Initially, during World War I, the Joint War Committee was formed, drawn from The Order of St John of Jerusalem (The Order) and the British Red Cross Society (The Society).  The committee was tasked to provide personnel to assist the medical officers in military hospitals worldwide, including on deployment in field units.

In 1919, the Joint Council was established between the Order and the Society, which enabled their work to continue during times of peace

Welfare officers were funded by a combination of the Joint Committee’s funds and ‘grant in aid’ support from the War Office/Ministry of Defence.

In 1944 the Joint War Committee and the Joint Council were amalgamated, creating The Joint Committee of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and the British Red Cross Society - thereafter known as the Joint Committee.  The committee was tasked to provide welfare support in Service hospitals and medical facilities all over the world. They later became known as the Service Hospital Welfare Department (SHWD) and adapted their role to complement and underpin the clinical work of their medical colleagues. Wherever the Military were, so welfare officers would be found, working within both established and field medical units. The Service Hospitals Welfare Department was chaired by Edwina, the first Countess Mountbatten and the wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten.

After the Second World War, the Service Hospitals Welfare Department continued to provide welfare services in Military Hospitals wherever the British Armed Forces were located around the world, including Aden, Egypt and Malaya.

Between 1980 and 1991 Patricia Knatchbull, the second Countess Mountbatten chaired the Joint Committee from which the Defence Medical Welfare Service emerged as a separate organization in 2001.

The closure of most military hospitals has meant that most Service Personnel are treated in Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHUs), within NHS Hospitals.

Unlike other civilian agencies contracted to the MOD today, welfare officers are defined by the Military as ‘uniformed attached’, working and living alongside them but separated from the military hierarchy.