NAAFI’s role in D-Day Landings

On 6th June 1944, the world watched in awe as the largest naval, air and land operation in history unfolded on the war- torn shores of Normandy, France. Code-named Operation Overlord, D-Day is remembered as the instrumental gamble that changed the course of World War II.

In the weeks leading up to the historic Normandy Landings, NAAFI launched a recruitment campaign to seek hundreds of volunteers to staff canteens in sealed invasion camps, with recruits knowingly unable to leave until duty was complete. These individuals became more than just canteen staff, they were confidantes and a vital link to home for serving personnel.

Before setting foot in Normandy, each soldier received a NAAFI canteen pack containing essential taste of home supplies such as cigarettes, shaving kits, toothpaste and soap. These small tokens were a much-needed sense of normality amidst the chaos and uncertainty of day-to-day life during the war.

A reconnaissance party landed in France on 23rd June to scout their surroundings for suitable locations for warehouses to store essential supplies from home. Within weeks, mobile canteens offering delicious hot meals and a friendly face followed the advancing troops. NAAFI gifted troops books and indoor and outdoor games, with these activities fostering camaraderie and reminding soldiers they were not alone.

On 10th July, five mobile canteens flocked into operation serving outlying units, and by 15th July, NAAFI landed 670 million cigarettes, almost 3.3 million bottles of beer and over 9,500 tonnes of tobacco. The canteens became sanctuaries, offering familiar sights, sounds and tastes of classic British food and drink, which in turn helped to combat homesickness and boost morale.

By the end of July, there were around 800 NAAFI personnel in Normandy with hundreds at home, standing by ‘eager for the adventure of service in Europe’. Their story is a testament to the power of human connection and the unwavering spirit of those who served during World War II.

The look and feel of NAAFI may have changed in the 80 years since D-Day, but giving back remains at the heart of the business. In present day, NAAFI continue to provide retail, catering, laundry, facilities management and much more in some of the world’s most remote locations such as the volcanic Ascension Island and the beautiful, militarised atoll of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. In 2023, NAAFI opened its doors to the UK high street with brand new NAAFI Cafes, including locations such as Catterick, Scarborough, Winchester and Fareham.

Founded in 2020, the NAAFI Fund has committed to providing a minimum of £10m back to Armed Forces Units to invest in their own welfare projects over the course of a decade. So far, NAAFI have donated over £3.6m into supporting hundreds of projects, including welfare facilities, mountain bikes, gym equipment and much more. Read more about the Fund here.

With special thanks to British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.

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