Founder's Day Parade 2023: A Royal Salute by the King of the Belgians at the Royal Hospital Chelsea

8th June 2023

On a day steeped in history and tradition, the Royal Hospital Chelsea celebrated yet another memorable Founder's Day this morning.

An occasion that serves to honour our founder King Charles II, the event was alive with the vibrant scarlet of the Chelsea Pensioners' uniforms, adorned with oak leaves to commemorate a tale of perseverance from centuries ago.

Founder's Day, also known as Oak Apple Day, falls close to the 29th of May, marking the birthday and the date of restoration as King of Charles II. The story behind the 'Oak Apple' symbolises the future king's escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 when he hid in an oak tree, evading capture by the Parliamentary forces. To this day, this tale is honoured by Chelsea Pensioners sporting oak leaves on their uniforms.

The centrepiece of our celebrations, the gold statue of Charles II, was bedecked with oak leaves. Over the years, the styles have evolved, from a wreath worn on the statue's head to a total covering that veils the statue from sight to the this year's more modest array of oak branches around the base.

This year's event was graced by the distinguished presence of the King of the Belgians, accompanied by his wife, Queen Mathilde. As the day's Guest of Honour, he was invited to review the parade of Chelsea Pensioners.  

King Philippe delivered a touching speech reflecting on the common history of the United Kingdom and Belgium, and the deep ties that bind the royal families of both nations. He traced his lineage back to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who married Princess Charlotte of Wales and was set to become Prince Consort of the United Kingdom in 1816.  

Bringing the audience closer to modern history, the King eloquently acknowledged the sacrifices of British soldiers who came to Belgium's aid during the First World War. "I would like to pay tribute to all those valiant British soldiers who came to our rescue during the First World War, so many of whom rest in peace in Flanders Fields," he said.  

The King did not forget to honour those who are no longer with us, soldiers who traversed the demanding path of the military. He expressed eternal gratitude to the brave countrymen who liberated Belgium from the Nazi yoke during the Second World War.  

A thoughtful mention was given to the Ukrainian soldiers currently defending their country, as King Philippe stated, "In these turbulent times, I would also like to spare a special thought for the Ukrainian soldiers who are heroically defending their country, at the cost of their lives. I am proud that together, in the name of respect for international law, both our nations are part of a coalition to help them succeed."  

The King's speech concluded on a hopeful note, with the King quoting William Gladstone: "We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace."  

The Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw KCB OBE DL, thanked and welcomed the King of the Beglians and Queen Mathilde, adding: "We thank your nation for your steadfast friendship with Britain and for hosting so wonderfully, in your beautiful and cultured Capital City, the headquarters of both NATO and the EU, two bodies so vital to the peace, security and unity of the whole Euro-Atlantic region."

He also welcomed the Abassador of Ukraine, His Excellency Mr Vadym Prystaiko, and echoed the King's words on Ukraine, saying: "We salute the courage and fortitude of your brave country men and women and we wish them success in their war of liberation and a peaceful and secure future".

It was a day of commemoration, of reflection, and most importantly, of celebration. The Chelsea Pensioners stood tall and proud in their bright scarlet uniforms, representing the resilient spirit of the British army.

The Founder's Day Parade 2023 indeed was a royal salute to them and to the long-standing traditions that continue to be celebrated at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.


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