Talks

The Royal Hospital Chelsea: a brief history
by John Rochester

Date: Tuesday 5 November 2019

The Royal Hospital Chelsea; over three centuries of service to old soldiers, the Army and the nation.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea: a brief history

The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded in 1682 by Charles II as a refuge for old soldiers of the post-Civil war army. Its bespoke buildings were designed by Sir Christopher Wren and since opening its doors to them in 1692, it has continued to ‘provide succour and relief for men broken by age and war’ an expression of its original mission statement devised by Wren himself.  However the image that we have today of the gentlemen and ladies in their scarlet coats and tricorn hats at the Albert Hall or the Cenotaph is deceiving. There always has been more to the operation of this iconic institution than meets the eye and in this talk it is the aim to not only tell the story of the Hospitals founding and subsequent development within the context of both the local and national communities, but to also illustrate some of these disparate facets of its operations and to identify some of its personalities across the last three and a quarter centuries.

John enlisted into the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys) a cavalry regiment in the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) in April 1972. Trained at Catterick and then served in Germany until 1992 on a mixture of Wheeled and Tracked reconnaissance vehicles, Chieftain and Challenger tanks. During this time he completed 3 operational tours in Northern Ireland, 1 in Belize and served as Regimental Signals Warrant Officer in the First Gulf War (Operation Granby) with the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats. He returned to Catterick in 1992 as the Regimental Sergeant Major until being demobbed in 1994, during which time he was involved in developing the Regimental affiliations around the Commonwealth including trips to South Africa and Canada where he settled following his service. Returning to the UK in Nov 2000 to take up his first appointment at the Royal Hospital Chelsea as Quartermaster Sergeant initially dealing with Compliance matters and since 2014 has been managing all Heritage related activities, archives and the various fine art collections. In addition to his duties at the Royal Hospital Chelsea he has since 2005 been a member of the Queen’s Body Guard Of The Yeoman Of The Guard, at events such as the State Opening of Parliament and the Order of the Garter Services. All in a total of over 40 years uniformed service to the nation.

A Londoner by upbringing, Scottish by service and an adopted colonial, John lives at the Royal Hospital Chelsea with his Canadian wife Heidi and has two daughters and 2 granddaughters. Whilst working at the Royal Hospital, he has also studied with the Open University gaining both a BA (Honours) and an MA in History.

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