In love and war24 October 2022
Sacrifice isn’t limited to those in uniform. Like many Defence partners, Jenny Gregory faced fear, loneliness and even danger during her husband’s Army career.
Whenever Winston Gregory departed for duty, his wife Jenny knew that he might not return.
It was one of many sacrifices that Jenny – like all Defence partners – made for many of the eight years Winston served in the Australian Army.
“When you're married to a person in military service, we are kind of collateral damage as well,” Jenny says. “We are the ones who virtually say, well, okay, you can go to war.
“Not only are they prepared to give up their lives for their country, but we are prepared for them to do that as well, which I think is huge.”
An unexpected love story
Originally a police officer, Winston was 20 when he was called up to national service. And it was during his first deployment to Malaysia, in 1966, that he first got to know Jenny.
“How I met him was quite interesting,” Jenny says. “I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was on the train in Adelaide having a bit of a sob story to a friend's mother. She said, oh, I've got a lovely son that you can write to. And she showed me a photo of her son with his mate.
“I always maintained [to my friend] that I thought it was the other guy in the photo that I was writing to, but that was a lie,” Jenny laughs.
“We wrote letters for about six months. And when he came back, we were engaged after three weeks.”
Living as a soldier’s wife
Winston later enlisted as a regular soldier, serving in Vietnam, Australia, and Singapore.
“The hardest time for me was his time in Vietnam,” Jenny says. “Now there's mobile phones, internet, etc., but we had to wait for letters in those days, so it was a long time. I had two small children and the biggest thing, I think, was loneliness. You've got no one to talk to.”
But loneliness wasn’t Jenny’s only problem at the time, as she later discovered.
“Singapore was a very interesting experience because Winston was seconded to the US Narcotics Bureau and worked in narcotics control. I didn't know half of what he was doing. He was working undercover and if I was to see him out and about in Singapore, I wasn't to recognise him or say hello.
“He told me many years later that the family was actually in danger while he was doing all of that, and apologised.
“He got a lot of commendations for that service, so I'm very proud of his service.
“He was a good husband, a wonderful father. I loved him.”
Women looking after women
After Winston’s passing in 2013, Jenny found herself “a bit at a loss”. She joined her local War Widows group, quickly rising to their executive before becoming State President in 2016.
Founded in 1947, Australian War Widows Queensland (AWWQ) supports widows, carers and families affected by Defence service, offering everything from social connection to referral services, affordable accommodation, and member advocacy. AWWQ has 27 Sub Branches and social groups, all of which Jenny tries to visit yearly.
“The main thing I've tried to do is get the name of War Widows out there – show what we can do, that we are women looking after women.
“When you become a war widow, it is quite isolating. The biggest problem for the war widows is that they don't want to go out on their own. Our groups keep them together. It’s about being with other ladies who've been through the same thing.”
This company and understanding make all the difference, Jenny says, particularly on special occasions when the sense of loss hits hardest.
“When I joined the Gold Coast South War Widows, the first meeting I went to was a Christmas function. As anybody knows, if you have Christmas carols or bagpipes, that's when the tears come. So, I was a mess because it was only a couple of months after Winston had passed away.
“And this other war widow just held my hand. And I knew that she'd been through the same thing and she was there for me.”
Jenny believes war widows benefit not only emotionally, but also physically by being part of a community.
“I live in [a block of] 38 war widows’ units. A lot of our ladies are well into their nineties; one is 100. I believe that the reason they're able to live that long is because we all look after each other.”
A lifetime of giving back
Jenny has spent most of her life helping others. After volunteering in the Solomon Islands while at university, she worked for decades as a registered nurse.
“I think life is more fulfilling if you're helping people,” she reflects. “I think we don't become our real self… we don't reach our full potential unless we can give something back.
“My husband had the same kind of ethics as me. He put his all into his service, and I believe that I'm in a way giving back a little for what he did.”
A time to remember
Though Jenny thinks of Winston all the time, Remembrance Day is a chance for war widows like her to “actually stop and think” about the sacrifice that their loved ones, and all service people, have made. And she hopes that others around Australia will do the same.
“My hope [is] they appreciate and honour those who have been prepared to serve, and all those who died for their country – all over the world, not just Australians – and remember that we have our freedom because they served.”
- History & commemoration