Royal Hospital ChelseaSusannah Walbank
The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a nursing home and retirement facility for British Army veterans. The London-based Hospital is located on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea. The charity relies on donations to help towards the day-to-day running of the accommodation.
Any veteran who is over the age of 65 and has served as a regular soldier may apply to become a Chelsea Pensioner, or resident at the Hospital. They must also have found themselves in a time of need and must be ‘of good character’.
Applicants must not have any dependant spouse or family and any former Officers must have served at least 12 years in the ranks before receiving a commission.
King Charles II founded the Royal Hospital in 1682 as a retreat for veterans. Some of the first to be admitted were those injured at the Battle of Sedgemoor. It wasn’t until 2002 that the Sovereign’s Mace was presented to the hospital – up until that point the hospital had no colours or distinctions -the Mace is now carried at all ceremonial events.
Until 2009, there were no women admitted to the hospital. Winifred Phillips and Dorothy Hughes were the first ladies admitted.
The Chelsea Pensioners are entitled to come and go from the Royal Hospital as they please. Within the hospital, the pensioners are encouraged to wear the blue uniform. On ceremonial occasions a red frock coat is worn, with cocked hats.
The hospital maintains a military based culture. Each in-pensioner is put into one of three companies. Each company is headed by a Captain of Invalids who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the pensioners.
Today there are roughly 320 army veterans who call the Royal Hospital Chelsea home. Many have served in Korea, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, World War II and Northern Ireland.
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