Search our First World War records

Our annual reports or 'Flag Books' from 1914 - 1918 tell the story of life on the Home Front during the First World War.

To find out what happened in your local community, you can browse through reports, see the list of contents or search for a place or person.

Scroll down to read stories from the frontline and learn about SSAFA’s work on the home front throughout the war

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1914

  • The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

    On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated the Austrian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which set off a chain reaction of events culminating in the outbreak of the First World War.

  • At the outbreak of the First World War

    The Government called on us to take care of the families of soldiers going to the Front. After five months, SSFA, as we were known as, had paid out more than £1m from the National Relief Fund and had 50,000 voluntary workers.

  • Helping without prejudice

    The Chairman, Sir James Gildea

    "There was the difficulty of the "unmarried mother." She came on the scene and was introduced to us for the first time, and we all wanted to help her, married or not."

  • Since 1885 SSAFA has supported veterans from the First World War to the present day.

  • The Nurses were founded to attend the wives and families of soldiers and sailors in large garrison and seaport towns. They wore a bronze badge bearing the face of the royal president of SSFA Queen Alexandra.

  • Our work in 1914

    856,361

    Forces people helped

    270,293

    Wives helped

    520,012

    Children helped

    129,056

    Other relatives helped

  • THE UK DECLARE WAR ON GERMANY

    Germany invades Belgium. Britain protests the violation of Belgian neutrality, guaranteed by the treaty of London. The German Chancellor replies that the treaty is just a scrap of paper. The United Kingdom declares war on Germany.

  • Albert Osborne Hildyard

    subtitle: Stories from our volunteers

    "It was only when I examined my great grandfather's medals whilst doing my family history that I realised he had medals from WW1 and WW2. He served in the Boer War and in November 1914, at age 50, re-enlisted and was promoted temporary Quartermaster with the honorary rank of Lieutenant. He joined the Air Raid Precaution and Civil Defence at the age of 75 on the outbreak of WW2, gaining the War and Defence medals. His son, my grandfather was awarded the Military Medal in WW1, and my grandfather's sister (ATS) the MBE in WW2. Quite a family!" Jane Jennings

  • CHRISTMAS LETTER FROM QUEEN ALEXANDRA TO SIR JAMES GILDEA 1914

    The help it has been possible to give through our army of Voluntary Workers has been great indeed, but the influence and sympathy established between recipients and the givers appear to me of even greater value, and will, I feel sure, have permanent and far-reaching results.

  • John Raymond Laurie

    "My father was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery in December 1913. He served in France, arriving in the trenches on Christmas Day 1914. He travelled the world and returned to the UK in 1942. He was involved in the Gunnery fire plan for D-Day before retiring in 1946." Blanche Laurie-Chiswell

  • The Right Hon. W. Hayes Fisher, MP

    Now for a moment let us go back twenty months - to the beginning of the war, when the Reserves were called up, and the Expeditionary Force was sent abroad, and when many wives and many families were left without any aid or any advice, or, indeed any money, and who would not have had any aid if it had not been that Sir James Gildea had mobilised the forces of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association...

  • Christmas truce declared by soldiers along the Western Front

  • The Christmas ship

    In 1914, SSFA handed out thousands of gifts to the children of British troops that had been sent from America on the Christmas ship.

1915

  • Mr R G D Thomas speaking at the Annual Meeting 18 June 1915

    It has been a wonderful field for women’s work, and they have risen nobly to the occasion. Three of our largest towns – London, Liverpool, and Dublin – have been entirely run by women since the war broke out.

  • Gallipoli campaign

    The Gallipoli campaign (25 April 1915 - 9 January 1916) was the land-based element of a strategy intended to allow Allied ships to pass through the Dardanelles, capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) and ultimately knock Ottoman Turkey out of the war. It involved British and ANZAC troops. They evacuated after a stalemate.

  • The SSAFA Crest

    Sitting at a table with James Gildea in 1915, Queen Alexandra, mother of King George V and President of SSAFA, drew two hairpins from her hair and laid them across one another. She was demonstrating her personal monogram of two crossed ‘A’s’. This, the story goes, was how SSAFA’s official badge was born. Whether or not the story rings true, it remains significant that Her Majesty’s Royal Cypher became the Association’s badge.

  • SSAFA on the Homefront

    In addition to making advance payments on the delayed Separation Allowances, SSFA helped with grants in time of sickness, the birth of a baby, a family funeral and with rent allowances to keep the home together during the husband's absence.

  • Mr R G D Thomas speaking at the Annual Meeting 18 June 1915

    And where we have been so very successful is, I think, that we have been able to drop all questions of politics, all questions of religion, all questions of social difference, and we have made a real coalition, to work with only one object – the women and children.

