Webpage created: March 15, 2020
Webpage updated: April 02, 2020
NAVY, ARMY AND AIR FORCE INSTITUTE (NAAFI)
In 1894 three dissatisfied officers formed the Canteen and Mess Co-operative Society and such was its reputation that in 1917 the Royal Navy joined the Co-operative and the following year the Royal Air Force, too.
It was on January 1st 1921 that the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute was created by the Government. It was to run recreational facilities for the armed forces and to retail goods to the men and their families. However, its history went back much further, to the Crimean War of 1854-58, when thousands of British troops died of starvation because of lack of catering facilities.
The former NAAFI building that
used to stand on the corner
Although the service grew before the Second World War it was mainly to support British troops in foreign countries, like Ceylon, Germany, Gibraltar and Malta. During the War it was servicing 800 ships' canteens and some 900 mobile shops.
The NAAFI Club opened their original premises in Nissen huts placed on the former site of the Royal Hotel on the corner of Lockyer Street. This was opened by Mr A V Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty, on Friday March 16th 1945. The Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman H G Mason, presided and the Bishop of Plymouth performed the dedication. The Club provided facilities for shoe shines, barbers' shops, luxurious lounges and bars, extensive recreational rooms, a mending and darning service, a reading room, a dance hall and a restaurant.
After the opening ceremony, which was broadcast over the radio, the the admirals, generals and air-marshals were served a buffet lunch and then sat down to watch entertainment provided by Mr Nat Allen and his band, Miss Phyllis Robins, and Mr Gillie Potter. The show was broadcast as well.
When the Club was opened to servicemen and women that evening, some 2,000 personnel had queued to make use of the facilities and 800 meals were served in the first hour and 20 minutes.
More permanent premises were opened in Notte Street, where Armada Way goes up to the Hoe, on Friday July 18th 1952 by Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret on her first official visit to the City. She was greeted at the City boundary at Marsh Mils by the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman H E Wright. Waiting in Notte Street to receive the Princess were the Plymouth Band of the Royal Marines, under Bandmaster W Fitzgerald; a Royal Guard of Honour from the Royal Naval Barracks, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander J Dallaway; and cadets from the various St John Ambulance Brigades, Divisional Cadet Superintendent S L Bayley. Children from Saint Andrew's Primary School were also present.
Princess Margaret was greeted once again by the Lord Mayor and Town Clerk, who were joined by the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth, Vice-Admiral Sir Maurice J Mansergh. After lunch she was take on a tour of the new building. The opening ceremony and dedication took place in the ballroom.
The building was designed by Mr Ernest Joseph and cost £400,000 to construct.
It had a tavern, dance hall, restaurant and kitchen on the ground floor; reading room, games room, lounge and seven bedrooms for members of the Women's Royal Naval Service on the first floor; and forty-two double rooms on the second floor for male service personnel.
Its frontage to Notte Street measured 250 feet and that in Armada Way was 180 feet in length. In 1966 £11,000 was spent on updating the premises in an effort to stave off heavy financial losses but these continued as servicemen drifted away from such Clubs to accommodation within the Royal Naval Barracks. What had by now become known as the Plymouth Hoe Services Club closed on Saturday September 27th 1969.
This building is has now been demolished, although an application was made to give it "Listed Building" status.