A brief history of the Victoria League

The concept of a “Commonwealth of Nations” was first suggested in 1884 by Lord Rosebery, whilst in Australia..

Soon after (1901), the idea which led to the birth of the Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship was first expressed in South Africa, when two members of the Guild of Loyal Women were discussing the Boer War. 

One said to the other, “I am so weary of the bitterness of this war.  Why can’t we have a Society for Friendship?”

The wheels were set in motion, and a meeting was convened in 10 Downing Street, at which it was agreed to form an organisation to promote a closer union between the different parts of the British Empire. 

The purpose was defined as providing an interchange of information and hospitality between people from different countries in the Empire and by fostering friendly understanding and good fellowship.  The name Victoria League was chosen in memory of the late Queen who had died that year. 

The earliest request for help came from South Africa for help in tending war graves and for fund-raising to alleviate distress among British refugees and for extra comforts for Boer women and children in the detention camps.

As things evolved, the work of the League became more defined in its dual objectives of hospitality and education, including essay competitions, the supply of books to people living isolated lives in far away places. 

With the beginning of World War One, the League provided support and hospitality for the armed forces from Commonwealth countries.  Clubs and hostels were opened in London and Edinburgh, with 282,000 beds provided for servicemen on leave.  The League also acted as a distribution centre for gifts from overseas for members of the armed forces.

In World War Two, support from the League increased to over 1m beds and 4m meals for Commonwealth servicemen.  By 1946 more than a million food parcels had been sent to Britain by overseas branches of the League.

It was not until 1949 that the British Commonwealth was officially born.  During its first two decades, it was administered by the British Government. 

In 1965, the Commonwealth of Nations gained its own independent status with the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Another aspect of the League’s work had also evolved.  In 1927, it had started to organise welfare work for students from Malaysia and other Commonwealth countries.  This included placing children in schools and the care of babies whose parents were in the UK for study purposes.

Today Student House is still run by the League for 60 students from all parts of the Commonwealth, providing safe accommodation at moderate rates, recreational facilities and social activities to make them feel at home. 

A charity called HOST was also formed to arrange weekends for students to stay with families in the UK, especially at Christmas.

The Victoria League is a member of the Joint Commonwealth Societies’ Council and participates in the observance of Commonwealth Day.

There are currently eight branches in the UK today and about twenty three branches throughout the Commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Papua New Guinea) with affiliated organisations in the USA and Canada.

The League has a corporate membership with the Royal Overseas League and the New Cavendish Club, which entitles members to use their club facilities in London and Scotland.  Each offers restaurant and other facilities and overnight accommodation.

The aim of the League remains that of welcoming and helping all members and visitors from Commonwealth countries, including the chance to meet British people and entertain them during their stay.

Origins of Victoria League in Australia

At the end of the war many young women left the UK for Australia and New Zealand as “war brides”.  Leagues in these countries offered them friendship, hospitality and practical support to help them settle down.

The role and purpose of the organisation and its objects were defined:

“The Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship in Australia comprises men and women loyal to the Crown and to the system of Constitutional Monarchy and whose determination is to maintain and strengthen the Commonwealth of Nations.

The objects for which the League is established are to promote and foster unity between peoples of all parts of the Commonwealth of Nations by means of:

·         welcoming and befriending visitors, new settlers and migrants;

·         encouraging the study of matters relating to the Commonwealth of Nations;

·         promoting and fostering understanding between the peoples of all nations within the Commonwealth;

·         providing introductions to members travelling interstate and overseas;

·         promoting any practical work for the good of the Commonwealth as a whole and co-operating with any body or bodies having similar objects and interests.

Highlights of history of Victoria League SA

The Victoria League in South Australia was formed on June 9 1911 at a meeting held in the Adelaide Town Hall.

From the early years of the League, its activities included welcoming British settlers, especially after the two world wars, with the arrival of young war brides, some of whom went to live in remote parts of South Australia. 

Typically, migrants were welcomed at the migrant hostels and parties were organised for them.  Christmas parties were organised so that British migrant families could share Christmas with League members.  New arrivals were helped with advice and practical assistance.

Fund-raising has always been a necessary feature of League activities, including trading tables, concerts, luncheons, afternoon teas, dinners, picnics and raffles.

During both world wars, the League formed a Red Cross circle and members regularly came together to sew and knit to assist the war effort.

Several sub-committees were established:

·         to coordinate hospitality for visitors from interstate and overseas – a “Young Marrieds sub-group was formed in 1958 to extend friendship in their homes to members and newcomers with young children;

·         a Settlers Welcome Committee was formed in 1913 to help migrants make their homes in South Australia;

·         a Young Contingent (originally known as the Emergency Corps when it was first formed in the 1930s) was created to promote the aims of the League;

·         sub-committees were formed to organise the annual Commonwealth Day celebrations;

·         a Library Sub-Committee sent books, newspapers and magazines to the Outback, but this ceased with changes in communication;

·         and a Schools Correspondence Group gave assistance to international efforts to link young people within countries of the Commonwealth

In recent decades, there have been changes of emphasis in the Victoria League’s activities, while remaining always to give personal friendship and understanding to all members of the Commonwealth of Nations. 

Throughout its history, the Victoria League has maintained close ties with the League in London, and representatives have visited each other’s branch on a regular basis.

The South Australian League has supported the Victoria League Student House in London, and in 1959 it began sponsorship of one of the rooms in the hostel, which is known as South Australia Room.  This support is still being maintained.

Notable highlights of the Victoria League SA

Some of the notable highlights of the Victoria League’s history include:

1929/30 – membership reaches 1050

1939 – new association with Travellers’ Aid – membership 1210

1941 – new Constitution

1947 – membership peaks at 2665

1954 – Hospitality Luncheons for members started

1965 – name of Victoria League includes “for Commonwealth Friendship”

1979 – fire at Austen Street

1980 – support for Maxillio Cranio Facial Units started

1991 –celebration to honour Dame Roma Mitchell’s 80th birthday

1993 – sold Austin Street – farewell Christmas party

1994 – vacated Austin Street and moved to Hutt Street

1995 – visits of London President and Duchess of Kent

1996 – 85th birthday celebration

1996 – Sir Eric Neal becomes Patron

1996        1997/8 – London scholarship for Grant Doyle

1997        1997 – Dr Jane Lomax-Smith Honorary Member

2006 – Launch Uluru Children’s Home – support e-centre

2007/08 – London scholarship for Michael Ierace

2007/08 – Glenunga Int’l High School students – Travel to Uluru, India         

2008 – Continued support for Engineers Without Borders in Southern India


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