  • Sydney Robert Cookson

    subtitle: Stories from our volunteers

    "At the start of the war he was serving in the Territorials and one night the men were asked if they would volunteer for the overseas service. None stepped forward until my great uncle, CSM Cookson, did and then to a man, the parade followed him. He was shot through the head while helping to cut a communication trench." Duncan Andrews

  • First German air raid on Britain

  • SSAFA on the Homefront

    "The Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association covers almost every part of the United Kingdom and has an enormous amount of influence. I think the great majority of the workers of the Association are women, and they deal almost entirely with women and their families." Mr Hayes Fisher.

  • Malcolm Dillon, Esq. Treasurer and Hon Secretary, Seaham Harbour Division

    The remark - which is constantly heard in the Army, and I have no doubt in the Navy: 'Where in the world should we have been in this great War without the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association?

1916

  • Battle of Verdun

    The Battle of Verdun (21 February - 18 December 1916) was the longest battle of the First World War. It began in February 1916 with a German attack on the fortified French town of Verdun, where bitter fighting took place until the French secured a defensive victory before the year’s end.

  • The Battle of the Somme (1 Jul 1916 – 18 Nov 1916) fought in northern France, was one of the bloodiest of First World War. For five months the British and French armies engaged the Germans in a brutal battle of attrition on a 15-mile front. In total, there were over one million dead and wounded on all sides.

  • Battle of Jutland

    The Battle of Jutland (31 May - 1 June 1916) was the largest naval battle of the First World War. It was the only time that the British and German fleets of 'dreadnought' battleships actually came to blows. Involving 250 ships and around 100,000 men. The battle confirmed British naval dominance and secured its control of shipping lanes, allowing Britain to implement the blockade that would contribute to Germany’s eventual defeat in 1918.

  • Conscription is introduced

    The British government passed the Military Service Act that specified that single men aged 18 to 40 years old were liable to be called up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of a religion. Married men were exempt in the original Act, although this was changed in June 1916. The age limit was also eventually raised to 51 years old. Conscription lasted until mid-1919.

  • 100 years after James Shanks received his medal for his services in WW1, SSAFA Glasgow Branch ensured his son got one too. James was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his remarkable bravery during the Somme, and now his son John is the proud recipient of the Légion D’Honneur.

  • ITALY DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY

  • Casualties from the Somme

    The first day of the Somme offensive, July 1, 1916, resulted in 57,470 British casualties, greater than the total combined British casualties in the Crimean, Boer, and Korean wars. By the end of the campaign the Allies and Central Powers would lose more than 1.5 million men.

    420,000

    British

    200,000

    French

    465,000

    German

  • The 200 mile cycling event that commemorates the cycling soldiers that fought and fell along the Western Front.

  • Jack Scroggs

    subtitle: Stories from our volunteers

    "Jack enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Regiment and found himself on the Northern France Theatre of War on 30 November 1916. He was captured at Arras and was reported missing in action on 3 May 1917. As a prisoner-of-war, Jack was interned at Sennelager POW camp in Germany until his release in December 1918. Jack received the Victory and British War Medals." Julia Klaja

  • Major Woolley

    subtitle: Stories from the front

    Months after her husband Captain (subsequently Major) Dick Woolley was reported missing during one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, Lucy Woolley received a telegram from Germany. It read simply: “Cheers, Best Love. Woolley.” The wire was the confirmation she had been hoping for that, contrary to some reports, her husband had, against all the odds, survived the Battle of the Somme and was being held captive in Germany.

1917

  • Battle of Passchendaele

    On July 31, 1917, the Allies launch a renewed assault on German lines in the Flanders region of Belgium, in the much-contested region near Ypres, during the First World War. The attack began more than three months of brutal fighting, known as the Third Battle of Ypres - also known as Passchendaele, for the village, and the ridge surrounding it.

  • SSAFA opens children's home

    In 1917, SSAFA opened a children's home in Devonport with Alexandra nurses and a maternity home. Sir George Newman (Medical Adviser to the local government) said in a public speech said 'if he had an Alexandra Maternity Home in every town he would solve the question of infantile mortality.'

  • Robert Bye VC

    subtitle: Stories from our volunteers

    "Robert James Bye VC was the first Welsh recipient of the Victoria Cross. He was 27 years old and a Sergeant in the 1st Bn., Welsh Guards. When they attacked Pilckem Ridge the leading units achieved their first objective of the Black Line, but were then halted by two pillboxes. Bye rushed one, put it out of action. After suffering heavy casualties the Guards moved on to attack the Green Line. Held up by a series of blockhouses, Bye volunteered to take charge of a party, which captured the blockhouses along with many prisoners." Kevin Bye

  • US DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY

    In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the United States would remain neutral, and many Americans supported this policy of nonintervention. However, public opinion started to change after the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915; almost 2,000 people perished, including 128 Americans. Along with news of the Zimmerman telegram threatening an alliance between Germany and Mexico, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.

