The changing face of war widows in Queensland

Lani Pauli 06 August 2021
  • Courage
  • Mateship
  • Health & wellbeing

War Widows Australia has been providing support and comfort to war widows and their families for 75 years.

Australian War Widows

L-R: Debbie Baczyk, Judy Smith, Maureen Rush, Jenny Gregory, Cathy Hartshorn


When her husband passed away, Debbie found herself alone, grieving, and unable to fit in with her friends the way she had only months before.


The 59-year-old from the Gold Coast says, “They were busily planning holidays in groups, as couples, and I felt alone. Unable to participate in that world anymore.” 


It was Australian War Widows (AWW) Queensland that let Debbie reclaim connection to her community. 


Debbie joined in February 2019 and is now the Vice President and Treasurer of the Gold Coast South War Widows Sub Branch. She’s considered one of the ‘younger’ members.


A veteran herself, Debbie served in the Australian Army as a dental assistant and hygienist for six years. For 20 years she moved every two years as her husband – also a soldier – progressed through the ranks. 


Debbie retired to care for her husband before he passed away in September 2018.


“I’ve been a widow for nearly three years. I made a call to the head office after he passed and went to the meeting in my local area,” she says. “All my peers still work, and I was still lost after he passed away. Being a part of this community has really helped.” 


While there is a perception that the organisation is for “older” women, Debbie is determined to pave the way for younger war widows. 


“You can’t write things off before you try. When I first went, I went alone, and it was quite daunting. All these ladies have known each other for years. I felt kind of isolated, but it didn’t take long for them to rope me in.


“We’re having a high tea to introduce everyone to the new head office in Brisbane and it’s been wonderful to be able to invite some of the younger widows – some in their mid-20s. We meet them and encourage them to join us and see what the organisation is about,” she says. 


“There’s an awful lot of women in our community who will become war widows in the future. Perhaps they won’t be technical war widows, but there’s a lot of TPI (total and permanently incapacitated) wives that when their husbands pass will be deemed a war widow.”


“If we can encourage younger members to get together, be proactive and put something together, they’ll be able to have the support of one another that so many of us ‘older’ members have found in our own times of grief. This is a group of women who understand what it’s like to be the partner of someone in Defence.


“It is so powerful to know you are not alone.” 





Established almost 75 years ago by war widow Jessie Vasey CBE, the AWW was started to lobby for war widows and their families. 


Queensland State President Jenny Gregory says the group initially worked to support women experiencing hardship, homelessness, and reduced income. 


“Today there are more than 52,000 war widows in Australia and our mission still focuses on supporting these women through some of the hardest days they are experiencing in their lives,” she says. 


“Our members find themselves facing social isolation, mobility and transportation limitations, depression and health issues. Through our network and community we are able to offer support, friendship and advocacy at a bare minimum.


“It’s like-minded people meeting with a common bond. Everybody’s in the same boat.”


And while the group is encouraging younger women to join, their focus isn’t shifting away from the women that made the community what it is today. 


“We know that new members are vital to our community growing and continuing for years to come and at the same time we remain committed to our core members.”





AWW Queensland Lifestyle Support Coordinator Sue Hilditch agrees that the support the community offers is vital.


“We’re an organisation for women, run by women. We’re advocating for their wellbeing and giving them a community anchor.” 


In addition to monthly in-person events, War Widows Queensland also offers support navigating the aged care sector and DVA claims, and affordable rental accommodation for respite or holidays. 


“Often the process can be full of quite complicated language, and we find our members can easily feel alone in the process. We are here to help guide them through and make their life easier,” Sue says. 





Debbie describes her own experience joining and becoming a part of AWW Queensland as discovering a friendship. 


“Even though the ladies are much older than me – some by 15 years, so a whole generation gap – I truly count them as friends now. I probably chat with them more than I do my own family because they can relate to our shared experience as widows. I think I’d be lost without them.”  


For more information on upcoming AWW Queensland events or membership please visit