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Widows Of War

Summary

This Anzac special tells the stories of Australian women from different eras all widowed by war.

Anzac Day is a time to commemorate the men and women who fought and died; the battles won and lost.
But there's another story rarely told, about the women who waited at home, and were left bereft and
alone. Around 100 000 Australian women are classified as 'war widows'. Many lost their husbands in
wartime; others in war-related circumstances afterwards. This program follows the stories of four
women whose husbands fought in different conflicts - World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf
War and Afghanistan. Although from different eras, their stories of anguish and loss transcend time
and place. How they coped - then and now; how they were supported; and, who or what they turned to
are all be explored in this poignant story to screen on the eve of Anzac Day.

Story producer: Mark Edmondson

Story researcher: Francoise Fombertaux

Story

Geraldine Doogue - Narration

Hello there, Geraldine Doogue wishing you a very happy Easter on this extra long weekend which of
course this year includes Anzac Day. So on the eve of the commemorations, we bring you a special
story, one that's rarely told. It's about the women widowed by war; about the wives who waited at
home and who were left bereft and alone.

Australia has more than 100 thousand war widows, which is a fairly surprising statistic. And our
story, which covers the experiences of women from World War II to the present day is dedicated to
them.

Olwyn Green

When Charlie died, when I became aware of that, I completely shut down. It was all I could do to
cope with the next day

Victoria Hopkins

There is no way that you can turn those feelings of grief off. There is no switch there.

Lisa Cooper

It's just really something that I think that instinctively you know that people are not equipped to
deal with and don't really want to talk about it.

Meg Green

I've always had the television on to watch the ANZAC day march. I have found since Gordon died that
I actually can't watch it.

Victoria Hopkins

When Matt and I first met each other it was back in 2007 in Newcastle and I don't know. It's when,
they say love at first sight you don't believe it could actually happen, but between us it did.

I didn't realise at the time that he was only 19. I thought he was a lot older than that. So he was
very mature for his age, considering that he'd just returned from his first deployment in
Afghanistan.

Matt and I never did anything by halves. We were just full on just straight into everything. So
after a few months of being together I then moved to the Northern Territory to be closer to him.
And that was when our relationship got even more serious and after being together for six months
Matt proposed to me.

Narration

In 2008 Victoria's fiancé, Corporal Matt Hopkins, left for his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

He would be away for eight months.

Victoria Hopkins

I was about 20 weeks pregnant when Matt went overseas. We'd just celebrated my 23rd birthday in
Darwin. And I was just an emotional wreck. With all the hormones flowing and everything 'cos Matt
wanted to be there throughout the whole pregnancy to support me. But it was a bit hard when he was
half way across the world.

Narration

Four months into his posting, Matt was granted Special Leave to fly home for some urgent family
business.

Victoria Hopkins

On Friday 6th of February 2009 we had my great grandmother's funeral in the morning, which we
attended.

We then went home, got changed and then went up to the registry for Matt and I to be married, and
we just had a few family members there as witnesses. And then Matt and I went to the hospital for
me to be induced because there was no way I was going to have this kid without him being there.
And, yeah the next morning we became a family of three.

So in one day we had a funeral, our marriage and the birth of our son.

Narration

Victoria had just four days with her husband Matt before he had to return to Afghanistan.

Olwyn Green

I was 17 and he was tall and handsome, the romantic hero, tall dark and handsome. It was very easy
to be completely dumbstruck by that apparition appeared in the doorway.

Narration

Olwyn Warner was working in her father's newsagency when she first met her husband to-be Lieutenant
Charlie Green.

Olwyn Green

He told me he wanted to buy a fountain pen. And I sold him the fountain pen and he left. I don't
remember much conversation. And a couple of years later he had the pen still and he decided to
write a letter to me the girl who'd sold him the fountain pen.

This is the first letter Charlie ever wrote to me:

"Perhaps you will be wondering why I have decide to write to you after being away so long. If my
memory serves me correctly the last time I saw you was my last day of final leave when I had a
shave at the shop.

