Between 1844 and 1854 a cricket match was staged between 11 one-armed Greenwich Pensioners and 11 one-legged Chelsea Pensioners at the Kennington Oval. A record of the event was taken by Theodor Fontane for his book 'Ein Sommer in London'.
"The end was in sight, the next few minutes would show who would win, Greenwich or Chelsea. The Chelsea men in their long red frock-coats had a lead of three runs but the men from Greenwich in their navy-blue jackets and those tricorne hats which commanded so much respect, were in and a good hit could give their side the victory.
|The Chelsea Pensioners and the Royal Hospital Chelsea|
Many players had cast their hats on the ground and the thin white locks of the old men fluttered in the breeze. Most of them were in their seventies, moss covered heads from Trafalgar (1805) and even from the Battle of the Nile (1798) and anyone there who had lost an arm at Navarino (1827) was just a sly fox.
There they stood, the ancient creators and bearers of British honour, hardly less ready as when they stood on a three-decker as Nelson's famous boarding plank fell into place; and soldier and sailor who had so often stretched out their hands for the laurels of fame together, now stood with blazing eyes facing each other and each seeking fame for himself.
As I said, Greenwich was in and an old man with one arm and one leg* (a complete cripple but a real man) stood with his bat firmly held and not letting his opponent out of his sight, in front of the three stumps of his wicket and parried the flying ball with a steady eye and a firm hand. He had hit the ball three times but it had not gone far enough for him to run the length of the wicket on his peg leg, but luck was with him and with the honour of Greenwich on the fourth hit.
|The Greenwich Pensioners and the Greenwich Hospital|
The ball flew wide over the field and he quickly calculated that he could run three times up and down the wicket, he set out at the double back and forth. But the victory hung by a hair, before he could reach the crease for the third time his opponent (whom he might have underestimated) was nearer the wicket than he was. What to do? Watch, with swift presence of mind the old man flung himself forwards on the ground with his bat in front of him and instantly covered the eight foot gap from the crease. He did not reach it himself but the tip of his bat did.
A storm of applause came from every side, the women on the balcony waved their handkerchiefs and the persistent trumpeter flourished a fanfare - the game was over and Greenwich had won."
* The match was between "11 men with one arm and 11 with one leg" - either side was allowed to field a player with fewer limbs because understandably the chances of the opponents would be increased if they did.
Labels: Chelsea Pensioners, Cricket match, Greenwich Pensioners, one-armed, one-legged
In September 2013 the Royal Hospital Chelsea will be officially unveiling a plaque to commemorate the achievements of Colonel William Carlos in assisting our Founder King Charles II in escaping capture by the Commonwealth soldiers.
|The plaque will be placed in the base of Grinling Gibbon's statue of |
King Charles II in Figure Court at the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Colonel William Carlos served in the Royalist Army during the civil wars. It is believed that he took part in the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and did not leave the battlefield until the Royalists were defeated. At this point he fled to the woods surrounding Boscobel House
and hid in an oak tree.
Whilst escaping from the Commonwealth soldiers, King Charles II was urged by Colonel Carlos to hide with him in the oak tree, where they stayed for over 24 hours. Colonel Carlos sourced food during this time and prevented King Charles
falling from the tree whilst he slept.
The oak tree is still standing in Boscobel Wood today and is referred to as the Royal Oak.
Labels: Boscobel House, Chelsea Pensioner, Colonel Carlos, King Charles II, Royal Hospital Chelsea, Royal Oak
During my first week in residence
at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, I spent time in the grand and very beautiful old Long Wards chatting with Chelsea Pensioners. On one such visit, I encountered Arthur
Ellis, tucked into a chair outside his room in the half-light of the long halls.
‘I found my heaven in my hell’ he told me of his time in the army. I was
intrigued by this comment. I wanted to find out more. A few weeks later, I went
back to see him.
Arthur was born in 1918. He left
school as a young teenager and went to work at Smiths Clocks but he was soon
lured by the glamour of a burgeoning motor industry. Mr Bradley, the owner of
the local garage, offered to train Arthur as a motor mechanic. To put this into
context, the motor industry was in its infancy and there was simply not the volume
of cars on the road that you see today. This was the equivalent of going to
work for a dot.com start up in the nineties. It was completely unchartered
territory. But it was better than that because it involved driving cars.
Manna from heaven for a
young chap like Arthur.
