Founder’s Day 2022: A return to full glory at the Royal Hospital Chelsea

8th June 2022

After 2020’s cancellation and last year’s pared back celebration due to the pandemic, the most iconic date in the Royal Hospital’s calendar returned to its full glory this year. 

Today we were delighted to welcome Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence KCVO CB ADC to the heart of our heritage site to review the Chelsea Pensioners on parade for the 330th Founder’s Day. 

Almost every year since 1695, the Royal Hospital’s veterans have gathered together in the central quadrangle, Figure Court, to mark the foundation of our unique community by King Charles II. 

Every guest and participant wore the customary sprig of oak, to commemorate how the Monarch escaped parliamentary forces by hiding in an oak tree. Grinling Gibbons’ magnificent gilded statue of the King was also decked in foliage, as tradition dictates. 

After the moving opening music from the Band of the Grenadier Guards, Vice Admiral Laurence, a retired Royal Navy Admiral and husband of Princess Anne, watched the Chelsea Pensioners resplendent in their scarlet uniforms and tricorne hats parade past – the more able veterans marching, followed by their frailer comrades on mobility scooters and in wheelchairs. In his speech he reminded all of those in attendance of the role the Chelsea Pensioners have played in serving the country, saying:

"If I may say to the Pensioners, you have all played your part in keeping our island safe from the sort of appalling tragedy that we see in Ukraine today. Your service is reflected in the large number and variety of medals that I have seen on parade today, so justly deserved and so proudly worn. You, ladies and gentlemen, have honoured this establishment by your exemplary appearance and bearing today, and you have also honoured your families, your regiments and corps and the nation as well. I wish you all a very happy 330th birthday."

In the absence of The Governor of the Royal Hospital, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, who was sadly unable to attend, Royal Hospital Commissioner Brigadier Tony Finn stood in and went on to thank Vice Admiral Laurence for reviewing the Chelsea Pensioners, saying:

It is my honour and privilege to also be one of the Commissioners here at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. In that capacity, I am standing in for the Governor… In Chelsea I am delighted to report that after some sad losses and necessary restrictions, life at the Royal Hospital is pretty much back as normal. While the battle may be over, we remain on our guard. 

Looking forward, our much expanded and improved Activities Centre is almost complete and in the Platinum Jubilee year Her Majesty The Queen has graciously agreed for it to be named the Prince Philip Building, in memory of her late husband. In addition to supporting our Pensioners, this Centre will also provide a venue for a newly formed Army Cadets Unit.

Plans are also progressing for an imaginative redevelopment of our Soane Stable Block which will provide a hub for an ambitious new outreach project to serve a new breed of ‘Out-Pensioners’ across the three Services –providing them with comradeship and a sense of community.

We will also shortly commence work to upgrade the Infirmary which will include the latest advances in health and social care. All this work comes at a cost, and I thank our donors for their continuing support.  

I echo all the compliments I’ve heard to our Pensioners, for their excellent turnout and bearing and having expressed my thanks to our staff and benefactors it only remains to me to thank the family and friends of residents and staff and the Regimental representatives of Pensioners on Parade.

Guests included representatives from the many regiments the Chelsea Pensioners served in, as well as distinguished visitors including Lord Lieutenant of London Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE, The Worshipful The Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea Councillor David Lindsay, Charles Cadogan 8th Earl Cadogan and Sir Mark Thatcher.

From the trumpeters above the colonnade, to the bearing of the ceremonial mace and the three cheers as the veterans lifted their tricornes to celebrate their founder, the reviewing officer and Her Majesty The Queen, the Chelsea Pensioners relished the return of traditional Founder’s Day celebrations to a full audience of delighted guests.

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