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The organisation has operated in a support role to Defence providing much needed amenities and convenience products and services for our troops both domestically and overseas and exists solely to help enrich the lifestyle and contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of our ADF Personnel. The canteen service has served alongside our troops through both world wars and on many overseas deployments including Korea, Vietnam and in more recent years East Timor.

Over the years the canteen organisation has provided:

  • Both Wet and Dry Canteens
  • Mobile Canteens, Milk bars, Snack bars
  • Canteens onboard Troopships & P.O.W Camps
  • Service Clubs and Hostels
    (which provided ADF members with a destination to rest, recoup and network with colleagues both domestically and overseas)
  • Grocery - General Stores, Adventure wear / Disposal stores  
  • Postal services, Financial Institutions, Barbers, Mechanical Services, Dry Cleaning,
    Fuel Stops, Photographic Services, News Agencies…
  • Constructed and operated a number of Aerated Water/ Cordial Factories which provided professionally-made carbonated beverages for AACS canteens both domestically & overseas
  • The canteen premises often incorporated recreational equipment and facilities, reading rooms, letter writing rooms and even a full library (Melbourne c.1943)

Minted its own currency by way of Canteen ADFC ‘Money Orders’ and ‘Token Coins’. (The Money Orders was used as gift vouchers and marketed to the general public and the coins used as chits/tokens, c.1940’s.)
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•  1915 - 1920 AIF A.I.F. Canteen
•  1920 - 1939 AGI Army Garrison Institutes
•  1939 - 1943     ADCS / ADFC Australian Defence Canteen Service
•  1943 - 1959     AACS Australian Army Canteen Service
•  1959 - 1979     ASCO Australian Service Canteen Organisation
•  1979 - 1998     AAFCANS Army and Air Force Canteen Service
•  1998 - 2011     FDS  Frontline Defence Services
•  2012 - Now     AAFCANS Army and Air Force Canteen Service 

This is our HISTORY.

The beginning

The canteen service has always been a part of military life, however the structure of the canteen service and purpose of existence changed in 1915. This change appeared to be largely inspired by the actions and achievements of an Australian mother Dame Alice Isabel Chisholm. Concerned for the welfare of her son Bertram, who was serving as a light horseman in Gallipoli, she sailed for Egypt in mid-1915. Bertram was wounded in action about this time; he later returned to his regiment. Once in the country Mrs Chisholm, and later Miss Rania MacPhillamy (an Australian Nurse who she met in Cairo, Egypt), set-up and operated canteens in three parts of Egypt to help Australian soldiers with basic amenities and a few home comforts whilst doing their duty so far from home. Profits from their canteen operations were used to fund more services and amenities for the men.

Mrs Chisholm & Miss MacPhillamy’s stories are truly inspiring and it’s no wonder their actions and achievements influenced our political and military leaders back home. We believe it was on this basis in 1915 the structure of the new canteen service (A.I.F canteen) was formed. It is under this very same structure ‘the Defence Act of 1903’ along with the addition of Regulations in 1959 that AAFCANS conducts its activities today.

A.I.F Canteen was established in 1915-1919 (at the start of The Great War). The organisation provided a centralised canteen service which operated Australia-wide on ADF bases, on troopships, in internment (P.O.W) camps, and also deployed overseas with our troops to the United Kingdom, France and right throughout the Middle East in places such as The Western Desert in Egypt, Ottoman Empire, Lebanon, Suez Canal, Palestine and Tel Aviv. The A.I.F Canteen ran a network of canteens, mobile outlets, issuing points and bulk stores with surplus funds provided to AIF Canteen Trust. A total of £1,156,150 of grants were provided to 49,826 war widows, dependents and seriously injured soldiers.

From the period of 1920 to 1938 (post WW1)The canteen service reverted to the pre-war arrangement of the Garrison Institutes and became known as Army Garrison Institutes and RAAF Garrison Institutes and operated on a cooperative store principle.

The Canteen organisation changed names to Australian Defence Canteen Service (ADCS) October 1939 – 1943 and operated both domestically and overseas. The canteen service was also known as (ADFC), the name change was intended to embrace all three services however the RAAF and RAN effectively chose to retain their own canteens. 1942 the canteen service provided all types of services which included canteens, mobile canteens, clubs, grocery stores, barber shops and also operated canteens on board troopships such as HMAS Duntroon for troops returning from duty in the Middle East. ADFC also minted its own currency. The ‘Coins’ were used as tokens or chits and ‘Canteen Orders’ acted like money orders or store vouchers. The Canteen Orders were marketed to the general public as an easy method of gift giving for family members serving domestically and overseas.

