“You may not have worn the uniform and you may not have been recognised with medals and monuments, but you have stood for over 100 years, stoically and silently, supporting your spouses, praying for their safe return while keeping the faith back home” – Queen Dunbar, State President NSW, Australian War Widows.
War Widows Day 19th October
On the 19th of October, we came together to honour those widowed by war and Defence service and commemorated NSW’s first War Widows Day. We gathered to acknowledge and pay tribute to their sacrifices and those of their families.
That day was an opportunity to acknowledge the contribution and personal sacrifice made by the more than 15,000 surviving widows and widowers across NSW. The day also duly acknowledged the birthday of Mrs Jessie Vasey OBE CBE (1897-1966) founder of the Australian War Widows Guild in 1945.
We came together to thank widows, widowers and families for their commitment and dedication to their families and country. We came together to give thanks to the previous generations of women and men that came before us and paved the way for us to stand together, strong and united, with a vision of marking this War Widows Day for future generations to come.
A beautiful day honouring women and families
The public service at Anzac Memorial Hyde Park was attended by the Governor of New South Wales and AWWNSW Patron, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, Mr Dennis Wilson, past presidents of AWWNSW, current and former Board Members, War Widows and their families.
The service included speeches by Australian War Widows NSW Patron, Her Excellency, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC; State President, Queen Dunbar; and President of the Coogee-Randwick War Widows Guild, Margot Phillips; and Tricia Hobson, Board Chair, read a message from the Vasey family.
State President Queen Dunbar shared her personal reflections on becoming a war widow. She spoke about how her husband died as a result of his defence service, and how she found herself struggling to identify as a war widow.
She then spoke about how when she attended a contemporary War Widows forum, she met her tribe and found the most amazing group of women who have changed her life. Margot Phillips, whose husband served in World War Two, also spoke about her appreciation for AWWNSW and the wonderful friendships it has provided her.
Representing widows of her generation, she said, even though many war widows of the Second World War are no longer around today, she was pleased that they, and all other war widows, were receiving the recognition they so wholeheartedly deserve.
The service also included a musical tribute by Aaron Elvis Richardson who sang Fly Me to the Moon. He was later joined by the Australian Army Band to perform the Australian national anthem.
War Widow, Shirley McLaren, read The Ode of Remembrance, while the service finished with a member of the Australian Army Band playing the Last Post followed by a minute’s silence.
State President, Queen Dunbar, then led the official party in participating in the Star Ceremony, which was a form of personal tribute kindly offered by the Anzac Memorial in support of War Widows Day.
In the Hall of Remembrance, guests were invited to write the name of a war widow or widower on a star and cast it to honour and recognise their contribution and sacrifice in defence of Australia. Our State President led the ceremony by casting a star in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who herself was a war widow.
The stars were then collected and cremated, and the ashes will be carried on pilgrimages undertaken by history students to the battlefields on which Australians have fallen.
There were many emotions on display throughout the service. Queen Dunbar, Margot Phillips and Jess Taylor, who emceed the service, all fought back tears as they spoke of their late husbands.
But what was most evident on the day was that war widows are strong, resilient and incredibly supportive of one another.
We thank everyone for attending this inaugural event.
Thank you to the NSW Minister for Veterans and The Honourable David Elliot MP for also hosting a lovely reception at Parliament House.
We are incredibly thankful to NSW Government for recognising the importance of our War Widows and to have those recognised in perpetuity, in what is the first day that honours the significance of the sacrifices of veterans’ families.
It was a beautiful day honouring beautiful women and families.
War Widows Day was also marked with a commemorative limited-release wattle lapel pin.
Wattle is a symbol of Australian resilience, strength, remembrance, and reflection. This wattle was hand designed and drawn for AWWNSW by young design student Nidhi Bolar, for our 75th Anniversary in 2021. The wattle represents the spirit of the Australian people. It became a tradition during WW1 to press and send wattle to wounded soldiers, with fallen soldiers buried with sprigs of wattle.
Our wider community also supported War Widows Day through our ‘Buy a widow a coffee’ fundraising campaign. The generous donations contributed to our social connections program connecting widows and veterans’ families around NSW and Australia.
War widows have been part of the fabric of NSW, making a valuable contribution to our communities since World War One. While definitions of war widows have changed over time, one thing hasn’t, their sacrifices.
We have created a community of widows and veterans’ families that have helped so many, offering support, guidance and a group to lean on in a time of need. On War Widows Day we honour them. Their service. Their sacrifices.