Vera Deakin and the Red Cross
Melbourne: Melbourne: Royal Historical Society Victoria, 2020
Hardcover. RRP $35.00
Reviewer: Rob Ellis, March 2022
Alfred Deakin was Australia’s second Prime Minister after Federation in 1901, and served in that office three times, between 1903 and 1910. Vera, the youngest of his three daughters, also served her country, devotedly and with distinction, as an active member of the Red Cross in both World Wars, and through the years of peace between the wars and during the early parts of the ‘Cold War’ which followed World War II.
Ms Woods has provided a well-researched and comprehensive review of Ms Deakin’s life and work, from her first involvement with the Red Cross in 1915, through to her death in 1978.
Her full life was devoted to the care of others, through her engagement with many charitable organisations, other than just the Australian Red Cross - Yooralla, the YMCA, the Anzac Fellowship of Women, and the Limbless Soldiers Melba Welfare Trust, as well as several hospitals and other welfare organisations related to military and civilian causes.
After a whirlwind courtship in London over Christmas - New Year 1918-19, Vera accepted a proposal of marriage from Captain Tom White, an officer in the Australian Flying Corps. This began a long, happy, and productive marriage, which lasted until White’s death in 1957. That it was productive is evidenced by their service to Australia, to charities and other community organisations, and Tom White’s membership of the Federal Parliament, as a Minister in the Menzies Government, and later as Australia’s High Commissioner in London, during which he was awarded a Knighthood in the Order of the British Empire [to go with the Distinguished Flying Cross he had been awarded for his service in the Australian Flying Corp’s 1st Half-Flight in Mesopotamia during World War I. He had also served with the Royal Australian Air Force throughout World War II, rising to the rank of Group Captain].
Later in her life, Vera - now Lady White - was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire [OBE] in recognition of her devoted and tireless service to the Red Cross and many other humanitarian and ex-service organisations between 1915 and her death in 1978. Her work in building up the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, at first in Egypt and later in London between 1915 and 1919, is still regarded as a model of how such organisations should be established and managed. She was to renew this service within the ARCS during World War II, and see it expanded into a civilian assistance bureau helping trace victims of peace-time disasters, in the years after 1945.
Vera, over the years made many firm and lasting friendships. These, when listed, give the appearance of a summary of the Australian version of ‘Who’s Who’. She was an accomplished cellist, more than able to sing in public, and with a deep love of literature and other cultural pursuits, characteristics that flowed from her upbringing in a happy home with two loving parents and two older sisters who were always friends and close companions. She was also supported, through this long and fruitful career, by her firm Christian faith, and she was a strong, caring, and respected leader, and a true humanitarian.
Ms. Woods has given us a well-researched, interesting, and detailed account of Vera Deakin’s [Lady White’s] life and her many achievements. It is a book that is a pleasure to read. Its actual construction and presentation are a credit to the printers. Included are some excellent prints of family and other portraits and photos of the Deakin family’s homes and her many relatives and friends.
The RUSI – Vic library thanks the donor for making this work available for review.