The Special Forces Club (SFC) was formed in 1945 on the initiative of the last Chief of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Major-General Sir Colin Gubbins, KCMG, DSO, MC. General Gubbins had tasked Commander Gerard Holdsworth DSO, one of SOE’s longest-serving officers who had operated small boats in the English Channel and later ran SOE’s Section concerned with Italian resistance, to create a Club where those who had served in SOE could meet in an agreeable atmosphere. The Club was also open to members of the Resistance organisations from occupied countries world-wide with which SOE had worked; from the wartime SAS, SBS and FANY along with other organisations and services that had operated clandestinely behind enemy lines. In 1945 the Club was a rarity in that it was (and remains) open to both civilians and military of all ranks, and men and women were members on equal terms. At the same time, an associated Benevolent Fund was founded to help dependants of SOE members who had lost their lives and others who were in need or distress.
Over the years the club gradually developed its membership base both nationally and internationally to include those who had served, or were serving, in organisations and units closely associated with Special Operations and the Intelligence Community. Provision was made also for men and women who had distinguished themselves in exploits or occupations of a particularly hazardous nature to be considered for membership. At the same time the Club maintained a close relationship with organisations such as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Society (OSS was the US wartime counterpart of SOE); like minded groups in Australia, Canada and New Zealand; along with the successors of the Resistance organisations in allied countries.
The membership today is diverse but drawn primarily from the intelligence and security communities, Special Forces and associated units along with those whose work reflects the ethos of the Club such as high threat bomb disposal experts. At the same time the Club has maintained its link to the founders and still includes members of SOE and their immediate families. Membership includes many holders of decorations including the Victoria Cross and George Cross. When considering new members stress is placed on both the quality of service and personal qualities of applicants to ensure that the Club maintains its reputation as one of the most discreet locations in London where those whose work by definition must remain out of the public eye can relax with like minded colleagues.
By 1978, contributions from the Colin Gubbins Memorial Fund and substantial donations from members overseas made it possible to acquire a new lease for fifty years from the Cadogan Estates who have been highly supportive landlords, and the Club currently expects to remain at its present location for the foreseeable future. In recent years the Club has undergone a radical transformation of its business practices to ensure it is administered in the most efficient way possible. While the Club can never be complacent, recent turnover has been highly encouraging enabling membership fees to be kept as low as possible.
The Club has a very active programme of guest speakers, events and visits. In recent years the Club has organised a major dinner and reception at the Imperial War Museum to celebrate the 70th anniversary of SOE; and receptions on HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and at Dartmouth House, all attended by our Patron, H.R.H. The Princess Royal. This has enabled to Club to fund a steady programme of improvements to its fabric, and in 2013 the dining-room and bar underwent a major refurbishment. But there is also a longstanding tradition of overseas members supporting renovations. For example, the Danes decorated and furnished a bedroom in memory of Ebbe Munck, who initiated the armed resistance movement in Denmark; and most recently the Norwegians refurbished the Linge Room, named after the founder of the legendary wartime Linge Company. Others have included the Donovan Room (OSS), The Prince Bernhard Room, the Australian Room, the Belgian Room, the Polish Room and the Canadian Room. The Club has also worked hard to conserve its collection of photographs of members of SOE for which it is famous and which has been supplemented to reflect the whole range of the current membership. There is also a fascinating collection of original paintings, prints and other memorabilia.