In 1929, in the Sergeants’ Mess at RAF Andover, three men named Vernon Goodhand, Joe Pearce and Warrant Officer Bartlett met to discuss the formation of a single organisation dedicated to the welfare of serving and ex-serving RAF personnel: one which would replace the many smaller organisations that had grown to keep former servicemen in touch since the end of the First World War.
By 1930 a provisional committee had been formed called “Comrades of the Royal Air Forces Association” and the first general meeting of the new organisation took place at the Queen’s Hotel, Leicester Square, London. Air Ministry support for the Comrades came in 1933 when the Air Council officially recognised the organisation and Lord Trenchard accepted the Presidency.
Throughout the early thirties the new Association made rapid progress, establishing benevolent schemes and distributing Christmas hampers to unemployed members.
Then, in 1936, King George VI gave his patronage – and the Association has been honoured with Royal patronage ever since.
Following the outbreak of war in 1939, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force reformed, and the Women’s Royal Air Force Old Comrades Association (created in 1919) opened its membership to all ranks of the new female air service. In 1941, the two Old Comrades organisations for airmen and airwomen merged, resulting in a combined membership of nearly 20,000.
By 1943, with more than a million serving in the RAF, the organisation’s name was changed to the Royal Air Forces Association. A National Council, under the chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal Sir John Steel was formed to replace the Central committee of CRAFA.
The foundations of the charity’s present structure were laid during the remaining wartime years, and the Association was fully prepared for the consequences of demobilisation, which began in 1945.
Welfare officers, employment officials and legal advisers were appointed at National Headquarters and at local branch levels. At the Air Ministry’s invitation officials attended Release Centres to inform demobilised Air Personnel how the Association could help them.
In 1947 membership reached a peak with around 200,000 members and some 565 branches throughout the UK and in some overseas territories.
During this time, membership enrolment reached as many as 10,000 a month and, with the danger that the organisation might have become oversubscribed, the decision was made to distribute most of the administrative work over nine separate areas, each with its own HQ.
The Association has continued to maintain its Royal links and HM the Queen currently acts as Patron. We were also honoured and proud to have the Duke of Edinburgh as President in 1954 and 67, and the Prince of Wales in 1986.
At the start of the 21st Century it was clear that the Association needed to adapt to an ever-changing society and its welfare needs. The RAF Association underwent a complete reorganisation and Central Headquarters relocated to the heart of the country in Leicester, and in the process amalgamated the Association’s Areas into five.
In recent times the Association has continued to be at the forefront of providing support to the RAF family. As well as continuing to help those who served in World War II, we have given assistance to vast numbers of Service personnel including veterans of the conflicts in Korea, The Falklands and The Middle East, and those affected by the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan.
Today, the RAF Association carries on its vital work and is needed even more than ever. The Association continues to operate a wide network of over 445 branches worldwide, and has a membership of over 65,500. Our Welfare Officers continue to seek out those in welfare need and provide a range of services to help ease their suffering. Over eighty years later and we’re still making a huge difference to the lives of former servicemen and their families.
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