Before 1901, widows of soldiers killed in action relied on private
charities such as the Royal Victoria Patriotic Fund. Lists of names
of widows who received such pensions were printed with the Fund's Annual
Reports as parliamentary papers. In 1881, the War Office had
agreed to pay a gratuity of one year's pay to such widows, but had turned
down proposals that they should be given pensions.
Pressure in favour of pensions however grew with the coming of the
war in South Africa. In 1899, the Daily Mail commissioned Rudyard
Kipling to write a poem, 'The Absent-Minded Beggar', sales of which
were to go to a public fund for soldiers and their dependants.
By the end of 1900, there had been 11,797 casualties, leaving 2,359
Pensions were introduced in April 1901. The widows and children of
black soldiers were excluded from the scheme, although discretionary
payments might be made. A widow would forfeit her pension if she married
again or committed 'misconduct'. A selection of pension case files at
The National Archives (record series PIN 71) includes the case of
one widow who was granted a 5s pension in 1901, only to have it stopped
in 1902 as she had given birth to an illegitimate child after the death
of her husband. It was restored 22 years later.