Yours truly

Chas H Green"

It was a very formal letter and I was absolutely thrilled to get it and I wrote back, I suppose,
probably immediately.

I remember our first date which was a dinner in Grafton, the only place one could take a girl to
dinner in those days. And there was a dance we went to.

Narration

But just two weeks into their courtship, Charlie, by now a major, was rushed to Papua New Guinea to
help stop the Japanese advance.

Olwyn Green

He'd had an injury to his foot in Ceylon and he didn't get very far on the Kokoda track before the
leg became so swollen he could walk no further. So he was sent back home. And we got married on the
31st January 1943.

Narration

When the war was over Olwyn and Charlie settled into civilian life, and had a daughter Anthea. But
it wasn't long before Charlie was back in the regular army.

And, in 1950 - when war broke out in Korea - he left home again, this time as the Commanding
Officer of his regiment.

Olwyn Green

I just felt absolutely devastated. It didn't occur to me it was a great honour for him to be
selected to command the first Australian battalion in Korea. Just didn't occur to me. All I thought
about was something terrible might happen, could happen.

Lisa Cooper

When I met Brett he'd just been discharged from the navy and he didn't talk about it like it wasn't
anything that caused him any great difficulties at the time.

He was always a lot of fun, so I really didn't know anything at all about what he'd done in the
Gulf.

Narration

Able Seaman Brett Cooper was stationed aboard HMAS Brisbane when Australian forces were sent to the
Gulf in 1991 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Lisa Cooper

I realised that he did have a great deal of difficulty coping with being on a really large ship.
And being two or three levels down and he used to worry a lot about if the ship capsized, if they
hit a mine, how they would get out. Also they were told to carry their gas masks at all times,
because there was a big threat back then of the biological warfare that they worried about.

Narration

What Lisa didn't know was that Brett had been discharged from the Navy, after being classified as
"unfit for duty". And, it was only when they had children that Lisa realised Brett had problems.

Lisa Cooper

With the demands of a small baby, we'd see that he just didn't cope at all with that. He was very,
hyper vigilant they call it now, he was very security conscious all the time, knives under the bed,
or baseball bats under the bed, for no particular reason.

Brett had been progressively getting I guess more and more ill. Drinking a lot more. He wasn't
sleeping at all, so he would drink a lot to try to get to sleep, having a lot of nightmares. And he
was smoking a lot of drugs, doing a lot of drugs as well.

My decision to leave Brett came after he had taken our two year old to a BBQ and bought him back in
the afternoon, driven all the way down from the Adelaide hills and it was very obvious that he was
drunk.

For me that was showing that he still had no regard for his safety and in the depressed state he
was in, very little regard for the safety of our children when they were with him.

Meg Green

I met Gordon at Concord hospital on the 17th March 1972 at a dance to raise money for the new grad
ball. And we decided to marry a week and a bit later.

Narration

Meg's husband to-be Gordon Green, had just returned from the war in Vietnam - Australia's longest,
and most contentious conflict.

Meg Green

Gordon was in the regular Army. He always considered that he was doing his duty. I was reasonably
young and probably didn't much care whether we were or weren't in Vietnam.

Narration

On his return Gordon worked nights as a security guard, and before long Meg realised her husband
had been deeply wounded by his time in Vietnam.

Meg Green

And I one afternoon went into wake him up and, as you would do, you walk over and touch someone on
the shoulder. And I almost was hit, I just happened to duck at the right time because you didn't, I
learned that you didn't walk up to Gordon and touch him while he was sleeping.

Narration

Within a couple of years Gordon joined the police force, eventually becoming a Detective Sergeant.
He and Meg had two boys, but his experience in Vietnam was to haunt him throughout his career.

Meg Green

Gordon's nickname was "shell shock" because after he had been stationed at his first station, there
was a car backfiring outside the police station and he hit the floor really. And everyone was quite
surprised and they just; they nicknamed him "shell shock."

