I have been to … the Royal Hospital Chelsea

Last Thursday – as part of London History Day – the Royal Hospital Chelsea – the home of the famous Chelsea Pensioners – staged a special event that was open to the public. Sue and I booked a place and spent the afternoon there.

Our journey began with a short trip to Woolwich on the local bus. We alighted almost outside the entrance to Woolwich Arsenal Station, and as a mainline train to Cannon Street was just arriving as we reached the platform, we caught it. It took thirty minutes for us to reach the centre of London, and after a short discussion about how to get from Cannon Street to Chelsea, we took a Circle/District Line underground train to Sloane Square, the closest station to the Royal Hospital.

By the time we re-emerged into the daylight at Sloane Street Tube Station, it was lunchtime. As we only wanted a snack lunch, we took a walk along the King’s Road to find somewhere to get a drink and a sandwich. After only walking a few hundred yards we came to Partridges in Duke of York Square, a grocers and delicatessens that also has a café.

Although all the outside tables were taken, the inside was fairly empty, so we ate there … and although it wasn’t cheap (which was hardly surprising at we later discovered that Partridge’s holds a Royal Warrant and supplies groceries to the Queen!) it was excellent.

It took less than ten minutes to walk from Partridges to the London Gate of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The gatekeeper directed us to a small entrance at the northern end of the East Wing, and after having our tickets checked, we were admitted into the room where Keith Collman’s photographs of World War One veterans entitled Great War Portraits were on show.

A selection of photographs and captions from the collection

The room also contained a number of displays that told the stories of Chelsea Pensioners, including one that featured survivors of the Battle of Waterloo …

… and another that showed a modern Pensioner unveiling a commemorative plaque at Victoria Station.

We then moved into an adjacent room where we were treated to a short introduction to the history of the Royal Hospital that was told to us by a wonderfully charming (and very funny) Pensioner.

At 3.00pm author and illustrator Robin Ollington recounted the stories of some of the forty Chelsea Pensioners has had interviewed over the years for a series of biographical books that he has produced entitled Before they fade. It was supposed to last thirty minutes, but he was so engrossing that the time sped by, and by the time he had finished, over forty-five minutes had passed.

Sue and I then joined a group that were conducted on a short tour of the Chapel and Dining Hall. This was led by the Pensioner who had talked to use earlier and was very informative.

The Chapel

The Dining Room

Once our tour was over, Sue and I made our way back to the London Gate. Along the way we passed one of the ‘There but not there’ statues that were created to mark the centenary of the First World War …

… before paying a visit to the Royal Hospital’s Old Burial Ground.

The Burial Ground contains many unmarked graves, including one of Sue’s ancestors.

Adjoining the Burial Ground is the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary, which was completed in 2009 and that serves as an onsite hospital and care facility for Pensioners.

Lady Thatcher donated £1,000,000 to the fund for its construction (she used to attend the Royal Hospital Chapel every week for the Sunday service after she retired from office) and her ashes and those of her husband – Sir Denis Thatcher Bt. – are buried in the Burial Ground close to the Infirmary …

… and near a memorial to all the Pensioners who have lived at the Royal Hospital.

Once our visit was over, Sue and I walked back to Partridges for some tea before taking a Circle/District Line underground train from Sloane Square to Tower Hill, where we changed to the Docklands Light Railway. This took us back to Woolwich Arsenal Station, where we took a taxi back to our house. We finally arrived home just before 7.00pm having had a very enjoyable day out.

Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall VC

Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on 21st July, 1890. He was educated at Bedford School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he got a double first in Classics as well as rowing for his college and being a member of the University OTC (Officer Training Corps).

He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Able Seaman when the First World War broke out, but soon afterwards he was commissioned and became a Sub-Lieutenant. He commanded 13 Platoon, D Company, Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division during the landings at V Beach, Gallipoli, on 25th April, 1915, and it was during the landings that he rescued numerous wounded men whilst under heavy Turkish machine gun fire. His bravery was noted by many people at the time, but he was killed by a Turkish sniper on 6th May before it was officially recognised.

