“I’ve been moved from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first.”
Chelsea Pensioner Gordon ‘Sandy’ Sanders was one of the first pensioners to move into the newly refurbished Long Wards in the Royal Hospital Chelsea. As part of the renovation programme all berths in the Long Wards are being updated from their original 1692 design of nine by nine foot rooms with only communal bathroom facilities, to newly refurbished rooms each with an en-suite bathroom, bedroom and study.
Sandy, who served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for 24 years, shares his account of life at the Royal Hospital and why he’s honoured to be staying in the Freemasons’ berth, which was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Kent KG last week.
HRH The Duke of Kent and Chelsea Pensioner Sandy at the Freemasons' berth opening ceremony
“My name is Gordon ‘Sandy’ Sanders. I am 77 years of age and I am very proud to be a Chelsea Pensioner. I’ve been at the Royal Hospital for about five and a half years now. It was loneliness that made me come in; my wife died in 2007 and by the middle of 2008 I’d had enough of being on my own.
“We’d been married 48 years and after that length of time your spouse is everything to you. After her death I was so lonely and I was talking to my niece about how was feeling and she mentioned the Royal Hospital Chelsea to me. Her father-in-law was already here and she put me in touch with him. That was it really; I came down, met Pat, did my four-day stay and moved in on 5 January 2009.
“One of the best things about living here is the comradeship and the banter that goes with it. The banter in the Army never changes; it really doesn’t matter if you’re 19-years-old or 90. Like most people here I settled in very quickly because it’s a recall to a life you’ve already lived. Once you’ve hit the route for a week or two, you’re in it forever. We’re all completely and utterly Khaki institionalised.
“I spend half of my week helping the fundraising team raise money for the Royal Hospital. Otherwise I got out shopping or meet my girlfriend who lives nearby. We also get invited out all over the place as Chelsea Pensioners, not just locally but nationally and internationally. I’ve been to the Channel Islands a couple of times and got invited to a lot of events for HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
“Wearing the scarlet uniforms we do get lots of attention, and to be honest I do find it a bit embarrassing sometimes. The extroverts among us love it though.
“There isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be at this point in my life. There’s nowhere else that compares with here; as a home and sheltered accommodation, it’s beyond reproach.
“The new accommodation here is no less than fantastic. I’ve been moved from the 17th to the 21st century. It’s a different world compared to the old block, it was 87 paces to the communal bathroom from my room before.
Sandy in his newly refurbished berth
“I was very pleased when I was selected to go in the Freemasons berth at the Hospital, it really was quite an honour. The Freemasons’ Grand Charity have been very generous and have given a number of donations over the years, including £50,000 for the Long Wards refurbishment.
“I’m a member of the Freemasons myself; I joined when I came out of the Army. It was a substitute fraternity to me and the nearest thing to the Army that I found from the friendship point of view and of course there was a lot of meaning to it too. As a charity organisation itself, it is probably the biggest in the country.
“I’ve tried to develop the links with the Freemasons and the Royal Hospital over the years and I am very grateful for their ongoing support. Like most Pensioners here, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”