Royal Hospital Chelsea Founders Day

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

ROYAL HOSPITAL CHELSEA - Founder's Day

Date: 5th June 2013

I was very lucky to be offered a ticket to the Founder's Day Ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and was particularly interested in attending because back in 1982 - at the height of my Newsreading Days - I had the honour to present the documentary on the Tercentenary of the Royal Hospital.  In fact, the tech. boys very kindly gave me a tape of the programme which I transferred to DVD.   Don't think I've looked at it since. It was a very interesting piece of history with the young and slender Queen in attendance.

I do remember that we had to set up our sound equipment in one of the gentlemen's toilets close to the London Gate and the statue of Charles II was entirely shrouded in Oak leaves whereas in today's ceremony he was totally visible and Gold all over.  The oak leaves represent the tree in which he hid whilst fleeing from his enemies. And everyone sports oak leaves - sadly mine had wilted totally by mid afternoon or I would have brought them home and pressed them.

Thursday's ceremony was highly enjoyable especially as the sun shone beautifully all day long.

The founder of the Hospital was, of course, King Charles II who established it for 'his soldiers'.  The designer was Sir Christopher Wren and, to my surprise, he modelled the idea on that of Les Invalides in Paris - established by Louis XIV as a home for aged and unwell soldiers and possibly being best known as the edifice housing the tomb of Napoleon.  Les Invalides is now predominantly a gigantic museum - although the Chapel still operates as a house of worship. (In fact, if you follow my blogs, you will know that in December 2011 Ian Reed and I attended the funeral of Henry Lafont who escaped with René Mouchotte from Oran, and there we discovered that neither man had received their BOB Medals.  We rectified this and were able to give René's medals to his sister three weeks before she died)   Look at Les Invalides on line  - the Wikipedia description is fascinating.  I can't wait for the Musée de la Liberation to re-open in 2014 when I'll be able to go and view the exhibit dedicated to René and it will now contain his BOB Medals which is what his sister declared when I presented them to her on May 10th 2012.  She said that they would join his other medals in the Vitrine.

The Guest of Honour at Founder's Day was HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. She gave an extremely good and interesting speech.  I met her on one of her first solo engagements when she came to unveil the memorial to Sir Keith Park at the BOB Memorial at Capel-le-Ferme.  I was so surprised at how friendly she was - when I was introduced she smiled very broadly and said she felt she knew me - obviously she was a BBC 1 and 2 News watcher back in the 80's.

The Old Soldiers paraded beautifully and it is the one and only occasion when you will see a salute with the left hand as the old soldiers coming from the left hand side of the parade ground use that salute so as not to obliterate their faces from the Monarch/Guest of Honour.  Mind you a few forgot as I realised when I got back home and looked at my photos.  Digital cameras are fantastic but you can't see the screen in bright sunlight so sometimes I'm not sure what I've captured.  And I did get a photo of the trumpeters climbing back off the roof through a window of the Hospital - that's the only way they can access it.

A friend told me that one of the old soldiers, after a life time of saluting with the right hand, when he has to salute with the left, holds his cuff tightly in his right hand so that he can't move the arm automatically.

After the official ceremony, there were VIP drinks and I was able to speak with a French Colonel whom I'd last met at the Brookwood Ceremony of Remembrance last November.  He appeared to be interested in my documentary about René Mouchotte and wasn't surprised that French TV have shown no interest at all although this is the 70th Anniversary of René's death and the French weren't awash with heroes in the second World War.   We came to the conclusion that much television is run these days by youngish folk who have no interest in history.  That is a great shame because our past is what has made our present.

Then for the remainder of the afternoon I was privileged to join many of the old soldiers when they have their own picnic lunches in one of the inside courts.  Of course, they are my generation and made me feel very much one of the family.  I hardly dare tell you that part of the entertainment was Belly Dancers shimmying around the lawn.  The Old Guys simply lapped it up.  There was also a great sing song of the oldies with many of the chaps singing lustily and mostly out of tune.

Founder's Day is a dressy affair and my floaty dress and jacket required the accompaniment of High Heels - by the time I got on the train back home I was absolutely tired out.  I left at 7.00 pm and many of  the old guys were still going strong and having a wonderful time.

Thank Goodness some of our traditional ways of life are still preserved.  We have lost and are losing so much of the character which made us proud to be British.  We are not allowed or encouraged to celebrate our Britishness which I think is an enormous shame.  I know that the whole world is becoming a melting pot but surely if one wishes to live here you should embrace the basics of our society instead of trying to turn us into little  copies of that from which you ran away.  After all, we were once one of the greatest nations on earth even though we are only  'a little island kingdom'.

What do you think? Send your feedback to contact@jan-leeming.com.