Members of the Bedford War Widows Association are campaigning against a Government anomaly affecting many of their pensions.
War widows whose partner died as a result of their service to their country before March 31, 1973 or after April 5, 2005 retain their pension and survivor benefits regardless of any change to their marital status. Yet women who lost their companion between those dates and marry again lose their war pension upon remarriage.
Gill Grigg, MBE, chairwoman of the association said: “We are campaigning for 4,000 widows nationally whose husbands died in a period affecting their pensions if they re-marry or cohabit. We want the Government to correct this shameful oversight and bring equality to the treatment of its war widows.”
Anne Clements of Bedford, whose husband died in 1995 after serving in the Royal Navy during the Cold War, said: “I have no intention or remarrying but I don’t think it’s fair if I was to lose my pension if I did.”
Gill added: “Women are being penalised for having their husbands die at the ‘wrong’ time. It’s not acceptable. I have written to MPs but I haven’t had a satisfactory answer from any of them.”
Lord Astor said it would cost £70,000 a year to change the law to include the women affected including Gill and Anne. As Jill commented dryly: “Less than the price of a Duck Moat.” For more information on the association and campaign visit www.warwidows.org.uk/campaign
The group meets regularly at the Swan Pub, Bromham. The remarkable Dorothy Chiswell, 95, from Bedford said: “My husband served in the Merchant Navy in the Atlantic campaign in the Second World War, eventually dying from his injuries in 1977. When he came back he was very ill. He said I don’t want to talk about the war.”
Alison Wilkinson’s husband served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and died in the 1990s after coming into contact with asbestos on the ships he served. Mrs Wilkinson, from Olney, said: “I am a Quaker and don’t believe in war. He never talked about the war, it used to bother him too much. When something came on the TV he would say ‘I can’t watch’.”
Gill said: “I had a great uncle who served in the artillery. He died in 1917. I visited the memorial at Arras with a friend. It was the first time I had seen it - it was very emotional. I laid red carnations. He had a standard issue metal shaving which a bullet grazed. It caught the edge of it. If it was millimetres the other way it would have saved him. It’s the loss of life in war which concerns me, the number of people who died uneccesarily - it was such a waste for those who died, and had a huge effect on their loved ones and for those who came back wounded. It stayed with them for the rest of their lives.” Ann McKay’s husband George was a Japanese Prisoner of War during the Second World War upon being captured after the fall of Singapore in 1942. She said: “Years later we visited Changi Prison where he was held. He just said ‘You can’t describe it to anyone who hasn’t been there so there’s no point trying’.”
Amidst the moving stories was humour. Dorothy, who served in the Civil Defence during the war, recalled with a twinkle in her eye: “My husband joined up in 1938 and was posted everywhere before serving in the Atlantic. I had some nice presents. He would send me silk stockings and some women’s undergarments!”
However, the inescapable fact drawing these women together was the sadness of war. As Dorothy concluded movingly: “I don’t agree with war. Things should be settled peacefully.”