Remembrance under restrictions at the Royal Hospital

6th November 2020

Remembrance Day has always been a highlight in the Chelsea Pensioners’ year. Generally, they have a strong presence at the Cenotaph Remembrance Parade, the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and a host of events both in the UK and overseas. The sight of the Pensioners collecting for the Poppy appeal in their Scarlets is a much-loved part of the London landscape as Remembrance Day approaches. This year, Remembrance at the Royal Hospital will be very different – but no less heartfelt.

The Royal Hospital’s Regimental Sergeant Major, Captain Ross Martin says the contrast with other years is striking:

 “The big difference this year is we’re behind the wire. I will be accompanying five Pensioners to the Cenotaph Parade but otherwise there will be no representation outside the gates on Remembrance Sunday. Unfortunately, we haven’t got the ability to go out into the Nation to the locations where the Pensioners are from, where their friends and families are. We normally link up with the Regimental recruiting areas to remember the fallen. We’d have Pensioners deployed across the UK and around the world – from Bahrain to Paris. Everybody seeks a Chelsea Pensioner at events – there’s nothing better than flying the flag with a Scarlet coat.”

“The Pensioners are disappointed, but they understand”

Captain Martin says that although the Pensioners are disappointed, they’re taking the restrictions in good part:

“It’s a blow –Remembrance is a huge thing for the Pensioners. They’re disappointed they can’t collect for the Poppy Appeal this year but the pandemic and their health and safety overrides everything. They understand that. The problem out there means their health, their life, is at risk if they get something wrong. I think they get it. This year, we’ll do what we can.”

Chelsea Pensioner Leo Tighe agrees:

“I know there isn’t very much to go outside for at the moment, but one of the things we all miss is getting in amongst all the people, collecting for the Poppy Appeal. Until now, I’ve taken part every year since I’ve been here and it’s a marvellous occasion. But this year, to use a cliché, we are where we are! Hopefully next year more of us will manage to get our march down through Whitehall past the Cenotaph and pay our respects in the usual way.”

“The Pensioners are still here and still smiling”

Although the scale will be smaller, Remembrance will still be commemorated at the Royal Hospital. We have already held a simple Festival of Remembrance featuring the pace-sticker team which formed during the pandemic and a small ceremonial marching piece, which Leo Tighe took part in:

“The pace-stickers marched across the grass in line while the body of us marched along the central carriageway and halted just before the Charles II statue. We paused there for a few moments, removed headdress, gave three cheers for her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and replaced our headdress.”

As the BBC filmed the event, the Nation will still have an opportunity to see the Chelsea Pensioners mark this significant time, as the Regimental Sergeant Major explained:

“Although we can’t do the steps at the Royal Albert Hall the good thing is, we could add more people. Even though we’re locked in, the Pensioners can show that they’re still here and still smiling. The public will be able to see that we’re doing great stuff here at the Royal Hospital to keep the morale high. We’re still here and itching to burst out through the gates again when we’re given the green light!” 

Festival of Remembrance in 2019

Festival of Remembrance in 2019

“We all miss getting out and amongst all the people”

In addition to the Festival, the Royal Hospital’s Chaplain will be holding a drumhead service on Wednesday 11 November. Figure Court will be filled with as many Pensioners as social distancing will allow.

Remembrance Sunday itself will be quieter. In addition to the usual Governor’s Parade, Pensioners will mark the occasion in their own ways – whether that’s going to church or simply thinking of those who have given their lives for the Nation, as Pensioners like Leo Tighe always do:

 “Like most people of my age, I lost family members in both wars and Remembrance is a matter of pausing and a moment of saying ‘thank you’ to those people – giving them thanks for the way we manage to live today.  The most important bit of Remembrance is those words, ‘we will remember them’.”

“Remembrance is part of being a soldier”

Captain Martin says that the restrictions this year are not so different from those experienced by soldiers on operations:

“They’re confined inside a camp with the enemy banging at the gates outside, but there’s always some way they’ll commemorate Remembrance weekend and remember the fallen. It’s the same with the pandemic – this invisible enemy. Regardless of where they are in the world, regardless if they’re on operations, in peace time, or not even serving– the boys and girls will always commemorate Remembrance. It’s part of being a soldier. Whether you’re sitting in your living room watching the Royal Albert Hall and giving a wee salute, or snapping open a beer and saying thanks, for soldiers and veterans it’s a time of year we have to commemorate, regardless of age, or who you’re with. You think of people you’ve lost. Remembrance is a big thing and long may it continue.” 

Leo Tighe agrees:

“We always managed, wherever we were, to pause for a few minutes on the 11th of the 11th at the eleventh hour. We did when I was in Aden, Kenya and Hong Kong. We would always drink to fallen friends.”

This year the essence of Remembrance will be as evident as ever among the Chelsea Pensioners, even if the circumstances are very different. 

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