Afghanistan veteran with medals and child

130 years of support

The history of SSAFA's work with the Armed Forces family

 

Our history

As the UK's oldest national Armed Forces charity, we share our history with the men and women of the UK's Armed Forces.

Over 130 years we have shown our commitment to ensuring that our servicemen and women, veterans and their families get the best possible support when they need it.

Major (later Colonel Sir) Gildea founded the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association

1885

Major Gildea founds the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association

When the Second Expeditionary Force set sail for Egypt in February 1885, Major (later Colonel Sir) James Gildea wrote a letter to The Times appealing for money and volunteers to help the military families left behind at home.

A fund was set up to provide allowances. Soon Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales (the future Queen Alexandra) became the first president of what was then called the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association  (SSFA).


SSAFA set up a nursing branch in 1892

1892

SSFA sets up a nursing branch for serving families

Our nursing branch provided community nurses - later known as Alexandra Nurses - to look after the families of serving men in their own homes in the UK and abroad. We still provide some health services for our serving Forces today.


The Royal Homes opened in 1905

1900

The Royal Homes for Officers’ Widows and Daughters opens

Our first housing service in 1900, was the rent of twelve suites of rooms in Elm Park Mansions to accommodate officers' widows and unmarried daughters.  Shortly afterwards Broghill House in Wimbledon, southwest London, was purchased.  The existing building was demolished and the Royal Homes for Officers’ Widows and Unmarried Daughters built on the site.  It was opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in July 1905.


A family on the Home Front in World War One

1914

Supporting families on the Home Front

At the outbreak of World War One, the Government called on us to take care of the families of soldiers going to the Front. After five months, SSFA had paid out more than £1m from the National Relief Fund that we administered and we had 50,000 voluntary workers.


Princess Alexandra suggested we change our name to the Soldiers, Sailors & Airmen Families Association (SSAFA)

1919

SSFA becomes the Soldiers', Sailors' & Airmen's Families Association (SSAFA)

Following the founding of the Royal Air Force in 1918, our president Queen Alexandra suggested the organisation should change its name to the Soldiers', Sailors' & Airmen's Families Association (SSAFA).


Royal Charter was granted in 1926

1926

Our first Royal Charter

SSAFA was granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation in January 1926. Following a review of governance, a new revised Royal Charter & Rules came into effect in January 2014.


Demand for SSAFA's help rose during the Depression

1931

Demand for help rises during hard times

Calls on SSAFA for help grew steadily in the 1930s due to the financial depression. We helped 25,203 families in 1931, compared with 18,368 families the previous year.

We continue to provide advice and support to families facing financial hardship today.


SSAFA responded to General Montgomery's call for help in 1944

1941

Support for servicemen during World War Two

In May 1941, SSAFA opened a special office - the SSAFA Overseas Department - to deal with enquiries from serving men about the safety of their families back home. Soon afterwards the first of many overseas bureaux, where men could discuss family problems or make enquiries about relatives, opened in Cairo in September 1941.


SSAFA helps POW returning from Korea

1953

SSAFA assists Prisoners of War returning from Korea

At the request of the War Office, SSAFA sent a volunteer to meet British prisoners at the end of the Korean War to find out how we could help.


SSAFA was there for celebrities during the Falkands conflict

1982

There for families during the Falklands conflict

SSAFA provided support to the families of servicemen injured or killed in the Falklands. Our social workers accompanied the 541 bereaved relatives who travelled to the Falkland Islands the following year.


HRH Prince Michael of Kent became SSAFA president in 1982

1982

HRH Prince Michael of Kent becomes SSAFA president

Prince Michael of Kent became our fourth president. He remains in the role.


SSAFA is contracted by the Ministry of Defence to provide health care services

1996

Working with Ministry of Defence to provide health and social care services

The Ministry of Defence contracted SSAFA and Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust to provide health and social care services to the military community in British Forces Germany and the European Support Group. Our professional staff ensure that families have access to hospital services similar to the care available on the NHS.


Lord Roberts

1997

SSAFA merged with the Forces Help Society and Lord Roberts Workshops

The official merger with Forces Help Society and Lord Roberts Workshops took place on 1 January 1997.  Although SSAFA had already made a formal agreement in 1988 and many of our volunteers, including some Council members, had been been active in both organisations. 

 


SSAFA Norton house for families of injured service personnel

2008

SSAFA Norton House opens for families of injured service personnel

In this year, we responded to a campaign by Sue Norton and her husband, Captain Peter Norton, who was injured while serving in Iraq to provide a free ‘home away from home’ for relatives visiting injured servicemen and women.

Within months we had raised enough money to build and open a six-bedroom home in Surrey near the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court. A second SSAFA Norton House opened in Selly Oak, Birmingham, in 2009 near the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine.


The Queen opened SSAFA's new headquarters in 2013

2013

The Queen opens our new headquarters

Her Majesty The Queen, SSAFA’s patron for 60 years, formally opened our new central office at Queen Elizabeth House in London in November 2013.