The Union Jack Club, a registered charity, was founded in 1904 and opened in 1907. We have since welcomed over 23 million people to stay.
But the idea of a Club for enlisted military personnel only came from a visionary nurse named Ethel McCaul.
Ethel Rosalie Ferrer McCaul (1867-1931) was a British Royal Red Cross nurse, an author and advocate for improvements in military medical practice and care. Miss McCaul distinguished herself as a front-line nurse during the South Africa Boar War campaign at the turn of the 20th Century, while at the same time becoming an outspoken critic of shortcomings in British medical practices, and a crusader for improvements.
Miss McCaul founded The Union Jack Club in London because while officers had their clubs, servicemen below commissioned rank had nowhere reputable to stay when alone, or with their families, in the nation’s capital. She was determined that they should have the opportunity to have this and to see London and all its sights, but at no more of a cost than one day’s pay.
Her tireless, skilled and highly effective fundraising efforts began in 1903 with concerts, entertainment and events throughout the country. She felt that a new club would benefit the Armed Forces and their ability to protect the Empire. The central London area of Waterloo seemed the obvious place because it was the principal railhead leading to the ports and garrisons that served the Empire. The Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone in July 1904 and as King Edward VII, officially opened the Cub in 1907 with Queen Alexandra at his side.
Built originally as a National Memorial to those who had fallen in the South African War, the original Edwardian building which was completed towards the end of 1904 and had extensive public rooms and 208 bedrooms. Over the years, particularly throughout WW1 and WW11, there was a great demand for the services provided and the need for expansion became urgent. Waterloo remained the area of choice and a families’ block in Exton Street was added to help solve the problem of the Club’s popularity. The subsequent acquisition of a separate annexe in Holmes Terrace meant that by 1939 the Club could offer 1018 beds and had become a major part of the Waterloo community, as it is today.
During the Second World War, the area around Waterloo Station was bombed severely and The Union Jack Club itself suffered considerable damage, which required extensive repair. As time went by the need to modernise amenities, décor and services became pressing, and in 1970 it was decided to construct a completely new building. On Union Jack Club land Investment in Industry (now 3i) built three tower blocks and themselves leased one block for a period of 125 years. The two remaining became The new Union Jack Club. Demolition work began in 1971 and the Club opened for business on its new premises on 16 October 1975.
There are a number of points of historical interest throughout the Club, such as the Victoria Cross and George Cross Rolls of Honour, which are the only known commemoration of their kind to all those who have earned the VC and GC. There is a plaque in honour of Lawrence of Arabia, who stayed regularly as a member when he adopted the identity of Aircraftman Shaw.
We have 261 bedrooms, a restaurant, bars, library snug, reading room, office hot desk work, launderette, baggage room, and meeting rooms alongside conference areas where banquets and private functions are held. The Union Jack Club is a vibrant Tri-Services military club and hotel, with a constant flow of guests, serving and veteran, friends and family, arriving and departing.
We proud also to have Her Majesty the Queen, who first visited us in the 1950s, as our Patron.
For many years after the First World War an annual donation was sent anonymously to the Club and with each payment came a note with the words ‘In gratitude for a scrap of comfort’. These poignant words are today commemorated by a marble plaque sited in our Reception area and we hope very much sum up best The Union Jack Club’s proud and ongoing tradition of service to those who serve our country.