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JOWETT, VIDA ELIZA nee BERRY (OBE)

 

Vida Eliza Berry was born at Waimangaroa, West Coast on the 8 February 1893, the daughter of John Morley and Bertha Louisa Berry nee Hanford. She was educated at Nelson Girls College and married Harold Jowett in Apia, Western Samoa on the 2 August 1917 while he was serving with the British occupational forces during World War One.

 

The couple returned to New Zealand in 1919 and lived at Eastbourne, Wellington for more than 10 years.  Both were active in many local organisations and it was there that Vida began her long association with the Plunket Society.  She became president of the Eastbourne branch, then the Wellington branch and later, dominion president.  It was while she was dominion president of Plunket, and a member of the Women's War Services Auxiliary, as well as a mother of two, that her talent for administration was recognised and she was asked to form the NZ Women's War Service Auxiliary , later changed to the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. (WAAC)

 

The War Cabinet approved the formation of the corps on the 22 June 1942 and on the 1st July, Vida assumed the role of Chief Commandant in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  It is difficult now to realise how great an innovation the move was then.  It was the first time women had been asked to serve in the army alongside men, and there was no precedent upon which such an organisation could be based. While it was also very unusual for a wife and mother to be appointed to such a post, it was felt that this experience, together with her organisational powers, were the qualities needed .

 

Vida was awarded the OBE in 1944 and relinquished her Regular Force appointment in 1947 but continued to serve in the Territorial Force in an honorary capacity as Chief Commandant of the WAAC until she retired in 1953. She signed the letter to the Queen which led to the use of the word "royal" in the present title, New Zealand Women's Royal Army Corps.

 

In 1944, Peter McIntyre painted her portrait, which now hangs in the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum at Waiouru. She was present at the official opening of this museum in 1979.

 

For the last twenty years of her life Vida lived in Patea, and became interested in art work, particularly painting.  Despite indifferent health she attended as many NZWRAC functions as possible in her capacity as patron.

 

Vida Eliza Jowett died on the 1 June 1982 at Patea aged 89 years, and is buried at the Patea cemetery.

 

SOURCES

Various obituaries

Patty Hammerton, Taupo (daughter)