Our history

139 years of support for the Armed Forces family.

For 139 years we have shown our commitment to ensuring that our service men and women, veterans and their families get the best possible support when they need it.

Below is a timeline of SSAFA history since we were founded in 1885.

We also have a detailed four-part history of SSAFA which can be downloaded here:

Our Timeline:

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).

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 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.

Supporting families on the Home Front

At the outbreak of the First World War, 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.

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).

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 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.

Support for service men during the Second World War

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 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.

There for families during the Falklands conflict

SSAFA provided support to the families of service men 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 becomes SSAFA president

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

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.

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 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 service men 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 opens our new headquarters in central London

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.

SSAFA Norton House relocates

Norton House, Stanford Hall was officially opened in May by our Vice President, Lady Carter. The home has relocated following the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre’s move to the East Midlands.