Royal Air Forces Association

The Royal Air Forces Association (also called the RAF Association or RAFA) is the largest single Service membership organisation and the longest standing registered service charity that provides welfare support to the RAF Family - providing friendship, help and support to current and former members of the Royal Air Force and their dependants.

Royal Air Forces Association
Key people
Formerly called
Comrades of the Royal Air Forces

The RAF Association currently has a membership of over 74,000 includes serving RAF personnel, veterans and non-service individuals. With a UK-wide caseworker network of over 540 volunteer welfare caseworkers and over 500 befrienders undertaking over 85,000 welfare contacts annually, help ranges from simply providing conversation and friendship to preparing and submitting application forms for financial assistance.


1.    At the end of the First World War a number of Squadron and Unit Associations were formed to enable those who had served together to maintain contact with one another..

2.    In 1919, the women who had served with the Royal Air Force in the First World War formed an Old Comrades Association to which members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force were admitted.

3.    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

4.    It was a concept that reached the ears of William Coen, the editor of The Planesman – a publication that was widely read by airmen on the many RAF stations spread around the UK. A series of articles by William Coen supporting the idea produced much encouragement, and an inaugural meeting was held on 23 April 1930 at Ye Olde Butler’s Head in the City of London where preliminary plans for a national organisation were discussed, with Joe Pearce in the chair.

5.    A provisional committee was formed with Air Commodore C R Samson as Chairman, Air Commodore B C H Drew as Vice-Chairman and editor William Coen as Honorary Secretary. The title ‘Comrades of the Royal Air Forces’ was adopted, and three months later in 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.

6.   Air Ministry support for the Comrades came in 1933 when the Air Council officially recognised the organisation and Hugh Trenchard, 1st Viscount Trenchard accepted the Presidency.

7.    The new Association was to make rapid progress in the early thirties, although membership was to remain fairly small.  Benevolent schemes began, and Christmas hampers were sent to unemployed members in those difficult days.  A very important event in the Association’s history came in 1936 when George V gave his patronage, and the Association has been honoured with Royal Patrons ever since. The size of the RAF remained modest until the effects of the re-armament programme began to be felt in 1938.  The strength of the ‘Comrades’ was never to grow beyond 10,000 in pre-war days.

8.    In 1936, His Majesty King George VI granted his Patronage to the Comrades of the Royal Air Forces and continued to be Patron when the name was changed to 'The Royal Air Forces Association'.

9.    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.

10.  In 1941, the two Old Comrades organisations for airmen and airwomen merged, resulting in a combined membership of nearly 20,000.

11.  By 1943, with more than a million serving in the RAF, it became clear that if the Association was to plan an effective part in the post-war era, it would need to be organised on a much sounder basis. The Association’s Committee in studying the organisation’s future role concluded that its aims and objectives should be extended beyond its original purpose " advise and assist all ranks leaving the Royal Air Force in regard to pensions, disability awards, grants, etc..... to assist all ranks leaving the Royal Air Force to find suitable employment; to advise and assist all ranks leaving the Royal Air Force upon any business or financial transaction connected with their re-entry into civil life; .... To co-operate with any Government department and/or other Organisations having similar objects to this Association." The Air Council was advised that the Association was considering a change of name , that it desired to obtain a Royal Charter and that its support of the application would be sought in due course.

12.  Interestingly, the Air Council in their reply said "It is understood that your Association has under consideration the question of adopting a more euphonious title. Such a change appears to the Council to be desirable, and they would suggest Royal Air Force Comrades Association as a possible new title."

13.  In 1943, the name of the organisation was changed to "The Royal Air Forces Association" with membership open to all who were serving or had served in the Royal Air Forces of the Crown. The Association was officially recognised by the Air Ministry. Branches were grouped into Regions. A National Council, under the chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal Sir John Steel was formed to replace the Committee of CRAFA, upon which Regions were represented, was formed and welfare services including legal and general advice, pensions and employment were instituted.

14.  The foundations of the charity’s present structure were laid in the remaining wartime years, so that when demobilisation began in 1945 the Association was able to cope with the situation. Welfare officers , employment officials and legal advisers were appointed both at National Headquarters and at branch level and, at the Air Ministry 's invitation , officials went" to Release Centres to tell those being "demobbed " how the Association could  help  them.

15.   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.

16.  It is appropriate at this point to acknowledge the contribution made to the Association by Gerald Boak. Appointed in 1947 to the position of Chief  Executive (the  appointment was later renamed General Secretary and later still Secretary General), Gerald Boak did much to organise and lead the Association during a period when there was much uncertainty . That the Association was able to progress through the difficulties of those post-war years, that it was able to develop its Area structure and that its fund-raising potential began to be realised was due particularly to this man who served the Association so well for nearly 30 years.

