It is February 1944 and the tide of the Second World War is beginning to turn. In Burma, the Allies thwart the Japanese offensive. In France, Allied aircraft breach the walls of Amiens prison, securing the release of 258 French Resistance and political prisoners. And in Germany, Joseph Goebbels takes the unusual step of inflating the damage done by a bombing raid on Berlin in the hope that Allied forces will leave the city alone.
Against this backdrop, preparations for the Allied Invasion of Normandy continue in earnest. The plan presents unprecedented logistical challenges but the goal is clear: to defeat the German fighting forces in North-West Europe and usher on the close of the war.
In London, to the chatter and whine of the last heavy German air-strikes, the Army Board shifts its attention to the long-term well-being of the millions of British soldiers, many wounded in mind and body, who will soon be returning home. History has shown that their combined need may quickly overwhelm the State’s ability to care for them.
Who will provide for these soldiers and their families? Who will protect them from the hardships endured by those returning from the First World War, a generation before?
On 28th February 1944, Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg, places before Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet a memorandum calling for the formation of an Army Benevolent Fund. Three months later, in May, the War Cabinet approves the scheme. As The Times notes: “The Fund for the Soldier” is “an object none can question because the soldier is what it’s all about.”
The Army Benevolent Fund – as we were then known – came into being on 15th August 1944. For 75 years we have served as the Army’s National Charity, providing a lifetime of support to serving soldiers, veterans and their families. In 2010, we rebranded as ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. Our name may be different but our purpose remains unchanged: to ensure that soldiers, veterans and their families can lead lives of independence and dignity, now and in the future.
While there is a British Army, there will be The Soldiers’ Charity.