
War Widows of World War 1 and World War 2 needed not only financial help, their pensions were meager, but they were in many ways a forgotten group. Everyone wanted to forget the war. The Guild provided companionship, counseling, child-minding and above all an environment of mutual support where members could relax and feel secure.
As Guilds were established in all States the organization became more powerful and men in Government and Welfare reluctantly recognized its political importance. Mrs Vasey worried about accommodation available to members, especially the older women, and by 1954 the Guild was in a position to take advantage of the Aged Persons Home Act and go on to control an empire of property. Each State made its own arrangements to cater for members’ needs, reacting in different ways but making housing their priority.
Today there are over 120,000 war widows. It is Jessie Mary Vasey, and the women she inspired to work with her, whom they must thank for the security they now enjoy.
I hope you have enjoyed this inspiring story about an Australian woman whose strong spirit of determination, followed by her actions led to assistance, companionship and security, for thousands of Australian women whose husbands paid the ultimate price for the good of their country. You will find lots of information about Australia on www.australiaday.gov.au as we approach our National Day of Celebration, Australia Day on 26th January, 2007.
To be eligible for membership of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia, a widow must be designated “War Widow” by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, (which means that her husband’s death has been accepted as due to war causes), re-married War Widows or a Defence Service Widow in receipt of a compensation from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.