On the home front

Herman Kuring
Author Melinda Tognini

AUTHOR Melinda Tognini gives a talk this Friday April 23 on the people often left out of the story of Australia at war: The wives and families of the men who died.

By the end of World War II the phrase “lest we forget” was in common usage to remember the fallen soldiers, but their wives struggled in obscurity as they dealt with with poverty and social isolation.

When the war ended their pensions were subsistence level, but by banding together to form the guild they’d go on to win significant increases to the pension and campaigned to get subsidised aged care and affordable housing.

Tognini’s book Many Hearts, One Voice – The Story of the War Widows’ Guild in Western Australia delves into their story and her talk is at the Vincent Local History Centre (Loftus Street) at 10am. It’s free and there’s morning tea but book via 9273 6550 or local.history@vincent.wa.gov.au

An extract from Melinda Tognini’s Rumours:

A RUMOUR circulated that a small boat had been spotted in the  sea near where Herman had disappeared.

The rumour implied that Herman was a German spy and had been picked up by the passing vessel. This was despite the fact the sea had been so rough that day that no small boat could have survived the swell. 

Herman’s body was never found, although an inquest concluded his death was a terrible accident. Like numerous other families with men who died in service for their country, Rita and her children had no graveside to visit. 

VP Day was one of mixed emotions. The war was over. Peace had been declared. Yet they had to come to terms with the fact that Herman would not suddenly appear at the front door nor bake another loaf of bread…

…Rita never remarried. However, she did find a way forward when the Western Australian branch of the War Widows’ Guild was established in November 1946. 

Through this organisation, Rita discovered others who understood her loss. Not only did she develop life-long friendships, but she also became the guild’s inaugural treasurer. Rita also used the business knowledge she’d gleaned through the bakery to help secure the lease of the Esplanade Kiosk in Perth’s CBD in 1949. 

The dual aim was to provide a central meeting place for war widows and establish tearooms as a business venture. Although she would never forget the rumours and misinformation surrounding her husband’s death, Rita was able to find renewed purpose through the assistance she could offer the Guild and the women she met there. 

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