  • SSAFA's Devonport children's home

    In 1917, the work of our Alexandra nurses was credited with combating the infant mortality rate.

    207

    babies born

    7,818

    visits by nurses

    620

    maternity cases

  • John Bowsher

    subtitle: Stories from Passchendaele

    Walter John Bowsher (known as Jack) was called up for service 18 January 1917 at the age of 19. He was one of thousands of men aged 18 - 41 who were conscripted to serve their country after the heavy losses at the Somme.

  • Casualties from Passchendaele

    In total around 500,000+ fell there, either killed, wounded or missing.

    325,000

    Allied

    260,000

    German

  • John Waldie

    subtitle: Lost in Passchendaele

    John was among 40,244 British soldiers who were killed during the battle of Passchendaele; it was only recently, one hundred years later, that his family found his final resting place.

  • Albert Cousins

    subtitle: Stories from Passchendaele

    Albert Cousins was in his 30’s when he joined the war effort in 1916. As one of the older and more educated soldiers, he was assigned a technical role in the Signals. He later trained as a stretcher bearer and was caught up in the 2nd Battle of the Somme in 1917.

1918

  • The formation of the RAF

    The Royal Air Force (including the Women's Auxiliary Air Force) is born from the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps.

  • SSAFA on the Homefront in 1918

    During the five years of WW1 (1914 – 1918 inclusive), SSFA gave over £2.66million (over £277million in today’s money) to soldiers' and sailors’ wives, children and dependents in Great Britain and overseas.

  • January 1918

    Ration books are introduced. Rations include butter, margarine, lard, meat and sugar.

  • Report of the Council, 1918-1919

    The workers of the Association will have a proud and abiding memory in that they have been privileged to take so prominent a part in granting assistance to the Wives, Children, and Dependants of the men who served their King and Country with such untiring valour for more than four years at Sea, on Land, and in the Air.

  • 31 January 1918

    A series of accidental collisions on a misty Scottish night leads to the loss of two Royal Navy submarines with over two hundred lives and damage to another five British warships.

  • The Spring Offensive

    The Spring Offensive – (21 March – 18 July 1918) sought to divide the British and French forces with a series of feints and advances, hoping to end the war before US forces arrived. The operation (Operation Michael) commenced with an attack on British forces near Saint-Quentin.

  • Report of the Council, 1918-1919

    It cannot be too generally realised that the Association is not solely a war fund or organisation, but that it deals with dependants after, as well as during, a war.

  • SPANISH INFLUENZA

    The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, infecting 500 million people around the world. Although not caused by WW1, it is thought that in the UK, the virus was spread by soldiers returning home from the trenches in northern France. In the 1918-1919 report of the council, it is noted that SSFA dealt with many cases related to the influenza epidemic, and covered funeral costs of soldier's wives and children who had died.

  • Votes for Women

    In 1918, the government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising all men and women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications.

  • Battle of Amiens

    The Battle of Amiens (8-11 August 1918) heralded the start of the Hundred Days campaign, a four-month period of Allied success. After surviving the German Spring Offensives, Allied forces launched a counter-punch of their own and from the summer of 1918 onwards, they were constantly on the advance.

  • Lance Corporal Patrick Mcgrechan

    subtitle: Stories from our volunteers

    "Sadly my maternal great-grandfather Patrick was killed in action at Arras on 25th March 1918, he was 23. My Grandfather (Patrick's son) went on to serve in the Army himself, throughout WW2, thankfully despite 'a fair bit of action,' he returned home safe and pretty much sound. I hope he would be pleased to know I do my small bit to continue to help other serving people and their families in his memory through my work and volunteering with SSAFA." Caroline Murphy

  • The Great War ends

    On the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ends. At 5 a.m. that morning, Germany, bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiégne, France.

  • Eleanor Rathbone, MP and Suffragette

    subtitle: Stories from our volunteers

    Eleanor was an active SSAFA volunteer for our Liverpool branch throughout the war, you can read her speeches to Council arguing for the support for wives and widows in our 1915 flagbook. She was instrumental in negotiating the terms of women's inclusion in the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

  • SSFA BECOMES SSAFA

    In a letter dated 14 July 1919, Queen Alexandra proposed the name change to include the Airmen and Air Force; it was voted upon and from then on we were known as The Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association.