SSAFA – Always Leading By Example!
By Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
22 Oct 13. Providing lifelong support to members of the British Armed forces and their families since as long ago as 1885 the military charity SSAFA never ceases to amaze with the range of superb work that it undertakes. I make no apology this morning for leaving aside the normal range of current issues and events that may or may not be worthy of additional comment from me so that on this occasion I can concentrate on what I believe to be not only the oldest military charity in existence but also one that should be regarded one of the very best.
Last evening as guest of Galliford Try, a long established construction company with strong and well established links to the MoD on various defence housing and construction projects, I found myself amongst a mass of uniformed and non uniformed glitterati including members of parliament and the great and good of the military and defence industry attending the annual SSAFA Defence Industry Charitable Dinner.
Ringing the changes in venue the SSAFA dinner was this year held at 8 Northumberland Avenue which had formally been part of what used to be known as Northumberland House built in 1882 and that I also believe is the subject of a very fine painting by Canaletto. The SSAFA dinner is for me one of the highlights of the professional event calendar and for those of you who also attended and who like me had perhaps never been inside this very fine Victorian building it may be of interest to note former military links – these being that the whole of Northumberland House had in 1940 been requisitioned by the War Office and that its use by the subsequent Ministry of Defence as offices only ended I believe around the year 2000.
With the main event sponsored by Babcock International and Thales having sponsored the earlier drinks reception guest speakers at the SSAFA event last evening were the Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton and, marking the second anniversary of his very first speech as Secretary of State for Defence which had been made at the SSAFA dinner two years ago, the Rt. Hon Philip Hammond MP. Reminding his audience that those that SSAFA have helped over the very many years of its existence are recipients of support as oppose to sympathy the Chief of Defence Staff went on to remind that although in his personal view national affection for the Armed Forces has never been higher than now such affection does not always last long. These are poignant words indeed from a man who I would say is not only universally liked for his sound opinions, his belief in jointary, his leadership abilities, his guidance and not to mention his wonderful sense of humor that I notice is often at the expense of his wife!
As its own website reminds the history of SSAFA is the history of the men and women of Britain’s Forces AND their families. SSAFA was in fact the result of the vision and drive of one man Major James Gildea who in February 1885, as the Second Expeditionary Force set sail for Egypt, wrote a letter to The Times of London appealing for funds and volunteers to look after families of soldiers left behind. Within three months, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association was born and since then it has helped support literally millions of people. Through two World Wars and every subsequent conflict that has involved the use of British military forces SSAFA has been there for our servicemen and women and their families.
With the ability to stand by and provide genuine support whenever it is needed and to adapt quickly to the needs of soldiers and their families SSAFA stands out from the crowd and is by it recipients the most respected of all military charities for the work that it does. In terms of how SSAFA provides practical support bets to say that it does whatever it takes to get things done. Not without good reason is SSAFA regarded by those that it has supported through the massive varie