The RAMC Garden at the Royal Hospital Chelsea
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The Occasion

In 2019, the RAMC Charity decided to invest in a significant memorial to the RAMC’s long history and entered a Garden into the Chelsea Flower Show of 2020. This was consequent of a windfall financial benefit from the sale of a Chattel. The Directors of the RAMC Charity thus sought an appropriate use for the money and the Garden idea then evolved. It appointed an award-winning garden design company, Rosebank, for the task. The aim was to generate some marketing for the Charity and then pass the Garden on to a worthy long-term location where it might provide a suitable environment for rehabilitation. Covid-19 prevented the show occurring in 2020 and the 2021 show was moved to the autumn that would have required a different garden altogether. So, the Charity decided that it would move straight to the desired end-state. Following examination of a number of options, it was agreed that the Garden would find its permanent home at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The Garden was laid during the autumn of 2021 and is now providing a suitably attractive ambience for the In-Pensioners.

Monday 27 June 2022 saw the Grand Opening of the Garden at the Royal Hospital by the Colonel-in- Chief RAMC and in the presence of the Governor and the Colonels Commandant RAMC. A number of senior important guests associated with the Royal Hospital, the Army and the RAMC were included as were both serving RAMC soldiers and RAMC Association members. The area and environs of the Hospital embrace much of medical historical importance from the Chelsea Physic Garden of Sir Hans Sloane (and sometime Physician General to the Forces) to the first depot hospital, the York Hospital, the Army Medical Services had from 1793, off nearby Ebury Street. The story of the garden as a setting for therapeutic care for both the physically and mentally incapacitated is writ large in this commemorative occasion.

The Royal Hospital

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is the home of the Chelsea Pensioners, a community of British Army veterans, recognisable by their iconic scarlet uniform. Contrary to common usage, ‘hospital’ refers to our function as a place of hospitality and shelter.

The Royal Hospital was founded by King Charles II in 1682 to provide a home and refuge for soldiers ‘broken by age or war’ in the service of the Crown. Until the 17th century, the state made no specific provision for old or injured soldiers as religious foundations cared for the poor and sick. Following the English Civil Wars (1642–1651) and the establishment of the Army as a standing military force, this need became more pressing. Following 10 years of construction, the first Chelsea Pensioners took up residence here in 1692.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a Grade I and II listed site. The original Royal Hospital building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723), was intended to house circa 500 veteran soldiers. The main site includes the Great Hall, Chapel and Long Wards on either side of Figure Court, (the accommodation for Chelsea Pensioners). A new Infirmary and Stable Block, designed by the Clerk of Works, Sir John Soane (1753–1837), were added in the early 19th century. Following further renovations to improve the ‘berths’ or bedrooms in the 21st century, the Royal Hospital is now home to approximately 300 Chelsea Pensioners.

Today Chelsea Pensioners act as ambassadors for the British Army and wider veteran community across the UK and abroad. In return, the Royal Hospital provides them with a welcoming home and the respect and recognition they deserve in testament to their service to the nation. All their daily needs are met, including clothing, catering and medical care. The Royal Hospital exists today to ensure that eligible British Army veterans are supported in their advanced years.

The Garden

The earliest hospital garden in the military sphere we can identify was formed at Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin (this Hospital was another founded by King Charles II and completed before RHC) in mid 18th century. Redolent of Aristotle’s ‘Airs, Waters, Places’ dictum of serenity and health, taking the fresh air in the garden has been part of rehabilitation for centuries. Herbs and flowers were the basis of early medicines and the apothecary’s art. Modern pharmacology stems from this as the active ingredients have been discovered and science found ways to adapt nature. But the garden isn’t just a source of therapy but provides much psychological support as well. The process of seeding, processing, growing and harvesting plants provides great psychological support to many with PTSD and Depression. Furthermore, the wider setting of a walled, fenced or hedged garden gives a sense of protection and security. This Garden is thus set in Salisbury Court, the Quadrangle of the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary, so securing as well as providing easy access to nature for the inmates and others. The Garden is also fortunate as it complements the fountain donated previously by the Waites family, hence emphasising the importance of clean water to health as well as sustaining the plants.

The RAMC Association

William Boog LeishmanIn 1925, the RAMC Association was formed to further the camaraderie of WW1 Corps veterans with Sir William Leishman being the first President. There are now some 25 branches around UK with a predominantly veteran membership although most serving Corps members also are members centrally. The Association has traditionally been supported by Corps Funds and especially for the expenses of the branch standards and standard bearers.