It was not until Major General Paris (the general commanding the Royal Naval Division) was made aware of Tisdall’s actions on 25th April that an investigation was made, as a result of which a recommendation was made that he be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. The official citation reads as follows:

During the landing from the S.S. “River Clyde” at V Beach in the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 25th April 1915, Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall, hearing wounded men on the beach calling for assistance, jumped into the water and pushing a boat in front of him, went to their rescue. He was, however, obliged to obtain help and took with him on two trips Leading Seaman Malia and on other trips Chief Petty Officer Perring and Leading Seaman Curtiss and Parkinson. In all Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall made four or five trips between the ship and the shore, and was thus responsible for rescuing several wounded men under heavy and accurate fire.

Owing to the fact that Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall and the platoon under his orders were on detached service at the time, and that this Officer was killed in action on the 6th May, it has only now been possible to obtain complete information as to the individuals who took part in this gallant act. Of these, Leading Seaman Fred Curtiss has been missing since the 4th June 1915.’

London Gazette, 31st March 1916

Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall VC has no known grave, and his name is on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli (Panel 8-15) as well as on the memorial in the churchyard of St George’s Church, Deal.

After his death The Naval and Military Press published a book of verses, letter, and remembrances about him.

It is worth noting that two of the men who helped Tisdall on 25th April (Chief Petty Officer (later Sub-Lieutenant) William Perring and Leading Seaman James Parkinson) were awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) for their actions on the day.

I have been to … Deal, Kent

When Sue and I realised that yesterday was going to be the hottest since last August, we decided to go to the seaside. (The temperature reached 27°C and turned out to be the warmest April day since 1949!) We chose to go to Deal on the Channel coast of Kent, a place where bat we last visited in 2015.

The journey took just over ninety minutes, and we were able to find a place in the main car park in the centre of the town. From there we walked towards the northern end of the High Street.

On our way back along the High Street we stopped off at St George’s Church.

Just inside the gates into the churchyard was a memorial …

… to Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall VC, …

… his brother, Lieutenant John Theodore St Clair Tisdall, …

… and the men of Deal who died during the First World War.

We continued our walk along the High Street, visiting a number of shops along the way.

We then turned towards the seafront …

… and walked northwards past the pier.

By the time we reached the Royal Hotel – a hotel and restaurant that dominates the seafront and which was frequented by Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton – we were both feeling thirsty and hungry.

We decided to eat in the restaurant facing the sea, …

…and whilst Sue ate fish and chips, I chose locally-sourced ham, eggs, and chips.

After eating lunch, Sue and I had a short walk along the seafront …

… before we returned to the High Street to buy some jewellery we had looked at earlier. We then made our way back to the car park, and drove home, having had a very enjoyable day out.

Whilst we were in Deal, Sue and I discovered that in 2014 the DAILY TELEGRAPH had named Deal’s High Street to be the best in England.

The start of The Hundred Days

It wasn’t until I began watching Sergei Bondarchuk and Dino De Laurentiis’ film WATERLOO on TV last Saturday that I realised that 20th March 1815 was the day that Napoleon returned to Paris after his exile on Elba, thus marking the beginning of the so-called ‘Hundred days’.

The film included some wonderful battle scenes, not all of which were particularly accurate but which certainly gave an impression of what a horse-and-musket era battle involving thousands of combatants looked like.

A birthday present from an old friend

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and a good old friend of mine – Tony Hawkins – sent me a copy of GLADSTONE, GORDON AND THE SUDAN WARS: THE BATTLE OVER IMPERIAL INTERVENTION IN THE VICTORIAN AGE as a present.

The book was written by Fergus Nicholl, and is a reappraisal of the roles played by both men in the Sudan Crisis. As such it is a nice counterpoint to the generally accepted view that Gordon was the hero and Gladstone the villain, whereas the truth is not at all that cut-and-dried.

