125 years of the Forces Welfare Fund

Richard Jackman from the Salisbury Diocese Forces Welfare Fund explains the role of the fund today in supporting miiltary personnel in the diocese. Some 40 per cent of the British army are based within the boundaries of the diocese.

Large tracts of Salisbury Plain were purchased by the War Department in 1897 to address the serious shortcomings in training that became apparent during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. However, those training areas were lacking in recreational facilities or acceptable alternatives to the local ale-house.

Thus, on Salisbury Plain, the clergy and people of the local parishes began meeting the need for temperance canteens, opportunities for religious observance and quiet room facilities in village halls or in tented institutes in the summer camps. So began, in an informal way, the spiritual and social welfare work for the Armed Forces in the Diocese of Salisbury.

In 1898 Diocesan synod decided to relieve the local parishes of their burden and created a committee “ …… to make additional provision to that already in existence for the spiritual and moral welfare of soldiers.”

Tented institutes were quickly established at the four separate camps on the Plain and by 1903 the committee was formally constituted as permanent Diocesan Board with the title “The Church of England Diocesan Board for the Welfare of Soldiers”; the first of many titles the Board was to have in the 80 or so years which followed.

Over the subsequent years the tents were replaced by permanent buildings and, facilitated by responses to an appeal for funds, garrison churches were also built. Between 1914 and 1918 the number of institutes run by the Board varied from 25 to 30 according to need. Some were huts, some in marquees and some in buildings lent for the purpose. 

At the end of the war the need for so many institutes no longer existed and the NAAFI came into being in January 1921 and took over the running of some of them. By 1939 there were only three permanent institutes still working, namely at Bulford, Tidworth and Perham Down.

The outbreak of war in 1939 meant expansion of the Board’s work and plans were made for new institutes in camps at Warminster, Bovington and Blandford. Help was also given to open institutes in other parts of the Diocese with local committees in charge.

Post WW2 the number of institutes was gradually reduced and by 1967 the Board had divested itself from property and it was agreed to register with the Charity Commission and for the capital from the sale of the properties to remain intact while the income was used for the welfare of the Forces.

In1985 the charity ceased to be a Diocesan Board and the Diocesan Board of Finance became the Custodian Trustee. It acquired a new title, “The Forces Welfare Fund” and its charitable object was declared as “promoting the spiritual and moral welfare of, and providing such other charitable benefits as the Managing Trustees from time to time decide for, Her Majesty’s Forces within the Diocese of Salisbury and their dependants”.

With capital of approximately £1.25 million and an annual dispersible income of about £40,000, the Trustees now meet in April and October in each year to consider bids for grants towards welfare projects that come not only from Army units on Salisbury Plain and Bovington but also the Royal Marines at Poole and the RAF at Boscombe Down as well as other Services related projects from elsewhere within the Diocese. Serving military and their dependents remain the primary focus, however the introduction of the Military Covenant also enables veterans’ causes to be considered.

Local agents, in the form of military chaplains and also organisations such as the WRVS, who best understand the needs in their vicinity, are encouraged to make proposals for grants and also to vet bids from other organisations or units to ensure that the ‘moral and spiritual welfare’ element is suitably evident, recognising that this terminology offers scope for a broad interpretation.   

For over 125 years the Forces Welfare Fund, under its many and varied titles, has demonstrated the commitment of the Church to the welfare of the members of HM Armed Forces within the Diocese, following the Church’s example in other fields such as education and youth work. The Forces Welfare Fund does not depend on fundraising but contributes to the welfare of the Forces by distributing the income from its investments which derive from the foresight of those who served the Fund in years gone by.

It is hoped to establish a web presence for the Forces Welfare Fund on the Salisbury Diocese website soon, but in the interim any enquiries should be addressed to the Board’s clerk, Mark Butler, via the sdfwf@gmail.com email.




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