War Widows’ Guild commemorates 70 years supporting and advocating for war widows

In this guest post, Many Hearts, One Voice author Melinda Tognini shares the importance of remembering the women widowed by war and the achievements that transformed grief into activism.

Think of commemorative events such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, and you probably recall the men who served, remember the ones who failed to return home. Often forgotten, though, are the widows of these men, even though they, too, have been impacted by the consequences of war.

While many celebrated the end of the Second World War in 1945, thousands of war widows were left grieving the loss of their husbands and wondering what the future held for them. The answer came in the form of the War Widows’ Guild, founded by Jessie Vasey in November 1945, and the following year in Western Australia: 70 years ago, this month.

Established by war widows to support others in similar circumstances, the Guild offered valuable social and emotional support, as well as becoming a powerful lobby group. They raised community awareness of their plight, and petitioned government for improved pensions, education and medical care. Many of the benefits war widows have today are arguably the result of the determination and tenacity of those early members, as well as the ongoing advocacy of the Guild today.

rose-heath-2To commemorate the 70th anniversary, members of the War Widows’ Guild; representatives from the armed forces and ex-service organisations; the State Governor, Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AC; and other supporters will gather at the Flame of Remembrance for a wreath laying service at 11 am on Monday 21 November 2016.

One of those attending the service will be David Heath, whose mother, Rose Heath, joined the Guild soon after it began and served as manageress of the Esplanade Kiosk. These tea rooms were located on the corner of The Esplanade and Barrack Street, and was operated by the war widows from 1949 to 1963. The building was demolished brick-by-brick to make way for Elizabeth Quay, but has since been rebuilt and recently opened as the Isle of Voyage restaurant.

David Heath thinks he was about eight when his mother became involved in the Guild. He says, ‘I think it must have had an enormous impact in terms of giving her a fair bit of support when it was very much needed. Financial support, but also moral support. I think it must have helped her a great deal in terms of the managerial responsibilities and growing into a job like that.’

Current state president, Mrs Jan McLeod, acknowledges the work of both past and present members. ‘Together we have fought for recognition, public acceptance of our lost loved ones, for subsidised health care and affordable housing.’

She adds, ‘The Guild is also realistic to know that with declining membership we have to be seen to be moving forward. We are an organisation too rich in history not to evolve into the future, and by listening to new needs we will be able to continue to support and advocate for war widows and those we embrace.’

The War Widows’ Guild commemorative service is open to members of the public, so if you’re in Kings Park on Monday, please pause at the Flame of Remembrance to acknowledge the past and ongoing work of the War Widows’ Guild in Western Australia.

Books discussed
Many Hearts, One Voice: The story of the War Widows' Guild in Western Australia

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