The incident that prompted him to seek retirement was a police shooting. And I can remember him
sitting here saying "I killed a man. I killed a man." And that was his whole conversation. He was
quite traumatised.

When he retired, and his symptoms started to get worse, was probably the most difficult period that
we had. But I would never have considered leaving. Ever. He was the person that, (weeping) sorry.
He was the person that I loved. So whatever he was going through I would have been there to support
him. And it was difficult for him. It was difficult.

Victoria Hopkins

I was up late typing an email to Matt because I hadn't heard from him at all that day, and it was
about after 11 at night when there was a knock on the door. So I went and answered it and I saw
these guys in uniform and just instantly knew something had happened to Matt.

Narration

For Victoria, her dreams of a future with Matt ended just five weeks after they were married, and
he was back in Afghanistan.

Victoria Hopkins

They came inside and said, "Are you Mrs Hopkins? Do you have someone here with you?" And that was
when they told me that Matt had been killed whilst out on patrol. So it was what should have been a
very happy time for me being married and having a family. It was just shattered; taken away from me
straight away.

Felicity Davies, Newsreader, ABC News

The defence force has released the name of the Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan this week.
He was Corporal Mathew Hopkins. The 21year old was shot by Taliban insurgents on Monday during an
intense firefight north of the Australian base at Tarin Kowt...

Victoria Hopkins

The most difficult part of everything that's happened since that day is the fact that I have to
raise a son without his dad around. But suddenly having that taken away I've taken on the role of
both parents, and I feel like Alex doesn't really get that male bonding anymore. So for I feel like
he's missing out even though he doesn't realise it.

With Matt's passing, I think it's actually made me stronger as well, as I've had to find a inner
strength within me to deal with everything.

There are times when I do feel a little bit lonely, but all I have to do is pick up the phone and
call one of my friends for a chat and I know they'll always be there for me.

Narration

One of Victoria's most treasured processions is a box of letters written by her husband's fellow
soldiers.

Victoria Hopkins, reading from letters

Dear Victoria, I'm writing to you with a heavy heart. Mathew was an outstanding soldier and a great
friend; a true inspiration to us all. Although he is no longer in our presence, he'll always be
looking down on us, guiding us through these tough times. Mathew will always be loved and never
forgotten.

Victoria Hopkins

Sometimes I just say "I miss you Matt" out loud and that just makes me feel a little bit better to
say something like that out load. And when I actually go to the memorial park where Matt was laid
to rest that's when I actually talk to him. As I feel a little bit closer to him there.

Olwyn Green

Before Charlie left for Korea, we moved back to Grafton, he took me back to Grafton, and I
farewelled him from Grafton railway station. And it was one of the terrible moments in my life.

Each day after he left, I felt this lump of fear and dread inside me.

Not long after he left, I was walking down Jacaranda Avenue in Grafton, wheeling Anthea in her
stroller and I felt this incredible thud in my chest, as though something terrible had happened.

I remember getting home and I felt that I was going to learn something very soon. And I even sat on
the step and waited for the telegram boy to come, because that is the way messages were delivered
in those days. Just as I'd imagined it, it's freakish; this fellow came round the corner and
delivered a telegram.

Narration

Charlie had been hit by shrapnel from an enemy shell, and died two days later.

Olwyn Green

When Charlie died, when I became aware of that, I completely shut down. It was all I could do to
cope with the next day.

I know that Anthea was only three, was cut out of my thinking. Everything was cut out of my
thinking. It was just surviving.

I can remember I'd get on a train or a bus and forget where I was going and wait, you know,
suddenly come to and I was miles away from where I had intended to go. That's how self absorbed or
stuck inside myself I was.

Quite recently Anthea said to me. When Charlie died, I lost not only my father but I lost my mother
too. And I knew that there was a truth in that.

Narration

Olwyn's grief for Charlie remained locked up inside for 30 years.

Olwyn Green

In 1980, just after I retired, I had a very surprising message from the 41st Battalion in Grafton.
They were building a cairn in memory of him. Suddenly I had this shock of realisation; I know
nothing about this man as a soldier. Then I started to question all my grief and all the way of
being I'd endured for 30 years, and I went to see some counsellors.

