Governor, Pensioners, Members of Staff,
It is a huge pleasure to be at the Royal Hospital Chelsea today, after the disappointment of not being able to join you in person on Founder’s Day. You were much in my thoughts on 4th June, and I was deeply touched by the wonderful message you sent me.
I know that you have been through a particularly tough time of late, having lost ten Pensioners to COVID-19. I should like to express my heartfelt sympathy to the families of those who have died, and to each of you as you go through the painful process of adjusting to the gap left by those much-loved friends.
As some of you may know, the brilliant writer A. A. Milne for many years lived in a house a few streets away from the Royal Hospital Chelsea. While living there, he wrote his famous poem, “Buckingham Palace”, which my late father (a highly decorated war veteran) delighted in reading to us when we were children. Most of you will be familiar with this verse:
They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice
Alice is marrying one of the guards
A soldier’s life is terribly hard, says Alice.
A soldier’s life is terribly hard. For all his apparent light-heartedness, Milne knew what he was talking about: he had fought in the First World War and was injured at the Battle of the Somme.
Now you and your families also know more than most about the challenges and sacrifices of military duty. And you know, too, the extent to which we depend on our soldiers. This has been clearly demonstrated by two recent examples. Firstly, a few weeks ago, we marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day, a day which some of you might remember. We recalled with gratitude the great victory that our Armed Forces won for us. Then, in a very different context, we turned to a younger generation of Servicemen and women as the recent pandemic broke out. Proving themselves your worthy successors, they have helped to build hospitals, establish testing sites, repatriate our citizens, deliver PPE at home and abroad and develop a track and trace application to help combat the spread of the virus. And all the while continuing to assure our Defence at home and abroad.
In times of war and times of peace, whether seen or unseen, the Armed Forces support and strengthen our nation, just as each one of you Chelsea Pensioners did throughout your careers. I should like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done for us.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are a source of inspiration, reassurance and pride to this country, and as a fellow pensioner I salute you all.