While He's Away: Managing alone
The man on the phone said, ‘Your husband’s been seriously injured. We think he’s dead.’Sandy Hayes, wife of Jack Hayes, NZSAS
Army wives embrace two new families when they wed – the in-laws, and the military. The khaki family was slower than its civilian counterpart to embrace the more relaxed social mores and flexible gender roles emerging throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Most Vietnam War-era brides didn’t question the army’s expectation of dutiful housewifery. They left work when they married or ‘fell’ pregnant, preferably with a healthy margin between the two. In return, they relied on the military’s word that it would take care of them while their men were at war. But even the most devoted wives were surprised by the solo tour of duty that they served back home.
Pledges of support from the army translated only into occasional visits from a padre. Word of a husband’s whereabouts was more often delivered by the evening news. Social networks and supports were forged close to home, with the threat of anti-war activity or direct action by protesters occasionally too close for comfort. Wives didn’t know who they could trust; stoicism was a safer option than staunchness against the threat of retribution.
Many women relied on the kindness of strangers to get by. Neighbours who became friends , and helped with childcare, transport, lawns and gardens. Family and friends were also a trusted link to the outside world.
Want to find out more about how the families of New Zealand soldiers serving in Vietnam coped during the war? Click on the images below to access related written, audio, and video content: