Princess Marina House in Rustington celebrates 50 years of care with the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

Princess Marina House in Rustington is today marking its 50th year of supporting RAF veterans.

The care and respite centre has been operated by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund since its buildings were bequeathed to the RAF charity in 1969.

The Bomber Boys at Princess Marina House in February, Flt Lt Jo John Oliver 'Jo' Lancaster, centre seated, with Roy Smith, left seated, back row, Flt Lt Harry Hacker, Wg Cdr John Bell, Flt Lt George Dunn and Flt Lt Hal Gardner

The Bomber Boys at Princess Marina House in February, Flt Lt Jo John Oliver 'Jo' Lancaster, centre seated, with Roy Smith, left seated, back row, Flt Lt Harry Hacker, Wg Cdr John Bell, Flt Lt George Dunn and Flt Lt Hal Gardner

The premises were originally The Newton-Driver Services Club, set up by Ms Henrietta Newton-Driver in the wake of the Second World War.

The garden party celebration will be attended by Air Commodore Paul Hughesdon, the fund’s director of welfare and policy, and fund ambassador Mike Goody from Bognor Regis.

To mark the occasion, Arun District Council chairman Alan Gammon and a number of local dignitaries will be in attendance, as well as RAF veterans, including a group from Bomber Command, affectionately known as the Bomber Boys, who regularly get together at the centre.

Shirley Steeples, general manager, said: “I’d like to thank each and every staff member who has been dedicated to ensuring every one of our guests over the past 50 years enjoyed their stay and left Princess Marina House well rested.

Princess Marina House in 1960

Princess Marina House in 1960

“I’m so proud to have been part of the work the fund does here, supporting vulnerable veterans and giving them the opportunity to share their stories and meet other like-minded people.

“I watch the weight lift off the shoulders of the serving families who stay at our seaside cottages and apartments and I know we have done a good job.”

The site was originally borne out of a desire to support those returning from the Second World War and Princess Marina House now provides respite breaks for older RAF veterans with care needs, as well as welfare breaks for serving personnel and their families seeking time away from the pressures of service life.

Ms Newton-Driver ran an officers’ club in London during the war and established her club in Rustington in 1949. She recognised a need to provide a different kind of respite once the war had ended and sold all her possessions to set it up.

Henrietta Newton-Driver with the last The Not Forgotten Association party in 1969

Henrietta Newton-Driver with the last The Not Forgotten Association party in 1969

In 1968, the golden jubilee year of the RAF Benevolent Fund, Ms Newton-Driver handed the club over. She was a lifelong supporter of the fund and a year later, presented a cheque for £100,000 in memory of her husband, who had been killed in 1938.

The fund adapted the club for use as a care home and in 1969, changed its name to Princess Marina House in memory of its long-serving president who had died the previous year.

The house cared for permanent and visiting guests until 1980, when its focus switched from long-term care to respite breaks.

Today, the house provides a daily lunch club for Armed Forces veterans in the area, serving 6,240 roast dinners last year. In 2018, it provided respite breaks for more than 1,500 former and serving RAF personnel and their families. In addition, more than 13,000 cups of tea were served, along with 884 gin and tonics and 432 pints of beer.

Shirley Steeples, Princess Marina House general manager. Picture: Oliver Dixon/Imagewise/RAF Benevolent Fund

Shirley Steeples, Princess Marina House general manager. Picture: Oliver Dixon/Imagewise/RAF Benevolent Fund

Princess Marina House has an outstanding rating from the Care Quality Commission and has been voted in the top 20 care homes in the south east for the past three years.