In 1919 American soprano Marta Cunningham visited a Ministry of Pensions hospital, having heard that there were ‘perhaps a handful’ of soldiers wounded in WWI still residing there. She called on the Matron and asked if she had a few lonely patients who would like to come out for tea. The Matron looked surprised and replied that there were in fact 600 injured patients lying in the hospital, with many more across the country. Marta was horrified by what she saw:
“Could these wasted, listless men be the once adored youngsters, who, but a few years, nay months ago, went so dashingly, with a swing and a song to the Nation’s rescue. Alas and this was their reward, suffering, silence and loneliness.”
An avid charity worker during the Great War, Marta soon set about contacting her friends to organise tea parties, concerts and outings for those able to attend.
During one of these early invitations one injured soldier said: “We don’t want no charity Miss, we are forgotten by everybody and we’d better stop so.” But, undeterred, on 12th August 1920, Marta formed the “NOT FORGOTTEN” Association for the ‘comfort, cheer and entertainment’ of the war wounded and within a year some 10,000 men had been entertained.
Thanks to the generosity of other charities and the public, as well as the firm backing of the Royal Family, hospital visits and tea concerts were followed by outings, drives and gifts such as fruit, chocolate and cigarettes.
Whilst the aims of The Not Forgotten have remained much the same throughout its history, it has adapted to meet the changing needs of the serving wounded and veterans with disabilities. The Second World War brought a huge increase in the number of disabled service men and women and a renewed need for the charity’s work. This new generation of the injured and sick were there to be helped alongside the ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ who required care as never before.
In the 1960s the number of veterans eligible for our assistance dwindled. However, with the deployment of our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the need for our work grows no less.
Marta wrote in 1937 “… as long as there are sufferers so long will The Not Forgotten be needed” and we are. Today, The Not Forgotten remains true to Marta’s original principles of providing entertainment and recreation to those injured in the service of their country. The charity has gone from strength to strength, continuing to adapt to the meet the changing needs of their evolving beneficiary base. Despite the loss of our records in an air raid in 1941, we can be reasonably confident that around one million men and women have benefitted from our activities since 1920.