Work experience at the Royal Hospital Chelsea

During October, five of my peers and I were offered the incredible opportunity to work in the Archives at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

On Monday, we were met at the front gate by Martin, a dedicated volunteer who then directed us to the Heritage Manager John Rochester, who lead us on a tour around the historical buildings. Seeing John say hello to all the pensioners really made me realise the strong community at the Royal Hospital.

In the afternoon, we were lucky enough to be able to go through all the parliamentary acts from Queen Victoria’s rule. Though this was a tiring task, we were able to have a glimpse of the true extent of the historical significance of the Royal Hospital Chelsea – with the Hospital being mentioned often in the Acts.

Right before we left, Martin brought out a large box and told us that this was the Royal Hospital’s copy of the Treaty of Versailles. Honestly, I think this shocked all of us. The Treaty of Versailles is something that we learn about in history and to see that a copy was housed there showed me how much the UK values the Hospital. For the next three days, we were able to use a digitiser to transfer fragile documents into pdfs, and, on the second day, we were introduced to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps).

These extremely brave young women helped during the war, driving and nursing, but also acting as spies. We were lucky enough to be able to read and file away some of the files, with all their work and letters of correspondence. This was extremely interesting and eye-opening as we saw young women, not much older than us, risking their lives to protect their country. On Wednesday we had the pleasure of meeting the Commandant, Lady Philippa Lorimer OBE, who introduced herself and thanked us for our work.

For lunch on Thursday, our last day, we were able to eat in the Great Hall, where the pensioners ate breakfast and lunch. Lining the walls were wooden slabs with all the battles the soldiers had fought in and we were told that soldiers typically sat next to battles they themselves had fought in. It is easy in history to distance yourself from war – understanding that there were battles, but not fully comprehending that fact that these soldiers went out and risked their lives. Seeing the pensioners eat next to their battles made the whole concept of war more real and I am truly grateful to have been able to work alongside the men and women in the Royal Hospital Chelsea who fought for me. Working in the Archives taught me a great deal about the UK and about the sacrifice of our troops.

Emma Boyden (SFC1)