Jessie Vasey (nee Halbert), OBE, CBE (1897-1966)
MBC early 1900's
Jessie Mary Vasey was born in Roma, Queensland. In the first decade of the 1900s, Jessie attended Moreton Bay Girls' High School as a boarder, and was a member of the swimming club and received the History Prize.
In 1921, Jessie married George Alan Vasey, an army officer; they were to have two sons. When George sailed for the Middle East in 1939, Jessie threw her energies into the war effort. She became involved in the Australian Comforts Fund, and served as secretary of the Australian Imperial Force Women's Association. In a twist of cruel irony, her husband was killed in an aeroplane crash in March 1945. On their last evening together, he had told her: 'Stick to the war widows and when I come back you shall have every atom of help I can give you'. Their cause became her crusade.
In October 1945 Mrs Vasey wrote to all Victorian war widows, urging them to attend a meeting to form a craft guild. On 22 May 1946 the War Widows' Craft Guild held its first meeting, with Vasey as president. In 1947 the War Widows' Guild of Australia was formed, with Mrs Vasey elected its president. It is 'no mean destiny to be called upon to go on for a man who has laid down his life', she declared. The guild organized classes in weaving, drew women together, and established a cottage industry through which they could supplement their incomes.
Mrs Vasey campaigned for an increase in the war widows' pension. The pensions payable to former soldiers and their dependants had remained the same from 1920 to 1943. In 1947 the pensions were increased, largely due to her efforts. She lobbied politicians, and organized rallies, to have the war widows' pension tied to the basic wage.
Aware that many war widows, elderly and ill, were unable to find adequate accommodation, she embarked on her next mission to provide housing for them. In the 1950s the guild formed the Vasey Housing Auxiliary with Mrs Vasey as its managing director. Despite being diagnosed with leukaemia in the early 1960s, she was determined to continue her work. By 1985, the guild's nationwide housing estate was valued at $60 million.
An inspiring, energetic and passionate leader, Vasey was appointed O.B.E. and C.B.E. for her services to war widows. In 1953 she was sponsored by the Australian government to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Survived by her younger son, she died on 22 September 1966. Mrs Vasey's name has since been honoured through numerous university awards, streets and a hospital wing. She was featured on an Australian postage stamp, and her story was chosen by the National Museum of Australia as one of fifty "stories from the emotional heart of Australia".
Jessie was posthumously awarded the Moreton Bay College Medal in 2013.
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