Outing to The British Army Museum and Chelsea Pensioners 16 May 2019

It was cold but a dry morning when we set out for this visit. The journey to London was reasonable but slowed once we got into the city.  Our coach driver was able to park in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital.  It was a short walk to the British Army Museum.

British Army Museum

The National Army Museum tells the story of the British army over the past 400 years. The recently refurbished Museum has around 2,500 objects divided into 5 galleries over four floors; space for exhibitions, a study centre, café, shop and play area.

The Five Permanent Galleries of the National Army Museum in London includes:

The Soldier Gallery reflects individual experiences of soldiering.

The Army Gallery traces the origins and development of the British army as an institution.

The Battle Gallery tells the story of the army through individual conflicts. It is divided into four chronological sections: horse and musket, rapid-fire, total war and modern warfare.

The Society Gallery on the top floor provides some light relief and can be enjoyed as an art gallery, reflecting how the Army has influenced British culture.

The Insight Gallery explores the actions and the impact of the Army throughout the world from historical and contemporary perspectives.

The Museum welcomes younger visitors with interactive and hands-on exhibits.

Chelsea Hospital

The Royal Hospital is a Grade I and II listed site, a beautiful architectural legacy left to us by Charles II and Sir Christopher Wren. 

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is the home of the iconic Chelsea Pensions, who are all retired soldiers of the British Army. Their unique Scarlet tunics stand out wherever they go, making them instantly recognisable around the world. Naturally, the Pensioners often find themselves the centre of attention at events that they attend and are always happy to answer questions about the Royal Hospital as well as themselves. Some 300 army veterans live at the Royal Hospital today, including those who have served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and World War II. Others may not have served in campaigns, but all understand what it means to be a soldier and the potential sacrifice that it entails.

 We were shown into a small room and watched a video of what we were going to see. We were split into two groups and each shown round by a Chelsea Pensioner Guide.  The Guides were very knowledgeable, humorous and told us lots of jovial stories.

Founder’s Day is the highlight of the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s calendar, an event attended by all Chelsea Pensioners, which celebrates the founding of the Royal Hospital by King Charles II. The event has taken place almost every year since the Royal Hospital opened in 1692. The Royal Hospital Chelsea’s Founder’s Day, also known as Oak Apple Day, is always held on a date close to 29th May – the birthday of Charles II and the date of his restoration as King in 1660. The Oak reference commemorates the escape of the future King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester (1651) when he hid in an oak tree to avoid capture by the Parliamentary forces, and is expressed through all Chelsea Pensioners wearing oak leaves on their famous scarlet uniforms.

The gold statue of Charles II that stands in the centre of figure court is also adorned in oak leaves for the occasion. Over the years the statue oak leaf dressing has varied from a large wreath at the base to a wreath worn on the head, and from total covering where the statue is not even visible to a discreet skirt of oak branches around the base.

A member of the Royal Family attends the ceremony each year. Her Majesty the Queen has reviewed the parade four times.

Every year the official visitors book gets prepared with the Royal Coat of Arms ready for the member of the Royal Family to sign.

The Wren Chapel

Built between 1681 and 1687 the chapel is a rare example of Wren’s religious architecture. It was designed to accommodate about 500 people, all the staff and pensioners, and rises 42 feet high. The painting of the Resurrection in the half dome of the apse is by Sebastiano Ricci, assisted by his nephew Marco. The Royal Hospital’s magnificent silver-gilt altar plate was made by Ralph Leake and is hall-marked 1687-8. One of the original service books has been preserved. The Chapel was consecrated in August 1691, and compulsory services held twice daily. Nowadays they are normally confined to the Sunday morning. 

At the end of the tour we were shown a small museum, café and shop.  

Our journey home was reasonable with only minor hold-ups.  An enjoyable day out.  Pam

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