Untold lives blog

06 June 2014

D-Day - NAAFI was there!

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944.  Have you ever considered the role that NAAFI played in D-Day?  NAAFI placed advertisements in newspapers all over Britain in the summer of 1944 describing its work during the invasion campaign and appealing for new recruits to its canteens.

Map of defences Franceville-Plage May 1944
Map of defences Franceville-Plage May 1944 Online Gallery  Noc

NAAFI (Navy, Army, & Air Force Institutes) was established in 1921 to run recreational establishments for the Armed Forces, and to sell goods to servicemen and their families.  In the weeks before the Normandy landings, thousands of young women working for NAAFI volunteered to be ‘imprisoned’ in the sealed invasion camps to provide a canteen service for the troops.  The units which left Britain on D-Day took a NAAFI invasion pack with essential supplies and comforts: cigarettes, matches, razor blades, boot laces, letter cards, shaving cream, toothpaste and soap.

NAAFI was there - from a newspaper advertFrom an advertisement in Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 4 August 1944 British Newspaper Archive

On 23 June 1944 a NAAFI reconnaissance party landed in France to look for suitable premises for warehouses, stores, canteens and billets. The first main supplies of canteen goods were landed on 25 June.  These were followed the next day by sports packs containing books and indoor and outdoor games, a free gift to the troops from NAAFI.  On 10 July, NAAFI started to serve outlying units using five mobile canteens.  By 15 July, in addition to the emergency packs, NAAFI had landed 670 million cigarettes, nearly 3.3 million bottles of beer, and over 9,500 tons of tobacco, chocolate, razor blades, matches, writing materials, handkerchiefs and toiletries. 

  Rosemary Frances Harris NAAFI
Rosemary Harris in her NAAFI uniform. She worked in the canteen at RAF West Raynham, Norfolk. (Family photograph) Noc

More than 800 NAAFI men were at work in France by the end of July 1944. Hundreds of NAAFI women volunteers were ‘also standing by, eager for the adventure of service in Europe’.  Their places at home needed to be filled and so NAAFI sent out an urgent call in the press for manageresses, cooks and counter assistants to join its canteens.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:

Advertisements placed in local newspapers throughout Britain, for example Dover Express 7 July 1944 and Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 4 August 1944 British Newspaper Archive



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