17.  In 1948, a policy of decentralisation was agreed whereby the United Kingdom was divided into nine Areas. Six Areas were formed in England and one each in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each Area had an Area Headquarters with a paid Director and staff, an Area Council elected by the Branches in the Area and representation on the Council of the Association.

18.  Overseas Branches were later formed into three groups for administration purposes. The South African Area has its own Area Council and looks after all Branches in that country. The European Area, comprising all the European Branches, also has an Area Council and is represented on the Council of the Association. Other Overseas Branches are classified as "Independent Overseas Branches".

19.  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.

20.  Following a 1950 Conference decision, a National Wings Day was held the next year and this, the first Wings Appeal, raised over £26,000.

21.  Also in 1950, Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester consented to be Vice-Patron.

22.  In 1952, on her accession to the Throne, Elizabeth II continued the Royal tradition by becoming Patron and, on the 20th January 1953, granted a Royal charter to the Association.

23.  February 1958 saw the opening at Lytham St Anne’s , Lancashire, of the Association 's first convalescent and rest home , named Richard Peck House in honour of Air Marshal Sir Richard Peck - who after Lord Trenchard and Lord Newall, had become, in 1949, President of the RAFA .

24.  In 1962 the Association acquired "Sussexdown” in Storrington, Sussex as part of a plan to provide a dual-purpose home in the south of England. Within a couple of years "Sussexdown” was to have a Residential Wing as well as providing convalescent facilities.

25.  We were also honoured and proud to have the Duke of Edinburgh as President in 1954 – 55, 67 – 69 and again in 1993, and the Prince of Wales in 1986. The Duke of Cambridge became a member of the Association in 2014.

26.  The difficulties of obtaining suitable housing for elderly, and often disabled members, had long concerned the Association. The Norwest Housing Association completed a project involving the construction of 22 self-contained flats at Bolton in 1976, initiating thereby an important addition to the Association's range of welfare facilities. Later the Central Housing Association was given approval for the construction of 32 double flats on vacant space at Sussexdown; construction work on this project began in 1978.

27.  The next major project to be undertaken was that at Dowding House, Moffat. This scheme was completed in October 1988, and included the creation of a complex of self-contained flats, a communal lounge, conservatory, laundry facilities and a guest room·. A care-call system was installed in all the flats and a resident warden appointed.

28.  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 the National Headquarters relocated to the heart of the country in Leicester, and in the process amalgamated the Association’s Areas into five.

29.  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 campaign in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

30.  In 2003 Areas in the UK were merged into: Northern; South East & Eastern; and Wales, Midland & South Western followed by Scotland & Northern Ireland in 2004.

31.  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 422 branches worldwide, and has a membership of over 61,900. 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.


32.  The constitution of the Association was originally laid down in the Royal Charter of Incorporation and Schedule of Rules granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. These documents were subsequently amended on a number of occasions and a Supplemental Charter and Rules were submitted to Her Majesty in 1996 to consolidate past amendments and to modernise the documents. The Supplemental Charter and Rules were approved by Her Majesty in August 1996.

33.  The agreement of Her Majesty (normally given by the Privy Council on her behalf) is required for any further amendment to the Royal Charter and Rules.


34.  The Association was registered under the War Charities Act, 1940 and the Charities Act 1960 to date.

35.  In 1960 The Charities Act was passed, which also created the Charity Commission.  The Charity Act has been amended a number of times, latterly in 2016, each revision has strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission to investigate and regulate charities as well as to raise standards of accountability for charity trustees. Members of the Council are also the Trustees of the Association.

36.  In 1962 Article 5(b) of the Royal Charter was amended to give the objects that we would recognise today:

To promote the Welfare by charitable means of those serving or have served in Our Air Forces, their wives and dependants and the widows and dependants of those who died either while serving in Our Air Forces or thereafter and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing:-

(i)             To preserve the memory and honour by charitable means, of comrades or members, of the Association who have died in Our Service.

(ii)           To advise members of the Association, persons eligible for membership and their wives, widows and dependants regarding service and other pensions, disability awards and civilian employment and to assist by charitable means such members and persons when sick or in need of assistance.

(iii)          To co-operate or amalgamate with or support any other charitable organisation having exclusively charitable objects similar to the objects of the Association.

