Royal Hospital Chelsea – Home of the Chelsea Pensioners

At the end of last year I was sitting at this very desk wondering how I was going to get access to some of the venues I had in mind for our launch.  It now seems like a lifetime ago.  Having hosted a few Chelsea Pensioners during my service years I knew how in demand they are and that it would be difficult to get access to a bunch of them at the same time.

I contacted Katie Kennedy at the Royal Hospital Chelsea (home of the pensioners) and pitched the idea to her.  I was thrilled by her positive response and enthusiasm.  Katie receives multiple requests from the media on a daily basis yet she immediately agreed to give, an as yet, unknown entity access.  Better still we had a full day!

For those not fully aware, the origins of the Royal Hospital Chelsea can be traced back to the 17th Century.  Currently there are around 300 In Pensioners (IP) all of whom are accommodated within the hospital grounds.  In order to become a Chelsea pensioner you must fulfill a number of requirements:  You must:

  • be over 65 years old
  • have served as a regular soldier (former officers must have served at least 12 years in the ranks before receiving a commission.)
  • have no dependent spouse or family
  • be “of good character”

A detailed history of the Chelsea Pensioners can be found here.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is located just off the banks of the river Thames.  It is not a small venue by any stretch of the imagination yet somehow I couldn’t find it, damn you body compass!!!  In my defence, Tom Tom got it wrong also.  After cruising round the area a few times I bit the bullet and asked someone.  We were close by.

State Apartments - Royal Hospital Chelsea
State Apartments – Royal Hospital Chelsea

We were shown to the State Apartments by the incredibly helpful Emma Pollock.  The venue for today was as grand as it sounds.  Oak panels, huge oil paintings, ornate ceilings, and all very, very old (don’t touch anything)!  The building was originally designed as a dinner room for visiting royalty.  We set about setting the studio up and the Pensioners began arriving.  One of the first was Frank Mouque, a Royal Engineer (Sapper), being a Sapper myself I had a connection with him immediately.  For someone in his 90’s Frank cuts a spritley figure.  He mentioned he had his original training photograph from 1943,  no sooner had I finished saying “you should have brought it with you”, he was off out the door and across the courtyard, returning a short while later clutching said photograph.

John Humphries was born in 1914 and joined the Royal Engineers in 1934.  He recalled one of his first jobs was looking after the horses, his unit had no mechanical transport.   He also managed to escape twice from POW camps during WW2.  John was amongst a handful of Sappers we photographed today.  The Royal Engineers moto ‘UBIQUE’ translates as ‘EVERYWHERE’, how fitting.

Unfortunately our grand venue suffered a power outage soon after we got under way, meaning a quick strip out and relocation to the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary.  Not as grand, but none the less a great venue. A few more photographs then it was time for the pensioners lunch.  We had also been invited to lunch but first some of TV interviews, a new experience for me.

Lunch in the Great Hall…….yes, it is also as grand as it sounds.  We were joined by Emma and In Pensioner (IP) Steve Lovelock.  I had briefly established that Steve and I had served in Hameln, Germany.  A place where I had spent most of my career and where I now live.    We had a great conversation about our exploits (not for publishing) and how great our time serving in Germany had been.  Although we were years apart we had both frequented the same establishments and got up to the same shenanigans, in fact many of the places we had in common are still there today.

One thing that I was aware of before our day here, the Chelsea Pensioners tell their stories time and time again and, I assume, can sometimes tire of hearing their own tales.  Today when they were recalling their memories to us they seemed to have an extra glint in their eye.  Maybe it was because, as veterans, we could relate more to them?  I don’t know, I do know that they are all incredible people and we made a lot of new friends.   I was also reminded one of the pensioners that in 18 years time I would qualify for a red coat and a spot in the Royal Hospital Chelsea.  If the situation arises I could think of no better place to spend my latter years…………

Thank you to Katie, Emma and all of the Pensioners for a fantastic experience.  We will be back soon.

Great_Hall_RHC
The Great Hall – Royal Hospital Chelsea

You can find out more about the history of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Chelsea Pensioners here.

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Royal Hospital Chelsea – Home of the Chelsea Pensioners

Almost there……

1 week to go until we converge on London.  The planning is done, the press release is out and my ferry is booked.  The BBC contacted me yesterday.  Nothing confirmed, but an exciting step in the right direction.  We have had confirmed coverage from Forces TV and the British Forces Broadcasting Service who will accompany us to the Royal Hospital Chelsea also Soldier magazine and national Radio will be covering the Veterans Portrait Project UK.

The British Government recently announced 3 days of commemorative events to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, which is fantastic. Unfortunately this made things a difficult for some of our launch engagement venues which resulted in some rescheduling and panicking.  It will be a memorable weekend to be in London.

You can find out more about VE Day 70 here

ve70

In an attempt to keep current and seek inspiration I generally have a video or podcast playing when I’m in the office.  Recently  Scott Kelby  released the latest video in the trailblazer series entitled, Powerful Woman in Photography.  The first  interview is with our very own Stacy Pearsall , founder of the Veterans Portrait Project.  I have seen many of Stacy’s interviews, mainly as research as we have yet to meet in person!!!  This one is the most powerful.  Stacy lays bare her combat experiences, how it feels to lose friends and colleagues in combat and how her own injury lead to the Veterans Portrait Project.  An inspiring, humbling and extremely moving account which will strike a chord with veterans and service personnel alike.  You can view the video here.

I am now literally ‘chomping at the bit’.  Almost 3 weeks of meeting some of our countries veterans, meeting and working with Stacy.  Being a more hands on kind of student, this will of course be a huge learning opportunity for me.  One that I will grab with both hands.

The VE70 weekend is also a huge date in the military re-union calendar, particularly to Army and Navy veterans.  The annual rugby match will take place at Twickenham on 9 May.  Having attended this event on more than a few occasions I know there will be a huge number of veterans attending.  If you are going and fancy joining the Veterans Portrait Project UK family please drop me a line and we will let you know the details.  We would love to see you.

I’ll update the blog as we head into the launch so please stay tuned.  I best start packing……………can’t wait!!!

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Almost there……