This counsellor, she said "You have been idolising a man to the extent that you have built him up
beyond human expectations. He's just a romantic dream of yours. That's not what he was really like
surely?"

Narration

So Olwyn set off to find out all she could about her husband, the soldier she never knew.

Her lengthy research and interviews turned into a book. And her journey became the key that
unlocked her grief.

Olwyn Green

I didn't find out that I'd really idealised him. I came to the conclusion that there was that other
side to him that really disciplined man who could command soldiers and gain their incredible
respect. And that I'd never understood and never known about. And I could become very proud of
that. Then the tears came that had never really come before, they came then, absolutely came then.

Lisa Cooper

One of my biggest regrets is leaving Brett and ending our marriage, but at the same time I know
that was absolutely necessary.

Narration

Lisa's husband Brett - a Naval seaman who suffered from depression after serving in the first Gulf
War - took his own life in 2004.

Lisa Cooper

My emotions are very difficult. It was mixed, a lot of guilt and then also, yes relief that it was;
that he wasn't just completely tormented 24 hours a day any more. Then you feel guilty for feeling
relieved in any way shape or form.

But people that haven't been in it judge you like you are cold. How can you describe someone you
love dying in a word like relief. Yeah, so that's hard, but I guess it comes down to, if you
haven't been in that situation you don't understand how people can describe their feelings.

Emotionally, working in the family business has been very important to my recovery from everything
that happened. And I think that it's also been important for the other members of the family too.
We're all together and working so there is a lot of interaction all the time and it's surprising
when things will come up that you need to discuss.

And the conversations have turned from, you know, the anger that we felt and I think there was
anger with the whole family. And gradually you start to see that the conversations we have now are
about the funny things that he did. And the great things that he did in the business. So I think
everyone being together has really helped everybody heal.

Meg Green

I'm a registered nurse. I work evening shift, because I don't like being at home in the evenings on
my own, so I choose to work evening shift.

It's that companionship in the evening that I find is missing. And that's why I don't particularly
like evenings, because there is not anyone to talk to really.

Narration

After battling his demons for more than 30 years, Meg's husband Gordon died three years ago. The
former police detective who'd fought in Vietnam, had cancer - believed to be a legacy of his
wartime service.

Meg Green

One friend did say that she thought I had coped quite well after Gordon had died. And I thought
yes, well, you don't see me when I'm at home on my own. But friends are supportive, and you know, I
have numerous friends that I can just arrive on the doorstep and they will feed me and you know,
give me coffee and you know, just be there basically.

I quilt. I'm a bit of a quilter, so I go to a quilting group on a Friday evening. I belong to the
war widows guild and we have a monthly luncheon; a younger group. And that's very good.

I find life to be difficult without Gordon. He was just someone I depended on and he was a big part
of my life. He was there for me, he would have done anything for me. And that's not there anymore,
so life can be pretty crappy sometimes.

Olwyn Green

Charlie is always with me, always with me, but there comes that time when I see an old couple at my
age now, walking down the street hand in hand and I think oh my God, I haven't held hands with
someone I dearly loved for 60 years and that is very painful.

Lisa Cooper

I don't think I have time to be lonely, having a teenage son and then a younger son, working full
time and looking after a house on my own.

I do sometimes wonder what Brett would think, looking down now? I think he would be proud of the
job we are doing.

Meg Green

I don't consider that I would ever remarry, nobody could, at this point, could replace Gordon. He
was the love of my life really.

I suppose I am getting used to it but I still get cross because he's not here when I have to change
the light globe and I can't get it to fit.

Victoria Hopkins

Alex is my biggest strength ever because he's my little mini Matt. He is the reason I wake up every
day and do every day stuff just for him.

I know Matt will always be watching over us. He is Alex's guardian angel for life. And every time
Alex smiles at me I know Matt is smiling at us as well.