It wasn’t that long though, before
a blot appeared on Arthur’s landscape. As a result of the deteriorating
international situation and the rise of Nazi Germany, the Secretary of State
for War introduced a limited form of conscription in April 1939. Arthur’s fate
was sealed. Mr Bradley managed to delay his young employee’s
starting date by six months
but the inevitable moment soon came.
Have you ever heard the expression,
‘going to hell in a hand cart'? How about going to war in an ice cream wagon? Believe it or not, this is Arthur’s story.
‘My memory takes me back to 1924.
We lived in Paddington. It was a pretty rough place back then. You didn’t leave
your dog out a night or it was in the soup pot…honestly. We were a family, my
mum, dad and three boys in a basement flat, 2 rooms, scullery with a cold-water
tap, bath hanging up on the wall. We never went to school without shoes like some children but it was a near thing. Life was rough in the early 30’s but about
1933 suddenly people started having more money and things were better. Mr
Bradley lived opposite. He owned two local garages and he was taking on workers
because people were beginning to buy cars and business was looking up.
Think of the excitement. You were
learning something in a very pleasant atmosphere. It was convivial. You could
go out now and again. If you were a bit late, it didn’t matter because you knew
the next night you probably wouldn’t finish until 8:00pm so I stayed with Mr
Bradley until I was called up in 1939. He
managed to delay my call up for about 6 months but the motor industry wasn’t
important in the way that farming or mining was. Before I left, he let me take
the Hillman Minx
for a weeks touring holiday.
I felt awful about going to war because
I wasn’t a soldier. I was a lay about. I used to smoke and drink and I had no military
ambitions so I went in to the Army with the wrong attitude. I didn’t like being
told to shave every morning and clean my shoes and say ‘sir’ and stand to
attention. Of course if you’d been up before the magistrate for stealing or
generally raising hell, you would often be given the alternative of joining up
instead of jail so there were some stupid people in the army. The sort of
people who clashed with people like me. My first month was just about hell and
I almost got in to nasty trouble.
After a month, I began to realise
what a stupid idiot I was. At which point they said ‘right. Fifty people are
going to a Welsh Regiment ready to go to France’. So I and 50 other bods who had
only been in the Army a month, I mean we could hardly tie our laces and we’d
joined this TA unit which was mostly Welsh miners so it was like moving to a
different Army in a different country.
They decided that I would be
signaller. So of course I said ‘why can’t I be a motor mechanic?’ Eventually I got
to the Colonel, at around Christmas 1939. I told him that I wanted to repair vehicles
and he said (affecting plummy accent), ‘Yes. I suppose you had a petrol pump’. I said ‘excuse me sir. I have never
served or sold a pint of petrol in my life and I don’t intend to start now’.
But eventually they said ‘OK. We’ll send you to the technical people’. The officer
who was doing the testing said ‘I am going to recommend you pass out as a 2nd
class tradesmen’. I had gone to be tested as 3rd class tradesmen so
I was delighted.
That January we were preparing to
go France. You don’t remember it but if you read the books the whole world was
in turmoil when the Germans were advancing. We were going to be one of the
artilleries regiments because it was quite obvious that the Germans were going
to get through Holland and Belgium. It was only the time that it was taking
them. The Germans in 1939 had very few tanks and military vehicles but they had
lots and lots of horses. Because of this, when we went back to our unit, I was more
or less put in charge of our little section of transport. I was as proud as anything because I’d
proved myself and not only had I proved myself but somewhere along the line,
this chap who was in charge of the workshops was quite glowing. ‘When you go
back to your unit’, he said, ‘don’t sit still. You’ve got to apply to be a 1st
Eventually, about February 1940, I
qualified as first class vehicle mechanic. I had my two VM’s that worked under
me and I was left on my own because we didn’t have military vehicles. We had
ice cream carts & coal carts. Oh
yes. We were preparing to go to France to fight the best Army in the world. We
had 18lb and 60lb guns in the regiment and they were towed by a coal cart or an
ice cream wagon. The vehicles were not there. It was
a TA Regiment in South Wales. The main people were miners and if they went to
camp they either borrowed vehicles or put up without them. So when we joined they
had very few military vehicles and the only place they could get them was by
going out on to the street and commandeering anything that wasn’t being used’.
But Arthur’s destiny was not France
bound. At least for the foreseeable future. As his unit were about to board the
boat to France, it came to light that they were even more ill equipped than they thought.
