The Salvation Army’s Naval and Military League was started in November 1894 to communicate with Salvationist sailors and soldiers. But the League was soon providing a broader service to the armed forces and had set up a number of Naval and Military Homes in such places as Portsmouth, Malta and Calcutta. In around 1897 the League began publishing a journal, Under the Colours. In 1899 the Salvation Army’s war-work began when the League supported British troops in the Boer War in South Africa.

World War One

During the First World War, The Salvation Army provided motor ambulances, refreshment huts in military camps, and parcels of food and clothing for combatants. Some Officers also served as chaplains. In 1917 Evangeline Booth, National Commander of the Salvation Army in America, created a National War Board to meet the needs of the American Expeditionary Forces. Salvationists were sent to Europe from the USA, including those colloquially known as ‘Doughnut Girls’ who served food (principally doughnuts) to soldiers and often worked in field hospitals. The Naval and Military League also operated an inquiry service helping relatives and friends to find servicemen. After the war, they assisted with visits to war cemeteries.

World War Two

The League became known as the Red Shield during the Second World War, as this distinctive symbol appeared on the mobile canteens that provided not only tea but also chewing gum, soap, toothpaste and sewing kits to military personnel. These canteens arrived in occupied Europe only a matter of days after the ‘D-Day’ landings and closely followed the advance of Allied troops into Germany. The ‘Red Shield’ also provided international hostels and clubs for servicemen.

The Second World War saw significant numbers of Salvationists interned in prisoner of war camps. The Japanese interned 187 Salvation Army Officers, 18 of whom died. Among the 3,000 civilian detainees at Changi camp in Singapore were a small group of Salvationists who, despite dire conditions, held meetings, acted as welfare officers and worked in the camp’s hospital until the camps’ liberation in September 1945. A few Salvationists (mainly British nationals) were also interned in Europe. Colonel Mary Booth, Commander of the Belgian Territory and granddaughter of William Booth, refused to leave Belgium when it was invaded in May 1940. She was interned at Ilag V at Liebenau. There she started a Sunday school before being returned to Britain in 1942.

During the Second World War, Salvation Army activities were severely restricted in all countries occupied by Nazi Germany, many Salvationists suffered extreme personal hardship and some were even killed for their defiance of the occupying forces. In Germany itself the war years had a crippling effect, Salvation Army officers were conscripted for military service, property was expropriated and fundraising was banned, along with the War Cry and the wearing of uniforms. As it became increasingly difficult for International Headquarters in London to maintain contact with Territories in enemy or occupied countries, The Salvation Army in neutral Sweden became a channel for administrative communication with the continent. The Salvation Army was completely suppressed in Estonia, Italy, Japan, Korea and Latvia. At the end of the war, an ambitious programme of European relief work was undertaken in order to assist civilian populations ravaged by the conflict. The Salvation Army ran demobilisation camps in order to care for returned prisoners of war.

The Red Shield Service continued to provide support for national armed forces in Britain, America and Australia, with outposts in Germany, Mexico and Papua New Guinea. These services continue into the present day and there are Red Shield Centres on a number of British military bases. During the invasion of Iraq, The Salvation Army ran a number of relief programmes in the country between 2004 and 2006.

Global mission

The Salvation Army is the largest provider of social care in the UK today, after the government


Information about our uniform, flags and badges

People and symbols

Learn more about founders and symbols that define The Salvation Army.

International Heritage Centre

Telling the story of The Salvation Army from its origins in the 1860s to today.