The Duchess of Cornwall paid tribute to Britain’s armed forces past and present as she sympathised with Chelsea Pensioners over the death of colleagues during the coronavirus pandemic.
Camilla attended a special ceremony at the historic London home of the old soldiers after missing their annual Founder’s Day in June due to the health crisis.
More than 30 socially distanced Pensioners in their famous scarlet coats and tricorn hats were on parade and inspected by the duchess in the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s central courtyard.
In a speech she said: “I know that you have been through a particularly tough time of late, having lost 10 Pensioners to Covid-19. I should like to express my heartfelt sympathy to the families of those who have died, and to each of you as you go through the painful process of adjusting to the gap left by those much-loved friends.”
Camilla went on to say that those on parade know “about the challenges and sacrifices of military duty”, adding: “This has been clearly demonstrated by two recent examples.
“Firstly, a few weeks ago, we marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day, a day which some of you might remember. We recalled with gratitude the great victory that our armed forces won for us.
“Then, in a very different context, we turned to a younger generation of servicemen and women as the recent pandemic broke out. Proving themselves your worthy successors, they have helped to build hospitals, establish testing sites, repatriate our citizens, deliver PPE at home and abroad, and develop a track and trace application to help combat the spread of the virus.
“And all the while continuing to assure our defence at home and abroad.
“In times of war and times of peace, whether seen or unseen, the armed forces support and strengthen our nation, just as each one of you Chelsea Pensioners did throughout your careers.”
When the duchess first arrived at the Royal Hospital she was greeted by Professor Deborah Sturdy, director of in-patient health and wellbeing, and asked her how the institution had coped during the pandemic.
Prof Sturdy replied: “It has been a challenge but the staff have been absolutely fantastic and the Pensioners have been incredibly compliant – it’s been a difficult couple of months but everyone has been working really hard.”
During the ceremony, the duchess spent time talking to all the Pensioners on parade and also chatted to members of the armed forces who have been working as cooks and performing other roles at the retirement and nursing home.
Chelsea governor General Sir Adrian Bradshaw joked during his speech about how the Pensioners had seen the lighter side of the health crisis and set up a “Covid Arms” pub in the grounds.
Chelsea Pensioner Leo Tighe, 77, originally from Dublin, who served with the Irish Guards, remained philosophical about recent events.
“We are where we are, this is an old folks’ home and people do die,” he said.
Commenting on the Covid Arms, he added: “But you’ve got to have a safety valve and basically that’s what these things are, they’re a safety valve to give you a bit of a break from the routine.”