Hope and happiness as Chelsea Pensioners celebrate the return of Founder’s Day

5th August 2021

Founder’s Day is the highlight of the Royal Hospital’s calendar. Ever since 1692, it has been held on or close to 29 May – the birth of King Charles II and the date of his restoration to the throne. 

In normal times, nothing would prevent the Chelsea Pensioners from marking this important occasion, just as their predecessors have done for over three centuries. However, our Pensioner population is a vulnerable one and their safety is of paramount importance. It was with great regret that we cancelled our celebrations in 2020 and this year’s were also postponed, in order to protect the Pensioners.

Founder's Day Parade 2021

Today Founder’s Day finally returned, bearing all the hallmarks of this traditional celebration. We were honoured to welcome His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester who carried out the duties of Reviewing Officer for the day and was accompanied by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester. Also present was Leo Docherty MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans and The Worshipful the Deputy Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Despite the delays and the complications of running an event this year, every effort was made to ensure this memorable day was safe as well as enjoyable. 

"We stand proud"

When Founder’s Day finally dawned we were prepared. Shoes were polished, brass buttons shone brightly and the Chelsea Pensioners were in the best of spirits after the long months of lockdown. As Chelsea Pensioner John Gallagher put it:

“Wearing the Scarlet, white gloves and tricorne for an audience is as necessary as bread and water. We stand proud!” 

Founders Day 2021

The Royal Hospital’s old soldiers do not hesitate to obey orders and fully understand the measures that have been taken to protect them. Nevertheless – like all of us – they have missed their usual way of life and relished this sign that the old way of life is gradually returning. Pensioner Peter Turner explained the significance of this year’s celebration:

This Founder’s Day will be special for us all. It signifies the beginning of getting back to something like ‘normal’. It’s a celebration of our founder, and most of us are also looking on it as the beginning of the end of lockdown restrictions which, after nearly 18 months, has been very wearing for us.”

"We are beginning to enjoy freedom once again, with due caution"

In his inspiring speech, the Royal Hospital’s Governor, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw KCB OBE DL, acknowledged the challenges Pensioners like Peter have faced:

Sitting alone in one’s room, separated from friends and family, isolated from the public outside our gates, worrying about one’s health and that of one’s comrades, is not the way Chelsea Pensioners live. But it is something you have endured over the past 16 long and troubled months, as have many across the Nation.

The Governor shared the hope that this year’s Founder’s Day marked “a step towards a return to normal life”. However, he stressed the continued caution the Royal Hospital was exercising and its commitment to providing the best protection and care to the Chelsea Pensioners. 

The Royal Hospital has not only acted in line with government advice but erred on the side of caution throughout the pandemic. A regular testing regime, isolation measures and a comprehensive vaccination programme – 99% of the Pensioners have received both jabs – have helped to keep infection rates low. Nevertheless, we continue to remain alert. So, while this occasion was as impressive as ever, we scaled it down for safety and put mitigating measures – such as visitors being required to take a test before entering – in place.

Pensioners in wheelchairs aided as they look on at the parade

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty said:

The brilliant standard of care that some of our most iconic veterans – the Chelsea Pensioners – receive at the Royal Hospital Chelsea is nothing short of what they absolutely deserve. I was delighted to attend Founder’s Day and would like to thank the Hospital for their ongoing support for our Armed Forces community.

"We are full of hope for the future"

This year’s event may not have been quite as busy as usual – we still exercised certain restrictions – but after the long months of lockdown the mood could not have been more celebratory. Founder’s Day 2021 may have been one of the most memorable ever, because of all it represents. Chelsea Pensioner Peter Turner’s words reflect the mood here today:

This was the first proper parade we’ve had since the pandemic began. We looked forward to it with great anticipation and are full of hope for the future, with life here at the Royal Hospital returning to what we were used to.

Band at Founder's Day Parade

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