Jenny Gregory and Jean Hoffman: Queensland War Widows Stories
The legacy of war is wide-reaching, and stretches far beyond those who place themselves in the line of fire for their country. The loved ones of veterans are often affected by their service and sacrifice in ways that can last a lifetime, and this in turn echoes down through generations.
As part of State Library's ongoing commitment to preserving and sharing Queenslanders' experiences of War and Peacekeeping, we have recently completed interviews with two Queensland War Widows. Their stories, now available for viewing online, speak to the commitment, sacrifice, and the ongoing impacts that war has had upon themselves and upon their families.
Jean Hoffman met her to-be husband John at a pub in December 1963. In her interview, Jean discusses how she already had two children when they met, but that this did not faze John in the slightest. They married in 1965 in a courthouse wedding with their children and Jean's brother present.
John served in the Australian infantry for sixteen years, reaching the position of Warrant Officer Class 2. He served in Vietnam with 3 Battalion, and transferred to 1 Battalion in Townsville after his overseas service. Jean describes him as a direct, hands-on man with a passion for his fellow troops. When he was transferred into housing in 1979, he decided it was time to discharge.
"A man that's had all this infantry experience… and he was only forty, and they gave him a posting in and out of houses."
Jean describes the army as being "family" to him, and his departure from the routine and the community of his sixteen-year-long career impacted him significantly. This, coupled with the PTSD he experienced as a result of his time in Vietnam, began a downward slope for John.
"If he may have been able to talk about it, see he might have been better… I honestly couldn't believe it because he was such a strong person and it was terrible to see him go down like that. They didn't have enough support."
John passed away in 2006.
Jean has spent the years after his death cultivating friendships through her ten-pin bowling group and the Australian War Widows Queensland Branch, where she attends a variety of events.
"You get to meet other people and talk and… I think it just keeps you sane."
The impacts of the war widows in her life.
Jenny Gregory is the president of the Australian War Widows, Queensland Branch.
Jenny trained as a nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide.
She had not met her husband-to-be at the time that he was first called up for national service, but through an act of serendipity Jenny met his mother on the train home from her nursing education. After mentioning that she had broken up with her boyfriend, the stranger on the train encouraged her to write a letter to her own son instead.
Winston Spencer Gregory was serving in Malaya at the time that Jenny began her communications with him. They corresponded for the duration of his overseas service and were engaged three weeks after his return to Australia. Winston went on to serve Australia in Vietnam and in Singapore, an experience that Jenny describes in vivid detail, including the realities of raising a family while expected to serve ‘undercover’ within the local police force.
"We spent 12 months in Singapore. At the time he was with the military police, and he was seconded to the drug enforcement agency there and working undercover… I wasn't to recognize him in the street."
Jenny has dedicated much of her time and her passion to being a force of good, acting as a volunteer and advocate for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's and helping to establish a Dementia Network in Canberra, as well as becoming the first president of Alzheimer's Australia ACT Inc.
After Winston passed away in 2013, Jenny sought out the Australian War Widows Queensland, where she became State President in 2016. She discusses the history of the Queensland branch of the Australian War Widows and the importance of the community and services that the organisation provides for its members and their families.