Tim Koch posts another “nothing to do with rowing but none-the-less still interesting” quasi-historical piece.
Despite having some of the most modern and sophisticated care facilities for the elderly that are available, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the retirement and nursing home for some 300 veterans of the British Army, is still behind the times when it comes to the most iconic date in its calendar. As close to 29 May as possible, the RHC continues to celebrate Oak Apple Day, a public holiday that most of the rest of the country has not observed since it was officially abolished by Parliament in 1859. Almost every year since 1695, the Royal Hospital’s veterans have gathered together in the central quadrangle, Figure Court, to mark the foundation of this unique community by King Charles II.
During the English Civil War (1642 – 1651), Parliament abolished the monarchy and executed Charles I. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector, ruling England in place of a king and attempting to bring in military rule and impose strict Puritan ideals. Many Britons were opposed to this and, two years after Cromwell’s death in 1658, the Stuart monarchy was restored and the executed king’s son, Charles II, was crowned on his 30th birthday, 29 May 1660. For the next 199 years, this date was observed as a public holiday known as Restoration Day (or, more commonly, Oak Apple Day). Traditional celebrations often entailed the wearing of oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves, a reference to the occasion after the 1651 Battle of Worcester when Charles II escaped Parliamentarian soldiers by hiding in an oak tree.
From 1692 until 1955, the Royal Hospital Chelsea was responsible for paying all British Army pensions, so all Army pensioners were often referred to as “Chelsea Pensioners”. There were Out-Pensioners – those around the UK or abroad who received their pension in cash from agents around the country – In-Pensioners, those who retired at the Royal Hospital (shortened here to “Pensioners”).
After 2020’s cancellation and 2021’s celebration limited to those who lived and worked on the site, the first Founder’s Day since the pandemic returned in all its glory on 9 June 2022. Before the parade, pensioners, staff and hundreds of invited guests and family members gathered in Figure Court.
There were military visitors from various NATO and Commonwealth forces.
Pedants’ Corner: The official programme printed that, during the march past, the band was to play The Boys of the Old Brigade – which is an Irish Republican song in support of the Irish Republican Army and the Irish War of Independence, 1919 – 1921. Presumably, it meant The Old Brigade, a slow march about military comradeship from 1881.
RHC Pensioners live five years longer than average. It is a pity that we do not look after all our old people this well.
Great article and photos. More about it here on the official Chelsea Pensioners website:
This has Tim Laurence’s official speech, though they haven’t included his introductory joke about being an inadequate replacement for his wife, which had everyone laughing and was reported in the British press. Videos of the occasion here:
A wonderful article. However, it reminded me of a former WO1 I had in my Army days. Notwithstanding he was a warrant officer, “Blue” had a pathological hatred of MPs. “What sort of soldier,” he would demand, “wants to bang up another soldier?” Indeed.