In 1943 The Australian Army Canteens Service (AACS) was established, with a Central Canteens Control Board and a District Canteens Board for each Military District. 
AACS (as commonly used in the Middle East) became the preferred name. The Australian Army Canteen Service (AACS) operated 700 stores with 4800 staff and had outlets located throughout Australia, the Middle East and Asia including the Pacific, Japan and POW camps.  With the surplus funds, school scholarships were established for children of ex-servicemen to pay for schooling all the way through to university.

During this time the canteen service also operated a number of Aerated Water/Cordial Factories. It appears at least 9 factories were in operation both within Australia and overseas.

Four factories were located in Australia and a further five factories were located off-shore:

  • Adelaide River NT / 1942
  • Darwin NT / 1942
  • Atherton Tablelands Nth QLD / 1943
  • Mt Isa  Central QLD / 1944
  • Papua New Guinea
       -17 Mile Loloki River / 1946
        - in Lae / 1946
        - Rabaul / 1946
  • Morotai Island (near Borneo) / 1945
  • Hiro, Japan / 1953
    (which was in operation after the occupation of Japan).

The canteen service both constructed the factories and engineered the creation of the machinery used to manufacture the cordials and aerated water, which included sophisticated bottle washing equipment. They recycled spent beer bottles for the cordial drinks and it was quite the high-tech operation that saw 1,000 DZ bottles being produced daily from each plant. These beverages were shipped throughout Australia and overseas for sale in the canteens.

In 1959 AACS changed names to Australian Service Canteen Organisation (ASCO).
This change occurred in response to a review into the needs of Defence members.  ASCO was an integration of AACS and RAAF canteens and served troops throughout Australia, Papua New Guinea (1959 – 1981) and Vietnam (1966 – 1969).  ASCO provided services such as canteens, bulk stores, snack bars, news agencies and bank agencies.  During this period funds (£82,000) from ASCO were provided as a temporary loan to help establish A.H.B.S. (Defence Health).

The military unit was disbanded in 1979 and the name changed to
Army and Air Force Canteen Service (AAFCANS)
and operated from 1979 through to 1998 under this name. AAFCANS was officially established as a Prescribed Commonwealth Statutory Authority in 1981 answerable to the Chiefs of the Army and Air Force and Ministers for Defence, and was tasked to provide services to ADF members with profits sent back to the ADF through disbursements.  AAFCANS provided services such as canteens, mobile food vans, snack bars, wholesale supply of alcohol to Messes and Clubs, vending, dry cleaning services, postal services, grocery stores, photography services, adventure wear stores and fuel.

In 1998 through to 2011 AAFCANS adopted the new trading name of ‘Frontline Defence Services’.  In the period between 1996 and 2006, $6.2 million was provided in the form of disbursements to units and welfare trusts (this figure is 80% of Frontline's profit in that time). Disbursements were put on hold in 2006 to undertake significant and essential upgrades to AAFCANS facilities and services. During this time Frontline was also deployed to East Timor in an amenities support role.

In 2012 the Canteen Service reverted to its earlier trading name AAFCANS.  AAFCANS expanded its operations providing services to an additional 14 bases in NSW & VIC.
AAFCANS now provides services to 33 Army bases, Air Forces bases and joint ADF facilities throughout Australia. The organisation directly operates facilities such as: canteens, bistros, taverns, kiosks, mobile food vans, transportable canteens, post offices, fuels stops, convenience stores and even a supermarket. Additional convenience services such as: hair dressers, barbers, financial institutions, dry cleaning services, post offices, mechanical services, photographers and adventure wear stores are provided by our Licensees.

AAFCANS is committed to product and facility innovation and improvement and provides customers, our ADF members, with both a competitive & diverse range of products and conveniences services. Through continuous improvement AAFCANS
offers the best quality available and strives to provide a contemporary food, beverage and convenience offering across its facilities.

THE BEGINING - 1915 - 1920

1920 - 1945

1945 - 1979