Vera Deakin

Birth Date 1891-12-25
Birth Place Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, South Yarra
Death Date 1978-08-09
Death Place Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, South Yarra
Service Australian Red Cross
Place South Yarra
  • First World War, 1914-1918
  • Second World War, 1939-1945
Gazettes Biographical information The Oxford companion to Australian military history in 1995

Vera Deakin, founder of the Australian Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureau in the First World War, was born on 25 December 1891 at South Yarra, Melbourne. Her father, Alfred, later became Prime Minister. Deakin attended Melbourne University where she studied English literature, but her studies were overshadowed by her interest in music and she also studied violin, cello and singing. Her first public performance was in 1907 and she travelled to Berlin and Budapest to continue her studies. Though highly regarded by her teacher, Deakin's parents were against her pursuing a career in music.

She was in London when the First World War began and quickly turned her energies to war work. Returning to Australia, she joined the local branch of the British Red Cross Society and studied nursing. Again, against the wishes of her parents, Deakin sought a role for herself in war work overseas and was encouraged by the Red Cross in Cairo to travel to Egypt as soon as possible. She arrived in Port Said on 20 October 1915 and, the following day, opened the Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureau - an organisation devoted to finding information on behalf of the relatives of Australian soldiers then fighting at Gallipoli.

In 1916 the Bureau shifted its operations to London. The army did not view Deakin's work as favourably as might have been expected, because grieving relatives, who were unsatisfied with military explanations, came to regard the Bureau as more helpful. Peopled mainly by volunteers, the Bureau grew in size until it was dealing with up to 25,000 requests for information a year. Deakin was awarded the OBE in 1918. That same year she met Thomas White, an army officer who had recently escaped from Turkish captivity, and the couple married two years later.

White pursued a political career with considerable assistance from Deakin. She raised four children and, in the 1930s, again took up a more active role in philanthropic activities. She served on the management committee of the Children's Hospital and became a life governor in 1949. During the Second World War she reactivated the Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureau. She was made a life member of the Red Cross in 1945. After the war she presided over the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults, between 1961 and 1965.

Deakin was considered to have been more influential than any other individual in the development of the Australian Red Cross. An accomplished public speaker she continued her busy philanthropic schedule after her husband's death in 1957. Vera Deakin died on 9 August 1978 at South Yarra.


Date of birth 25 December 1891 South Yarra, VIC.
Other 1913 Travelled with her aunt as chaperone to Berlin and Budapest where she was a student at the Singing School and Conservatorium of Music.
Other 20 October 1915 Arrived at Port Said, Cairo with Winifred Johnson and set up, organised and administered the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau of the Australian Red Cross Society.
Other 1916 When Australian troops were sent to the Western Front, Deakin and Johnson transferred the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau to London.
Date of honour or award 15 March 1918 Appointed Officer of the British Empire for her work with the Red Cross during the First World War.
Other 1930 Member of the Limbless Soldiers Melba Welfare Trust.
Other 1935 Became Trustee of the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the education of the children of deceased or incapacitated soldiers.
Other 1935 - 1950 Founder and President of the of The Anzac Fellowship of the Women of Victoria.
Other 1945 Became a life member of the Red Cross.
Other 1949 Became a life governor of the Childern's Hospital.
Other 1961 - 1965 Presided over the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults.
Date of death 09 August 1978 South Yarra, VIC.