Brookwood Military Cemetery – The Royal Hospital Burial Ground

The Royal Hospital Chelsea burials – Chelsea Pensioners to you and me – at Brookwood are to be found beyond the main Canadian Second World War Plot in the western corner of the military cemetery.

One time I was here at twilight and I was confronted by a huge* stag just about here, although he appeared just as surprised as I was.  No, I didn’t have the camera at the ready, and anyway, some things are better experienced rather than documented.  Nudge, nudge.

*it’s all relative.

Plan of Brookwood Military Cemetery, the Royal Hospital Burial Ground highlighted in green.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea, for your information, was established under the reign of Charles II…

…as a ‘hospital for ye relief of such land soldiers as are, or shall be, old, lame, or infirm in ye service of ye crowne’.

Sir Christopher Wren designed the hospital (not really a hospital in today’s terminology, more a military rest home, or almshouse, if you like),…

…and between 1692 & 1854, Chelsea Pensioners who died there were buried in the hospital grounds (cremated Pensioners’ ashes can still, to this day, be laid to rest at the Royal Hospital, if requested).

Pensioner variants; left, 19th Century, right, 21st Century.  With no more available space, for the next forty years, Pensioners were buried in nearby Brompton Cemetery,…

…but apparently by the end of the 19th Century this cemetery, and in particular the Pensioners’ plot, was lying neglected, and like the rest of London’s cemeteries, was close to capacity.  Today this memorial at Brompton remembers 2,625 Chelsea Pensioners buried in the cemetery between 1855 & 1893.

From 1894, Pensioners began to be buried in Brookwood Cemetery, although it was not until 1953 that questions began to be asked in the House of Commons about the state of the Pensioners’ graves here, ‘Is it not a shocking disgrace that these fine old Pensioners should have their graves marked only by a peg in the ground with a number attached to it, especially as there are a short distance away neat, well-kept graves of Poles and Czechs tended by the Imperial War Graves Commission? Will the hon. Gentleman have the graves transferred to the Imperial War Graves Commission?’

Brookwood Military Cemetery had been established in 1917 for the burial of military personnel who had died in the London area, extended after World War II, and, in 1962, under the auspices of the CWGC, the Royal Hospital Burial Ground in which we now stand was opened.

And here is one of those first burials, a corporal of the Royal Irish Regiment, who died on 3rd July 1962, aged 81.  Born, therefore, around 1881, he may have served in South Africa, or in the early 20th Century colonial conflicts, and quite possibly the Great War too.

More early graves, all from 1963, the Royal Scots Greys trooper on the left, who died on 1st January 1963 aged 92, another of the very first burials made here.  He had been a Pensioner since 1940, some 23 years, and only one man among the relative handful that I photographed was there for longer.  The man in the centre, a bandsman with the 19th Royal Hussars, was 98 when he died, and both would have been well into their forties at the start of the Great War and are therefore most likely, although not necessarily, men whose service was prior to 1914.  The man on the right, a 12th Royal Lancers serjeant, would have been only thirty in 1914, and therefore more than likely a Great War veteran, as are many of the men whose headstones follow; you can work out the likelihood, based on age and date of death, yourselves (click the images to enlarge).

1964 burials; 16/5th Lancers & 17th/21st Lancers.

1965 burials; Somerset Light Infantry, 13th Hussars & Highland Light Infantry.

1966 burials (above & below); 4th Queen’s Own Hussars/Royal Armoured Corps, The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, Royal Tank Regiment/Royal Armoured Corps & Royal Tank Corps,…

…and The East Surrey Regiment, The Queen’s* & 6th Dragoon Guards.

*West Surreys, of course.

1967 burials, those closest to the camera from The Loyal Regiment & the Norfolk Regiment.

1968 burials; Royal Berkshire Regiment, The Royal Norfolk Regiment & 11th Prince Albert’s Own Hussars.

1969 burials; The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment & 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars,…

…and a decorated artilleryman, and this being a much more recent photo than those above & below, I don’t much like the look of the state of this headstone.  That black fungus looks very similar to the stuff we saw on many of the headstones we visited in Flanders last year.  Let’s hope not.

Moving on, these are all 1970 burials; 11th Prince Albert’s Own Hussars, 5th Dragoon Guards, East Surrey Regiment & The Loyal Regiment.

1971, 1974 & 1975 burials; 7th Queen’s Own Hussars/Royal Armoured Corps, The Lancashire Fusiliers, Royal Armoured Corps & Tank Corps.

What you might, or might not, have noticed, is that there are no personal inscriptions at the bottom of these headstones, each bearing the inscription ‘In-Pensioner Royal Hospital from’ followed by the date.

Three men who died in 2000,…

…and a burial from 2006.  The more recent burials are all being made in this area of the cemetery.

The 4th Queen’s Own Hussars serjeant buried closest to the camera died in 2011, the next man in, I think, 2009, and the final two headstones, at the time of this photograph,…

…are those of men who died in 2011 & 2014, Royal Corps of Signals on the left, R.E.M.E. on the right.

At the time of this visit, the row ended with this temporary marker for a bandsman from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Band Corp who died in 2017, placed here before his CWGC headstone had been erected.  I have never been in the military, and yet I have negotiated the assault course at Sandhurst.  Successfully, I might add.  Work that one out!

These burials, Royal Corps of Signals, Royal Welch Fusiliers & Royal Corps of Transport, were made in 2021 & 2022,…

…and on my latest visit, in December 2023, this burial had been made, literally, the previous day.

In case you’ve never seen it before, we’ll end with this rather extraordinary self-explanatory photograph, before we leave the Pensioners and return to the American Cemetery, where we have yet to take a look inside the American Memorial.  Better hope the door’s open this time, unlike on previous visits.

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2 Responses to Brookwood Military Cemetery – The Royal Hospital Burial Ground

  1. nicholas Kilner says:

    That last photograph really is quite remarkable. I bet there aren’t too many people that have ever seen it before. Remarkable too that they’d all reached such a great age for the time. I can’t quite place why, but it seems somehow strange to see a photo of men who fought in a battle which took place over 200 years ago. Maybe thats just me?
    Almost as strange is the idea of you doing the assault course at sandhurst, you may have to expand on that one! lol
    Nicely done MF.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers mate. You can decide whether or not I have done a decent job on these Brookwood posts, ‘cos you’ve now been there. And I have found out loads about some of the men in the American Memorial Chapel (coming very soon).
      Yes, a remarkable photo – no, it isn’t just you – and yet not so many generations away, if you work it out – both my Grandparents were born in the 19th Century, after all. I had a two phone calls with mates of mine who know far more about the Napoleonic era than me who had also never seen it before.
      Remind me sometime on email, and I will explain the Sandhurst gig.

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