A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017

A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017

Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
This book is a nice hardback, which the authors were inspired to write after a visit they made to the Hospital. Like Mrs. Wynn, I have attended the Flower Show which takes place in its grounds, and like to watch the programmes about it on TV.

The book is written in an easy style, and is full of facts, anecdotes and interesting historical information. We learn that the need for the hospital grew out of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, because the nuns and monks used to provide hospitals, leper houses and almshouses for those who had fallen on hard times, such as retired soldiers who were too old to fight or had been wounded and could not work to provide for their families. Charles II decided that a retreat for injured veterans of his armies would be needed, and after over 300 years, it is still needed and going strong, offering care and comradeship in their twilight years to those who have served the nation.

Each chapter looks at a different aspect of the hospital. Its design and construction (Sir Christopher Wren), its use for Courts Martial, with some interesting cases documented, the Pensioners themselves, with some stories about the more famous/infamous among them, some interesting inquest details and the sad loss of life due to being bombed during both World Wars. There are sections on the Governors, Surgeons and other important individuals who have contributed to the life of the hospital, all told in clear, simple language that makes one want to find out more about them. I particularly liked the quote of Bill Speakman VC on why he received his award after an action in the Korean War:
‘I was on this hill with my mates and they were trying to kill us all, I didn’t want to die. That was it really.’

There are sections on the life of the hospital during the two World Wars in the twentieth century, on the graveyard within the hospital’s walls, and its occupants, and on the various discussions in Parliament about the hospital during its long life.

The book gives a flavour of the rich and varied history of the Hospital, against a background of the rich and varied history of the United Kingdom, with residents who served in a wide variety of Regiments and a vast array of battles from the American Civil War to Malplaquet, Waterloo, the Crimea, both World Wars and other conflicts of its long and cherished history.

I am determined to bequeath the present Mr. GRB to this eminent foundation in the event that I predecease him!

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