I have recently been granted membership to The Anglo-Omani Society and attended my first function in their Mayfair headquarters. It is great to learn more about the country’s fascinating culture and heritage, as well as the strong bond between Oman and Britain.
After the evening’s proceedings had finished, I happened to notice a Chelsea Pensioner amongst us, easily identifiable by his famous Scarlet Coat and medals proudly adorning his chest. Naturally I went and spoke to him, having the utmost respect for all that he was prepared to sacrifice for our country. I soon learned that he was 88 year old John Carbis, In-Pensioner (resident) at The Royal Hospital for some 20 years. As our brief but captivating conversation drew to a close, John invited me to a tour and lunch at the hospital- something one could only dream of ever happening.
For over three hundred years, The Royal Hospital has provided a ‘welcoming home and way of life’ for veterans of the British Army. Founded by HRH King Charles II in 1692, the elegant Sir Christopher Wren designed buildings in London’s prestigious Chelsea neighbourhood became home to those that have been ‘broken by age or war’. The hospital crest shares the same Old French maxim as the British chivalric Order of the Garter. ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ translates as ‘may he be shamed who thinks badly of it’- likely to be a reference to those that question the importance of an establishment and military force. King Charles II himself was inspired to set up the hospital by Les Invalides in Paris, an older French equivalent of The Royal Hospital that we are familiar with today. The buttons on all Royal Hospital uniforms are engraved with the Royal Crown and the letters RCI. This stands for Royal Corps of Invalids.
We met at The London Gate at 11am sharp and I was soon treated to a tour of the museum, filled with artefacts telling the fascinating history of this fine institution. We then embarked on a tour of the hospital itself, including visiting The Long Wards (actual residences of the pensioners), something very few get to see. Lunch was situated in the stunning surroundings of The Great Hall, where the walls bear the names of every battle entered by the British Army since the hospital’s founding, including recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that it was a Friday, in keeping with British tradition the menu consisted of fish and chips with mushy peas followed by a fabulous but seldom seen dessert of jelly and custard. There I was, dining amongst living history.
It was a real privilege to visit the hospital and learn more about the world famous institution. As Sir Jacob Astley once said in his soldiers’ prayer in 1642 – “O Lord you know how occupied I shall be this day. If I forget thee do not forget me”. That is one thing we must never do; no matter how dependant these remarkable people become, we cannot neglect them. Here’s to another three hundred years of The Royal Hospital.
Joe Holsgrove with In-Pensioner of 20 years, John C Carbis IEng FICW MInstRE.
The Great Hall. Notice the battle listings decorating the walls as a constant reminder of the commitment and sacrifice of the British Army.
The Wren Chapel. Notice the painting of the Resurrection in the half dome of the apse by Sebastiano Ricci, 1714.
Figure Court. At the heart of hospital buildings, this courtyard takes its name from the gilded statue of King Charles II. Created and presented to the King by Grinling Gibbons in 1682, it stands proudly amongst the stunning architecture.
Figure Court’s flag pole, with views of The State Apartments in the background.