I am about halfway through reading this book, and I must admit that it has certainly given me pause for thought at times. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the political situation in the UK at the time, and it would be ideal reading for anyone who ever wanted to take part in the SAVE GORDON! Matrix Game.

GLADSTONE, GORDON AND THE SUDAN WARS: THE BATTLE OVER IMPERIAL INTERVENTION IN THE VICTORIAN AGE was written by Fergus Nicholl and published by Pen & Sword Military in 2013 (ISBN 978 1 781 59182 6).

Coincidentally, General Charles Gordon was born in a house on Woolwich Common, …

… and less than half a mile away in Whitworth Road is the site where Gladstone gave his last speech to his Greenwich constituents on 30th November, 1878. The site is now occupied by Eglinton Primary School, and a plaque commemorating the event …

… is fixed to one of its walls.

Royal Arsenal Museum 2017: Large calibre machine guns

The Royal Arsenal Museum (or Tøjhusmuseet) in Copenhagen has many examples of weapons in its collection, including the following two large calibre machine guns.

The first is an example of a M1871 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon on land carriage.

This was similar in design to the Gatling Gun, but was designed from the outset to use larger calibre ammunition.

The second is a Maxim Nordenfelt 37mm cannon, better known as a one-pounder ‘pom-pom’ gun. It is on a shipboard or fortification mounting.

This is an early example as unlike this gun, later ones carried Vickers, Sons and Maxim (VSM) maker’s plates.

Royal Arsenal Museum 2017: Naval Battle Models

The Royal Arsenal Museum (or Tøjhusmuseet) in Copenhagen has several models that depict naval battles. The first shows a large battle between eighteen century sailing ships.

The second shows a much smaller action that occurred when HMS Africa (which was escorting a convoy of merchantmen) came under attack by thirty two oared gunboats on 20th October 1808.

The third and final model depicts the Battle of Copenhagen (2nd April 1801) at its height.

Royal Arsenal Museum 2017: The Danish Army in Afghanistan

The Royal Arsenal Museum (or Tøjhusmuseet) in Copenhagen currently houses an exhibition about the role of the Royal Danish Army in Afghanistan. As one walks through the exhibition one is taken from a young soldier’s bedroom …

… through their arrival at Camp Bastion …

… and then on to their deployment to a forward patrol base.

You have a chance to get some idea of the operational conditions and environment the soldiers had to face (although they are unable to duplicate the very distinctive smell of Afghanistan that soldiers have told me about) …

… and the cost in term of human life and equipment …

… before they return home to be greeted by their friends and family back in Denmark.

I don’t know if any British military museums have a similar display that depicts the British Army’s recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan … but if they don’t, then I think that they ought to.

Royal Arsenal Museum 2017: Dockyard Models

The Royal Arsenal Museum (or Tøjhusmuseet) in Copenhagen has several models of the dockyards used by the Royal Danish Navy at various times during its history. The first set of models show the earliest purpose docks used … some of whose buildings now house the museum.

The next two sets of models show the dockyards as they were at the height of Denmark’s naval power during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.

The final model shows how the naval dockyard looked towards the end of the twentieth century, and includes some exquisite models of now-scrapped Royal Danish Navy warships.

Napoleon and Roustam

During his recent visit, Arthur Harman presented me with two 25mm figures painted by the late Bill Brewer. They are of Napoleon …

…and his mameluke bodyguard and secondary vale, Roustan Raza.

Roustam Raza was an Armenian and born in Tbilisi, Georgia, to Armenian parents. He was kidnapped when he was thirteen, renamed Idzhahia, and sold as a slave in Cairo. He was presented to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 by the Sheik of Cairo, and served as Napoleon’s bodyguard and secondary valet until 1814, when he settled down after the Bourbon Restoration and married Mademoiselle Alexandrine Douville in Dourdan, France.

Roustam did not follow Napoleon into exile in Elba, and although he offered to serve the Emperor on the latter’s return to France, Napoleon refused to see him and he was replaced by Louis Étienne Saint-Denis.