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The NAAFI Wagon

Our new mobile shop rolled in to our Surbiton Home last Tuesday and was warmly greeted by residents. Affectionately named the NAAFI Wagon, it is stocked with useful items such as stamps, shampoo, biscuits, shaving foam, tights and lots more. Residents who are unable to go out on shopping trips are now able to stock up on those day-to-day essentials.


A ‘NAAFI Break’ is an expression that is familiar to most of our residents, but one that may not be so familiar to everyone else. The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) was created by the British Government in 1921, to run recreational establishments which were needed by the Armed Forces. It was also instructed to sell goods to servicemen and their families, and in the first year of trading, NAAFI sold £8.3 million worth of products. This equates to around £190 million in today’s terms.


During its peak in the Second World War, NAAFI would see the number of employees rise from 8,000 to 110,000, with its trading establishments also jumping from 1,350 to nearly 10,000 outlets. This included 800 canteens on seagoing ships and 900 mobile canteens emerging to support the war effort. Sales of tea skyrocketed during this time to around 3.5 million cups being sold everyday.


The term ‘NAAFI Break’ was used by members of the Armed Forces to mean a short break, with most of these involving a cup of tea. The term is still used today. Up until 2010, NAAFI’s own brand of tea was only consumed by the Armed Forces, but in April of 2010 they released it to the British public, with the promise that 50p from every purchase would go towards helping injured service personnel.


During its ninety-year tenure, NAAFI has supported conflicts around the world, offering British Forces a ‘taste of home’ while serving overseas. Unfortunately, after nearly a century in operation, NAAFI is to sound its final retreat and start to close its doors over the next seven years as part of the Army reorganisation.


Our NAAFI Wagon is on a more modest scale but is still valued by our residents and we’re hoping to get other volunteers involved, to drive the Wagon on additional days each week. Director of Care & Service Development, Pauline Shaw said: “As a military charity we always look for ways to keep this important connection alive; the ‘NAAFI Break’ will be well loved and remembered by many people who have chosen to live with us.



Dominic Holbrook. (2013). Naafi to shut up shop after century of service. Available: Last accessed 30th May 2018.

Murray Wardrop. (2010). NAAFI tea goes on sale to civilians for first time. Available: Last accessed 30th May 2018.

Unknown. (2013). NAAFI History. Available: Last accessed 30th May 2018.