(iv)          To solicit and receive any subscriptions and gifts of all kinds absolute or conditional for the objects and subject to the direction of the Council, obtain money for such objects by any charitable means (including organised collections from members of the public on any day or days specially fixed for that purpose) and for such purpose to advertise the objects and activities of the Association by any legal method that may commend itself to the Association and, in particular, by the publication, distribution and either sale or without charge or both, of an Association journal.”

37.  The Charity Commission for England and Wales commenced the registration of charities, following its formation, this was undertaken in batches and the Association was added to the register of charities in 1963 as a registered charity.

38.  In 1996 the current wording was adopted via a Supplemental Charter to the Royal Charter:

“The object for which the Association is established is to promote, through the comradeship engendered by its members, the welfare by charitable means of all serving and former members of Our Air Forces, their spouses and dependants together with the widows and widowers and dependants of those who died whilst serving or subsequently.”

39.  Thus the Royal Air Forces Association is a registered charity incorporated by Royal Charter to support the serving and former members of Our Forces, simplified to ‘A member led, welfare charity supporting the RAF family’ and promoted as:

The Royal Air Forces Association the charity that supports the RAF family’

40. It is the largest single Service military charity with 74,000 members, across 90 countries in 400 branches.

Wings Appeal

The Wings Appeal is the RAF Association's on-going fundraising campaign that runs throughout the year.

The RAF Association's fundraisers come in many forms; including RAF Association Branch members, members of the serving RAF, RAF Cadets, employees of companies who support the Association and individual members of the public.

The types of activity which volunteers undertake include:

  • Holding charity collections in town centres, supermarkets and other public venues
  • House-to-house collections
  • Placing collecting tins in public places
  • Holding a "Brew for the Few" tea party
  • Manning stalls at public events such as airshows and church fairs
  • Sponsored challenge events
  • Taking part in the Wings Lotto Grand Draw & Wings Lotto weekly competitions


The kind of welfare support provided by the RAF Association is wide-ranging: everything from providing home visits and respite care breaks, to offering advice and, in some circumstances, financial assistance in times of difficulty.

In a typical year, these are some of the ways the RAF Association helps Servicemen and women, past and present.

  • Over 74,000[1] members offering friendship and support
  • Supporting over 85,000 beneficiaries in 2018
  • Helping to secure more than £550,000 in pension and compensation claims for those facing financial hardship
  • Provide much needed respite care breaks for around 2,500 guests in their WIngs Breaks hotels
  • The Storybook Wings initiative helps keep families connected for more than 95,000 days by helping a serving parent record a bedtime story
  • Through the RAF Families Federation the RAF Association gives RAF personnel and their families the chance to influence future policy
  • Over 10,000 serving personnel every month log on to the free wifi provision across 43 sites and 82 contact houses keeping the RAF family connected with family and friends
  • The RAF Association distributes more than £3.1 million in welfare grants to serving and ex-serving personnel
  • 68 partners have been trained as childminders as a pilot programme at RAF Benson, RAF Waddington, RAF Cranwell, RAF Wittering, RAF Scampton and RAF Coningsby a full extension of this programme is planned in 2019
  • The RAF Association trains all of its welfare volunteers to a nationally accredited standard. They are using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWS) to measure the impact of their casework.
  • Since 2018 the RAF Association have trained and deployed some 500 befrienders who have befriended a wide range of former RAF personnel - almost 25,000 hours of volunteer work in 2018.

Storybook Wings

Storybook Wings enables parents to record bedtime stories, along with personal messages, for their children to listen to while they are away.

The RAF Association provides recording equipment to parents for them to record their chosen stories. Thanks to donations received from members and the general public the association is able to fund the special editing and sound mixing equipment needed by our volunteer editors. Once edited, a soundtrack is added to give each story a really special feel. The completed CD is then sent to the children in a personalised CD cover, and is ready for them to listen to whenever they like.

The RAF Association now supports 35 stations who participate in this project, and RAF personnel are also able to record stories while in Theatre, with two recorders in Afghanistan, plus another at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.

Wings Breaks

The RAF Association owns and runs three respite care homes situated across the country in some of England's most picturesque locations. These offer respite short stays and breaks.

rafa YOUTH

rafa YOUTH is the RAF Association's youth membership scheme and is aimed at young people aged 13–17.

rafa YOUTH aims to help increase the RAF Association's long term numbers; encourage volunteering, support and increase awareness of the association's purpose as well as helping to promote youth development through air-related activities. It is hoped that youth members will continue their membership of the RAF Association as adults when they turn 18 and move on.

All 13- to 17-year-olds who are in uniform as Air Cadets, CCF (RAF), GVCAC, Air Scouts and Air Explorer Scouts are eligible to join rafa YOUTH.

See also


  1. as at 31/12/2018
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.