The ceremony of the Christmas cake at the Royal Hospital

The ceremony of the Christmas cake at the Royal Hospital

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“Onward with pride and purpose”

The Royal Hospital, founded in 1682, was designed by Christopher Wren and John Soane. It is the impressive, historical home of about three hundred Chelsea Pensioners, all of whom are veterans of the British Army.

Many events take place there during the year, but at Christmas time, the Chelsea Pensioners observe the annual ‘Ceremony of the Christmas cake’. Traditionally, a huge decorated cake is presented by the Australian High Commission. The Ceremony was initiated in 1949 and is very popular.

The cake is usually produced by a particular Australian State, however, this year it was produced by the Australian Defence Force. It represents enduring friendship between UK and Australia. These two countries are like minded. More people born in UK live in Australia than any other country, British and Australian soldiers have fought together through history and many people have close relations living in Australia.

At the Ceremony, in the Great Hall, The Governor of the Royal Hospital, Sir Redmond Watt was in attendance with the Australian High Commissioner to UK, Alexander Downer. The latter referred to the deep friendship between the two countries Saying,

” The cake Ceremony is a wonderful chance for us to say we are one and on the same team”

The cake was duly cut with a ceremonial sword by Michael Kippin, a Chelsea Pensioner, whose two great uncles died at Gallipoli in World War One, alongside Australian soldiers. He said,

“It is my pleasure to be picked for this important role at the Ceremony of the Christmas Cake. I feel very privileged to take part and remember my great uncles and the sacrifice they made.

I found the Ceremony, accompanied by a splendid band, very moving. The Chelsea Pensioners stood proudly to attention with true military bearing, looking most distinguished in their scarlet coats, wearing medal ribbons,  and insignia of rank, and other insignia they have earned. They are all from the ranks. Any officers residing at the Royal Hospital must have served for at least 12 years in the ranks before being awarded a commission. There is noticeable camaraderie between all the Chelsea Pensioners.

I enjoyed a long talk to Michael Kippin, who cut the cake. He comes from Bebington in the Wirral which I now well and we both agreed it is an attractive area. Michael was originally an Infantry soldier who later joined the Intelligence Corps and he is a Russian speaker. We discussed Aden and Malta. We both had memories of these places. He is happily settled at the Royal Hospital.

I was interested to meet Monica Parrott, who has lived at the Hospital for 11 months. She is one of the 15 lady residents. I understood from her the every day uniform is navy blue and known as the Blues’ and rooms are called berths and they are in the ‘ long Wards’. She said the Pensioners have breakfast and lunch every day in the Great Hall and a self help buffet elsewhere in the evenings. She too, is happy at the Royal Hospital.

The Royal Hospital believes that the core of survival is in respecting traditional values whilst responding to changes in technology and modernisation of buildings, especially the ‘ long Wards’.

The Royal Hospital is an independent Charity and relies partly on donations to cover cost, care and accommodation for the veterans, to whom we owe so much.

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