Life during World War Two has been nostalgically recalled as a time when people rallied together in spite of adversity and this was no different at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The Chelsea Pensioners and staff made their own contributions, from growing their own vegetables to forming two Home Guard units. Unfortunately though they also witnessed the horrors of the Blitz. Veterans who thought their combat days were over were once again in the firing line as the Royal Hospital became a target for Hitler’s bombs. Public air raid shelters were built on site, and the Royal Hospital was also used as an air defence location. Throughout the war years the Royal Hospital kept a comprehensive diary that documented events on a daily basis.
Royal Hospital War Diary
25 August, 1939
The first blackout was practised as the threat of war loomed over Europe and shelters were dug at different locations around the hospital grounds. A day later was the first gas mask fitting inspection, which reputedly caused some malcontent amongst the Pensioners who were faced with the distressing decision of whether to keep their facial hair!
2 September, 1939
A party of 50 Pensioners were evacuated to Rudhall Manor along with support staff where they remained until 1946. Notable art works were transported to Montacute House in Somerset for safe keeping. As the war progressed and bombing became more frequent, there were more evacuations to Ascott and Moraston houses. However, most of the Pensioners and staff remained at the Royal Hospital throughout the war.
16 April, 1941
This day saw one of the heaviest air raids of the Second World War and the Soane Infirmary was hit by an aerial mine that exploded and destroyed the East Wing. Tragically, there were heavy casualties; four nurses, the Wardmaster and eight Chelsea Pensioners were killed and 37 others were injured.
3 January, 1945
The North East Wing took a direct hit from a V2 rocket; the wing was completely destroyed and many surrounding buildings were significantly damaged. Five people from the Royal Hospital lost their lives as a result of this attack and 19 others were injured. Pensioners were temporarily accommodated in Sloane Gardens, sent on leave or evacuated.
The total fatalities during World War Two at the Royal Hospital was 21, with 33 people wounded. There were 29 bombing incidents and 117 incendiary devices that hit the Royal Hospital.