Thursday, 4 November 2010

RHSV Lecture - Vera Deakin's War Effort

Speaker: Carole Woods
Date: 9 November 2010
Time: Coffee/Tea 5.15pm Lecture 5.45pm
Address: Royal Historical Society of Victoria, 239 A'Beckett Street, Melbourne
Price: Members free - Non-members $5.50

Vera was the youngest of the three daughters of Pattie and Alfred Deakin, and she studied cello and singing in Budapest prior to the outbreak of the Great War. Rebelling against the Australian government's restrictions on women's participation in the war effort, Vera sailed to Cairo in 1915 and became the founding secretary of the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, the forerunner of Australian Red Cross tracing services. Vera moved the Enquiry Bureau to London in 1916 and two years later received the OBE for outstanding humanitarian work.

The Australian Red Cross Enquiry Bureau's endeavours to trace missing soldiers and report on wounded soldiers in hospitals brought relief to thousands of anxious relatives. When Bureau staff found that a missing soldier had died, they tried to provide details of death and burial to relatives desperate for information. The greatest joy for a Red Cross searcher was to hear a man indignantly declare from a hospital bed: 'I am not missing. Who says I am?'

Vera led a close-knit team of mostly Australian women, and the Enquiry Bureau became widely known in the AIF as the fount of knowledge on missing and wounded soldiers and also as a home away from home.

Today the records of the Australian Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau stand at the heart of the Australian War Memorial archive on the Great War.

Carole Woods worked as a librarian at the State Library of Victoria and La Trobe University Library. She later became a freelance historian and her work includes Local History in Victoria: an annotated bibliography (1980), Beechworth: a Titan's Field and Vision Fugitive: the Story of David Allen. She plans to publish her biography of Vera Deakin White in 2011. Carole is a Fellow and secretary of the RHSV and has served on the Publications Committee for 21 years. She was a judge of the Victorian Community History Awards for 10 years, and has completed several projects for the Fitzroy History Society.

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