The story of SSAFA's Overseas Department
SSAFA's Overseas Department was established in 1943 to meet the increasing demand to support our Forces during the last years of the war.
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Our representatives and offices grew rapidly with SSAFA Middle East offices in Alexandria, Geneifa, Jerusalem, Beirut, Cyprus and Khartoum while the Central Mediterranean Force Branch had headquarters in Algiers. Our unique Central Mediterranean Force Branch was set up in January 1944 to serve the Eighth and First Armies. The Branch was staffed by two Auxiliary Service officers and one Women’s Auxiliary Air Force officer and housed in a cellar under Welfare HQ. By June the Branch had moved into Naples, Italy where the team dealt with 50 cases a day.
Other overseas SSAFA Branches were working at the Garrison Headquarters in India with offices in Bangalore, Lahore and Calcutta
In 1944, Colonel Batten toured SSAFA's overseas offices in the Middle East, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, North Africa and Italy. On his return he reported that “everyone knows what SSAFA means…they much appreciate the sympathetic methods and efficient work of SSAFA representatives, which contribute directly to the maintenance of the man’s morale as a fighting soldier.”
In April that year, the Overseas Department was providing support for 70,000 cases each week, instead of an expected turnover of 5,000. From the Middle East office alone, 500 cases arrived weekly by cable and 900 by air.
“In the knowledge that his family at home are being well cared for by SSAFA, the soldier fighting overseas may wholeheartedly devote himself to his duty, without being worried by family troubles and consequently hampered in the efficient execution of his duty. I am sure that all your workers know the enormous value of the work that they are doing and will put their shoulders to the wheel in the serious days that are ahead of us and give only their best.”
From a letter written by General Montgomery, Commander of 21st Army Group, later to become the British Liberation Army (BLA) and British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).
General Montgomery’s request led to SSAFA providing a Bureau to support the 21st Army Group in April 1944. The Bureau supported troops who had been recruited and were waiting in the UK before departing overseas.
During June, in the weeks following the D-Day Landings, the Bureau was dealing with 200 new cases a week, with numbers rising to 950 by the end of July. In October, the Bureau's staff of 11 followed troops overseas, landing in Normandy and travelling onto their first overseas office in Brussels.