“I am so weary of the bitterness of this war. Why can’t we have a Society of Friendship?”
These important words, spoken by a Mrs Mary Davis whilst travelling in South Africa during the Boer War, instigated a letter, which led to a group of like-minded women meeting at No. 10 Downing Street to discuss the proposal. The women were keen to form an independent, non-political organisation that promoted a closer union between different parts of the then British Empire that fostered hospitality, understanding and good fellowship.
From this important meeting, in 1901, The Victoria League was born and the name was chosen in memory of the late Queen who had died that same year. Margaret, Countess of Jersey, was appointed as President and re-elected annually for 26 years. Although membership was open to men and women, the first Committee was composed of women only who framed a Constitution and enrolled the first General Council. Advice was given by Joseph Chamberlain, Lord Milner and Rudyard Kipling who called The League "the organisation of sympathy".
Since its early formation, hospitality, fundraising, friendship and education has been an important focus for the Victoria League. In the Boer War, assistance was given with tending war graves, helping British refugees, and education was provided in the form of libraries, books and magazines. During WWI and WWII beds and meals were organised for servicemen on leave and food parcels were packed and despatched by volunteers and shipped to the families of servicemen serving in the war.
Key historical facts:
- By 1909 there were already 27 branches of the Victoria League across England, Scotland and in the overseas Dominions.
- The League has had many famous members, including Sir Malcolm Sargent, Field Marshall Jan Smuts, First Lord of the Admiralty Leopold Amery, the explorer Sir Francis Younghusband, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello the Welsh singer, composer and actor.
- Royal Patronage has been a huge part of the history of the League since 1906, when the future Queen Mary, then Princess of Wales became Patron.
- During WWII, the League provided Commonwealth Servicemen in the UK with 1.25 million beds and 4 million meals.
- The League has provided student hospitality and welfare since 1927. To this day, Student House, which is also the League’s headquarters, is the focal point for many charitable activities. The hostel is run successfully and remains popular with Commonwealth students.
Over the years the League has always adapted to our ever changing world and environment. Today we remain strong and continue to increase our membership levels. We are proud of our record of service and achievements over the last 100 plus years and endeavour to keep fulfilling these important founding ideals of friendship and hospitality across the Commonwealth nations.