“Yet it is no mean destiny to be called upon to go on for a man who laid down his life, as Christ did, to save mankind from the power of the Beast.”

Jessie Mary Vasey OBE CBE (1897 – 1966)
Founder, War Widows’ Guild of Australia

These words were spoken by the founder of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia, Jessie Mary Vasey, after the death of her husband, Major General George Alan Vasey, on 5 March 1945.

With her natural ability as a leader and her charm and intellect, she encouraged women to start a craft guild where weaving and other handicrafts were taught to members to augment their meagre pensions. The Guild provided friendship, counselling, child-minding and above all an environment of mutual support where members could relax and feel secure.

This was the beginning of a powerful lobby group which today is consulted by Governments on all matters concerning war widows.

The Toowoomba Sub Branch was the first group to be formed by Mrs Vasey in Queensland on 8 August 1947. Four days later, on 12 August, the Queensland State Guild was formed – other state Guilds having been established earlier at a meeting chaired by Mrs Vasey and attended by two hundred women in the Brisbane City Hall. Later the state Guilds were federated and Mrs Vasey became the Federal President and remained so until her death on 22 September 1966.

“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.”

Mrs Vasey was inspired by these words spoken by His Majesty King George VI (extract from his Christmas Message 1941). The lines were adopted as the Guild’s motto by the National Guild in 1949, setting the mood, tone, harmony, the significance of members of the Guild working together in the years to come.

The Guild also adopted the kookaburra as its logo. The kookaburra was seen to epitomise the character of Guild members – “an industrious and cheerful bird who mated for life, was fearless and aggressive in the defence of its young and the area of territory it regarded as its own. The bird also had a unique call, not a song but a laugh; a chortle of rollicking mirth (to bring thewidowsback to laughter).”

The kookaburra badge adopted by the Guild was designed by AndorMeszaros, and was made of sterling silver and depicted a kookaburra alighting in flight on to a branch of gum leaves.

The Queensland State Guild, now Australian War Widows (Queensland), owes its success to the founding members who took up the challenge in the early years following the establishment of the Guild.

Today there are about 70,000 war widows nationally. It is Mrs Vasey, and the women she inspired to work with her, who the current war widows must thank for the security and benefits they now enjoy.

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