War Widows Guild members learning basketry skills – 1948

The National War Widows’ Guild represents the interests of 61 500 recognised war widows throughout Australia. The War Widows’ Craft Guild was founded by Mrs Jessie Mary Vasey, OBE, CBE (1897 – 1966) in 1946. Mrs. Jessie Vasey was the widow of Major General George Vasey CB, CBE, DSO (1895 – 1945). The organisation was founded in response to a lack of government support and recognition for widows and families following World War I and II. The organisation has continued to support and give a voice to war widows’ since, at both State and National level, as well as providing companionship and a supportive community for war widows.

The Guild began in Victoria and was founded by Mrs Jessie Mary Vasey C.B.E. Her husband, Major General Vasey CB CBE DSO & Bar was on leave in 1945 and called on the widow of one of his fallen men. He was appalled at the living conditions of war widows and decided that after peace was declared it would be his intent to fight for better compensation for war widows. In an ironic twist of fate when he left to return to the front, his plane went down. Mrs Jessie Vasey took it upon herself to take up the banner and remind the Government of their promise made to the men who enlisted, that their wives and orphans would be cared for.

Throughout the early years Mrs Jessie Vasey campaigned tirelessly to improve the lot of war widows.  “Our first job is to ask the powers-that-be for decent compensation for the family of the dead servicemen and our second is to put the widow back on her feet,” Mrs Vasey said.

Much of the Guild’s activities since 1946 has been devoted to improving the war widows’ lot in life, succeeding in gaining a number of entitlements for its members: The War Widows’ Pension, tax-free and indexed to the CPI; the Domestic Allowance; Income Support Supplement and health and medical entitlements.

Other successes have come in the form of concessions such as those for transport, water and council rates .

Today the Guild is still advocating and fighting for the protection of war widows’ benefits.