Page 1999 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 28 June 2023

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recent years led a transformation of the council’s remit to specifically stipulate the membership and representation of veterans’ families.

The forging of community through unthinkable grief is at the very heart of War Widows Day. We commemorate War Widows Day on 19 October. This is the birthday of Mrs Jessie Vasey. In 1945, following the death of her husband in active service, Jessie Vasey founded the War Widows Guild of Australia, now called Australian War Widows. Sadly, it had been Jessie Vasey’s intention to establish this organisation with her husband, Major General George Alan Vasey. While on leave in 1945, Major General Vasey called on the widow of one his men and was appalled at her living conditions. It was Major General Vasey’s wish that, upon his return from the battlefields, he, with the help of his wife, would look after the families of the men who were killed while serving with him.

From its inception, the War Widows Guild stitched together a community through the formation of craft groups. The groups thread together the satisfaction of creativity and companionship with the imperative and means to supplement the small compensatory pension for war widows at that time. Filled with a determination for every war widow to receive adequate monetary compensation for a dignified standard of living, the War Widows Guild was instrumental in elevating Australia’s social contract with war widows.

In her 1986 book, No mean destiny–the story of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia 1945-85, Mavis Thorpe Clark tracks the self-driven advancement from craft guild to powerful lobby group automatically consulted by governments on all matters concerning war widows. Today, Australian War Widows advocates for all war windows from all conflicts. Across the nation, local branches of Australian War Widows work assiduously to make representations and advocate to government on a range of issues for war widows, including entitlements, recognition and contemporary issues for the families of veterans.

Reflecting on the far-reaching impact of this national treasure, the ACT is proud to join with New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia in recognising War Widows Day. For the at least 726 war widows in the ACT, Australian War Widows ACT is a dedicated friend. Our local branch looks after the welfare of war widows and their children, watching over and protecting their interests. Australian War Widows ACT is concerned with war widows’ entitlements and provides information, advice and companionship to its members. Members take part in regular social gatherings and receive information regularly through their newsletter.

I would like to express the gratitude of the ACT government to Australian War Widows ACT president, Robynne Mitchell, for her tireless work for the organisation and its members. I mentioned before that, because of Australian War Widows ACT, our city is home to the first reported permanent monument to the strength, resilience and companionship of war widows. Australian War Widows ACT commissioned artist Ruth Oliphant in the design and creation of the stained glass window at the Canberra Services Club. The woman in the embrace of the kookaburra speaks to the support that Australian War Widows has provided to women. The kookaburra is tribute to the war widows’ emblem, on which Mrs Vasey remarked:


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