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As a home for former soldiers, the Royal Hospital Chelsea has always been associated with warfare. Yet the Second World War represents a unique chapter in the history of the institution, as the Hospital itself was in the line of fire.
Despite plans to evacuate the Royal Hospital’s Chelsea Pensioner population in the event of an emergency, when war came in September 1939 only around 50 of its 500 residents were relocated to the relative safety of the countryside.
For the remainder – many of whom were veterans of the First World War – the next few years would bring hardship and suffering as the Hospital fought for its very survival in the face of the London Blitz.
Martin Cawthorne uses previously unseen archive material to chronicle the story of the Royal Hospital and its resident Chelsea Pensioners as they faced the horrors of war, while displaying a stoicism and bravery ‘worthy of the highest traditions of the British Army’.
Martin Cawthorne began volunteering at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 2014, working on a project to digitise part of the institution’s archive collection. In 2020, he completed a master’s degree in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, for which he researched the Royal Hospital’s wartime history.