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October 19 has been officially enshrined as War Widows Day in South Australia, recognising the unthinkable sacrifices and contributions of generations of war widows and widowers.

Australian war widows and widowers will be formally recognised for the first time, as South Australia commemorates its inaugural War Widows Day on October 19, 2023.

The day of commemoration was officially declared by the South Australian Government in March this year, following strong advocacy from the Australian War Widows (SA) Inc and similar declarations in New South Wales and Queensland.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Geoff Brock, recognised the work of Australian War Widows (SA) Inc. whose members support the wellbeing of Defence families.

“Establishing a dedicated day to recognise and honour our war widows and widowers is a simple yet significant gesture to acknowledge all who have been touched and bereaved by the death of a spouse resulting from Defence service,” he said. “We also recognise the tireless work of Australian War Widows (SA) Inc as they continue to support the wellbeing of Defence families affected by a loss across the state.”

Founded as the War Widows’ Craft Guild by Mrs Jessie Vasey OBE CBE in November 1945, the organisation has continued to evolve to meet the needs of its ever-changing community for more than 75 years. It was established in response to a lack of support and recognition of war widows and families following World War I and World War II.

Mrs Jessie Vasey CBE OBE
Source: Australian War Widows

Mrs Vasey was the wife of Major General George Vasey CB CBE DSO, one of the most renowned Australian generals of the Second World War.

During a visit home in 1945, Major General Vasey visited the widow of one of his fallen men, where he was shocked by the poor conditions they were living in and the absence of government support. He decided that after peace was declared it would be his mission to fight for better compensation and support for war widows.

In a sad twist of fate, Mrs Vasey herself became a war widow when her husband was killed in an aircraft crash on 5 March 1945. It was then that she decided to follow through with her husband’s pledge to ensure that war widows and their families would be cared for, just as the government had promised to the men who enlisted.

When the organisation started advocating for the national declaration of War Widows Day, 19 October – Mrs Vasey’s birthdate – was chosen in her honour as the commemoration date.

On 16 March 2023, the South Australian Government declared 19 October as War Widows Day. The occasion will be commemorated annually to recognise and pay tribute to the strength, courage and unwavering commitment of those who have lost a spouse or partner through service for the Australian Defence Force.

Learn more about Australian War Widows (SA) Inc.