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History of the NAAFI

From “Wing” magazine of 140 Wing Gutersloh


After the death of King Henry VIII, who was responsible for the nationalization of the NAAFI, his successor Edward VI paid very little attention to this most important establishment and apart from a few cooked accounts there is no real record of any outstanding part played by NAAFI in the history of the times. There is a short reference to a manager being burnt at the stake by Bloody Mary for supplying pies straight from the oven instead of allowing them to grow stale before putting them on sale. It was felt at the time that the manager’s action was revolutionary in the extreme and struck at the very roots of the NAAFI tradition.

Passing on to Elizabethan times, the story that Drake was playing bowls when he received the news of the coming of the Armada is pure fabrication. In actual fact he was enjoying his morning break in the Plymouth Hoe branch of the NAAFI. Here let it be recorded that he was extremely peeved at the disturbance and was heard to mutter “Zounds, a plague upon these Spanish popinjays! Have they no respect for the customs of the country?” Thereupon he called his drummer boy over to the table and bade him sound the call to arms. The drummer boy’s reply was to the effect that he’d be blanked if he’d sound any ruddy thing until he’d had his break. It is fairly well known that the Spaniards were licked, and down through the ages their defeat has stood forth as an example of what happens to anyone who tries to monkey with the morning break.

Elizabeth was rather fond of the odd visit to the NAAFI and it was when she was leaving a canteen one evening that Sir Walter Raleigh placed his cloak over a puddle in order to prevent her from getting her regal tootsies damp. The Queen, who was nothing if not a lady, smiled sweetly at Sir W. and said “I’m afraid I’ve messed your cloak up a little”. The gallant knight’s reply to this was “Dieu et mon droit”, which freely translated means “By God you’re right”. He finished up in the tower, which all goes to show you can’t be rude to a lady and get away with it.

When the Virgin Queen died from an excess of her own virginity, England, as is her wont in times of trouble, found herself obliged to call upon a Scotsman to come and sort things out. (Free plug for Bonnie Scotland – no charge whatsoever). His Majesty James I of England and VI of Scotland came haring south at a rate of knots, having heard all about the NAAFI and their profits, which to his Scottish ears sounded sweet. In his own words “Tis a muckle fine lot of bawbees”. He became really interested in the NAAFI and even more interested in their profits and under his direction the business prospered. James prospered too, for that matter and so did his son Charles I, until he was beheaded when he ceased to have any further interest in the concern.

It was during the Protectorship of Oliver Cromwell that the Forces really began to control the NAAFI. Cromwell was a bit of a business man and he decided that the profits should be used to help his own soldiers along. That was the beginning of PSI; General Monk was the first President. The trouble was that the Puritans were rather narrow-minded types and didn’t really approve of using the money for anything frivolous. Consequently most of the PSI money was spent on building stocks and pillories wherein to confine anyone who was unwise enough to get drunk in the bar. There is a record of one Praise-ye-the-Lord Golightly who was confined to the stocks for ten days for suggesting at a PSI meeting that the bar be opened on a Sunday. In these enlightened times, of course, the only discussion is how long the bar should stay open, and to the best of the author’s knowledge there are no stocks at Y99.


Charles II was a bit of a lad and he formed an attachment with the first NAAFI girl, Nell Gwynn, who sold both oranges and her honour to the highest bidder – in this case Charles. Amber (of Forever Amber) tried to get in on the racket but failed rather miserably and finished up as a Duchess. During the plague the NAAFI carts were requisitioned and were sent round collecting the unfortunate victims. The story that the victims were afterwards used in pies has no foundation whatsoever and may be classed in the same category as the present day belief that cement is used in the manufacture of NAAFI wads. In those days the closing of the bar in the evening was a job which required more than a mere Orderly Sergeant. In fact a detachment of the Palace Guard had to be used and even they had a bit of a job sometimes. One evening in particular, when a dozen or so musketeers had been celebrating their approaching demob (time expired actually), there was a bit of a brawl in one of the canteens culminating in one of the Guard being soaked in brandy and set alight. The blaze spread rapidly and started the Great Fire, which apart from anything else burnt down all the NAAFI canteens in the City of London, thus temporarily winding up their business.

It wasn’t very long after this that the sutleresses appeared on the scene and… this is where we came in.