The medals and the men: War Widows extend arm of support to survivors suffering in silence

Dominic Giannini 25 April 2021
Shirley Percival

President of the ACT War Widows Shirley Percival is encouraging widows to come forward for support. Dominic Giannini.

As Anzac Day commemorations come to a close, the president of ACT War Widows is encouraging widows to find companionship and support with others who have experienced loss as a result of armed conflict.

Shirley Percival, whose husband Harry fought in Vietnam before dying in Australia from complications from exposure to Agent Orange, said the group was a wonderful place to express grief and receive support.

The group currently has around 110 members, but last time she spoke with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Mrs Percival said she was told there were more than 1000 war widows in the ACT.

However, due to privacy reasons, she is unable to reach out to them directly.


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“It is hard to get younger [widows] involved because if they are younger, they are still working or think that it is all old ladies, but we have a lot of fun,” she said.

“We look after each other; we try to make sure all the widows are looked after.”

Remembrance events remain a staple of Mrs Percival’s life.

Ahead of Anzac Day, on 16 April, she placed a cross bearing her husband’s name in front of the Anzac Memorial outside the RSL in Lyneham. Veterans, their families, widows, MLAs and the Governor-General were all in attendance for the memorial service.

To Mrs Percival, the gesture is a lasting honour for her husband.

Family and friends of war veterans laid wreaths at an ANZAC memorial in Lyneham on Friday (16 April). Photo: Dominic Giannini.

“The husbands when they came home were not the same. I do not think anyone who comes home from war is ever the same,” she said.

“We went through a lot of hardship with them. A lot of them ceased to talk or just were not there anymore, and it has been very difficult.

“Some were particularly bad with some terrible stories.”

For Jack Monaghan, who worked on a command post during the 1945 Borneo campaign, and Lionel Davidson, who was conscripted as a National Serviceman in 1951 at the age of 18 but did not see active service, last week’s memorial service brought back a sense of pride in their country.

Lionel Davidson and Jack Monaghan

Veterans Lionel Davidson and Jack Monaghan said the service made them proud to be Australian. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

“It made me feel proud to be an Australian when the crosses were placed into the grass,” Mr Monaghan said.

Mr Davidson said ceremonies like the one held at Lyneham were integral to remembering Australia’s heritage and reflecting on what each war cost its generation.

“The Second World War was completely different to what it is like these days. There is no comparison,” he said.

“But what the community went through in both the First and Second World Wars should never happen again.”

For more information on the War Widows, visit War Widows.

Round-the-clock crisis support for veterans and their families is available through Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

Governor-General David Hurley

Governor-General David Hurley and his wife, Her Excellency Mrs Linda Hurley, laid wreaths at an Anzac service on Friday (16 April). Photo: Dominic Giannini.


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