At the end of WW2, 27,000 Australian servicemen had died, leaving 10,000 Australian women widowed. While grappling with the loss of their partners, many war widows were left to struggle making ends meet.
Mrs Jessie Vasey OBE CBE, wanted to support these women and founded the New South Wales War Widows’ Craft Guild. Her aim was to create a self-help organisation that supported women widowed by war – helping them come to terms with their loss, while also creating opportunities to support themselves and their children financially.
The Guild taught war widows a craft or skill that they could then sell to supplement their low-wage pension, while also creating a safe space to come together and connect over shared experiences.
Since the very beginning, the Guild has devoted time, resources and funds to improving war widows’ lives. Through advocacy, lobbying and pure determination, the organisation has successfully helped thousands of widows to live fulfilling lives – despite the sacrifices they and their families made for our country.
The Guild, now known as Australian War Widows NSW (AWWNSW), today offers widows and veterans’ families a broad range of social connection and support services. Although it originated as a craft group, it was destined to become much more than that.
Key policy achievements of AWWNSW:
- Introduction of the War Widows’ Pension (tax-free and indexed to the CPI)
- Introduction of the Domestic Allowance
- Introduction of the Income Support Supplement
- Health and medical entitlement
- Concessions for transport, water and council rates and vehicle registration.
“We all belong to each other. We all need each other. It is in serving each other and in sacrificing for our common good that we are finding our true life.”
– King George VI (extract from 1941 Christmas message)
Our founder – Mrs Jessie Vasey CBE OBE
AWWNSW was founded by Mrs Jessie Mary Vasey CBE OBE – a determined and remarkable woman. Jessie’s husband, Major General Vassey, first drew her attention to the plight of war widows and together they dreamed of finding ways to help them once World War II ended.
When General Vasey died in an air crash towards the end of the war, Jessie found herself a war widow – and felt the desperate situation of women widowed through war even more deeply.
She overcame her despair to become the inspiration that helped heal so many other widows. She spent the rest of her life in pursuit of her vision – bringing war widows together to advocate for themselves with one unified voice.
Jessie Vasey was the President of the Guild from 1945 until her death in 1966. She left behind an incredible legacy that has helped so many war widows and members of defence families for over 70 years.
Read more about Jessie’s inspiring story in our history book, No Peacetime Cinderella, available on our online store.
The meaning behind the war widows’ badge
Mrs Jessie Vasey CBE OBE developed a badge that widows could wear proudly – no matter their religion, beliefs or background. The badge proudly displayed a kookaburra – and would later become our organisation’s logo.
The kookaburra is known for being an industrious, yet cheerful, creature. Fearless and aggressive in the defence of their territory and their family. Much like the widows Jessie Vasey helped.
The kookaburra’s unique laugh was something Jessie hoped to bring about for AWWNSW members – helping them to find joy after sadness and grief.
The kookaburra was also the mascot of the 7th Division of the 2nd AIF, commanded by Mrs Vasey’s husband, Major-General Vasey.