They had guns. They even had ice cream vans to travel in, but no ammunition. The
unit was sent to Ballymoney in Ireland instead. ‘It took us nearly a week to
get there because all these awful old vehicles kept breaking down’. They spent time guarding the border
and training and around the middle of 1940 they were issued with new vehicles.
By the end of 1940 they were ready for battle. But wherever they were going, ‘I
forget now’, it fell. ‘So we fiddled and messed about until 1944, training and
giving demonstrations and such. About that time, I reached the rank of Sergeant,
which was my pinnacle because if you were a tradesman you could only go to a
certain level. But as a Sergeant vehicle mechanic, I was quite an important
person. I thought anyway. Honestly!
Eventually the invasion came and we
worked our way up to France and into Holland. I was up on the front line one
day, and one of the drivers had been wounded. You had an Observation Post as far forward as
possible watching the enemy, sending orders back. Every now and again, each
section had a driver who drove a little armoured carrier which could travel
between the two points and in our particular troop, the driver of this vehicle
was wounded. They wanted another driver. Who was
there? Arthur. I was told to take the signaller’s motorbike and go and find out
what was happening. So off I go. And all of sudden there was a bang. And
I’m lying in the road. I look up and there is a German soldier standing over
I said ‘what do you think this is?
It's English’, you know. ‘This is ours’.
‘Nooooo it's Deutsch’ came back the
German and ‘I am a guard’.
I said ‘it doesn’t matter. I should be catching you, not you shooting at
me.’ And what had happened, he had shot at me but he had hit the front wheel and
it went sideways and I came off.
He was going to take me as his
prisoner and we were argy-bargying about this, just the two of us when suddenly
a lorry came round the corner loaded with British troops. They tossed him in
the back of the truck and went off leaving me with my broken down motorbike. I don’t
even think I was armed. That could have been my undoing right then and there.
The German soldier was lucky really because he was out of it and that’s that.
I was in the passenger seat of a
truck once with 3 chaps. The driver got out and I said something or other, and
he said ‘I’ll speak to you round the front’. So I got out and just as we got to
the front of the vehicle a mortar came over and hit him. The two chaps in the
back of the truck jumped out and said ‘what’s happened to Bill?’ And there was
just his boot. We couldn’t even find his helmet. He’d gone completely, from
It wasn’t the first time for me.
I’d already seen enough in Normandy. Normandy was dicey for us. We were squeezed
up in a very tight area. When the Germans shelled or bombed they were almost
certain to hit something. You can’t imagine what that’s like. I often used to
think back and think ‘oh
. But generally speaking, things happened so quickly that there
was never any time to feel scared. We were always on the move. The vehicles had
to be serviced and cleaned and filled with petrol. We had to go and get
ammunition and help unload. You’re so busily occupied. The idea was to find
somewhere like an old bunker that you could dive into if it got too much’.
At which point, Arthur starts
miming bombs flying overhead and diving. ‘Ah, that’s alright. Whistle…yep,
that’s OK. If it whistled, it was alright: it was either going or coming. If it
didn’t, then it was right there. Touch wood. I came out the other side. And so
did thousands of others.’
At the end of the war, Arthur could
also have left his ‘hell’ right there and then. Mr Bradley had offered him his
old job back, and the opportunity to move with the business to a new life in
South Africa. But after some deliberation, Arthur made a choice that perhaps
still surprises him. ‘If someone had told me years later
that I would end up in the army for the full twenty-two years, I wouldn’t have
believed it. Of course not. For the first 6 months, I was the awkward-est
soldier you could have ever met. I did not want to be signaller and that was
it. I was completely frustrated. It was terrible. I can’t say that ‘something
happened’. But ultimately, I got a bit of sense in and I quietened down and I
became the blue-eyed boy. I realised that everything I was doing was wrong. If
they said I should go to signalling classes, I should go to signal classes and
if they said get up in the morning; I should get up in the morning. More or
less over-night, from an idiot and perhaps one of the most useless soldiers in
the unit, I think I became a good soldier. I tried to make the best of myself
in the army and I think I did’.
Shortly after Arthur decided to
stay in Germany and become an occupational troop, he met his wife who had been
in the WAF (Women [in the] Airforce) and they started their married life together in Germany. In a strange
confluence of geography and time, his wife was of course, Welsh.
|This blog was written by Kate Monro|
Labels: Chelsea Pensioner, Hillman Minx, Nazi Germany, Normandy, Royal Hospital Chelsea, WAF, Welsh Regiment