Vera Deakin – Red Cross Pioneer

Day 94 of Colourisation Project – August 9

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day, August 9, 1978 Vera Deakin passed away. Deakin was the third and youngest daughter of Australia’s second Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin.  In 1918 at the age of 27, Vera Deakin was appointed an Officer of the British Empire (OBE)  for her tireless work and commitment to the war effort with the Red Cross during the First World War.

Vera Deakin

Photo source: Australian War Memorial – Vera Deakin – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

After completing her studies in music at Melbourne University and at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, she volunteered her services to the fledgling Red Cross. In 1915 rebelling against the Australian government’s restrictions on women’s participation in the war effort, Vera made her way to the Australian Red Cross in Cairo, Egypt and immediately established the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau.

The aim of the bureau was to provide information for relatives of Australian soldiers who were either wounded, missing, killed or held as a prisoner of war. It maintained full casualty lists for each Australian state. Vera Deakin was awarded the OBE for her services as head of this Bureau, which in 1916 relocated its offices to London.

In December 1918, Deakin met (Sir) Thomas White, a young officer of the Australian Flying Corps, and the only Australian to have escaped from a Turkish prisoner-of-war camp. Within three weeks they were engaged and fifteen months later in 1920 they married at St John’s Church of England, Toorak in Melbourne.

Deakin was instrumental in the development of the Australian division of the Red Cross. During the Second World War she reactivated the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau and again became its Director. She later went on to become the Vice Chair of the Australian Red Cross.

From the 1930s on she focused on her philanthropic activities. As well as raising four daughters, she had a daunting schedule with the numerous offices she held.

  • She served on the Management Committee from 1931-39 of the Board of Management of the (Royal) Children’s Hospital and President of the Auxiliaries, becoming a life governor in 1949.
  • She co-founded the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults at the height of the polio epidemic. Later she became president 1961-66, then Vice-president in 1966 and worked on their committees well into her late 80’s.
  • She was a member of the Limbless Soldiers Melba Welfare Trust from 1930.
  • In 1935 she assumed her mother’s role as Trustee of the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the education of the children of deceased or incapacitated soldiers.
  • She was the founder and President of The Anzac Fellowship of the Women of Victoria from its inception in 1935 until the 1950’s and then again from the 1960’s until her death.
  • She was for many years on the Council of the Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School.
  • In 1950 she was appointed chairman of the Red Cross music therapy service and generally remained active in the Australian Red Cross until the 1970s.
  • Deakin became known as Lady White in 1952 when her husband, who was by then the High Commissioner in London, was knighted.
  • Her overriding commitment was always to the Red Cross, of which she was made an honorary life member in 1945. She was Victorian divisional commandant from 1938 to 1945, and national vice-chairman from 1945 to 1950 and 1964-66.

In 1978 after a life of voluntary and philanthropic service she died at her home in South Yarra aged 87.


“What we tried to accomplish as a bureau was to relieve as quickly as possible the anxiety of the relatives in Australia, to make the men realise that we were there to help and assist them in every way on our power, and to shield the authorities from unnecessary and duplicated enquiries.”

– Vera Deakin –  Australian Branch of the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau

This entry was posted in Australia, Australian Politics, Colorization, Colourisation, History, Photography, Women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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