Chelsea Pensioners: how do you become one, who are they, what are they - how does someone qualify to be one?

To be eligible to become a Chelsea Pensioner, you must be a former soldier or non-commissioned officer of the British Army

You might see them dotted about as part of this weekend’s Remembrance Sunday events - the Chelsea Pensioners.

In their instantly recognisable red uniforms, these older ladies and gentlemen have a long history dating back to 1682, when the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC) was founded by King Charles II.

But how does somebody become a Chelsea Pensioner, and what is life like for them?

Here is everything you need to know.

What are Chelsea Pensioners?

The term “Chelsea Pensioner” refers to residents at the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC), a retirement home and nursing home for former members of the British Army located in Chelsea, London.

How do you become a Chelsea Pensioner?

To be eligible to become a Chelsea Pensioner, you must be a former soldier or non-commissioned officer of the British Army (including National Service), or a former officer of the British Army who served in the ranks for at least 12 years or was awarded a disablement pension while serving in the ranks.

You must also be over 65 years of age, be able to live independently on arrival at the RHC, and be free of any financial obligation to support a spouse or family.

You also don’t have to be male.

Though Chelsea Pensioners were exclusively men for 317 years of its history, in 2007, it was announced that female ex-service personnel would be admitted.

The first two women in the Hospital's history were admitted two years later in 2009: they were Dorothy Hughes (aged 85) and Winifred Phillips (aged 82).

What is life like at the Royal Hospital Chelsea?

Applicants for the RHC are invited for a four-day stay during which they get a taste of what life is like - if they enjoy their stay and it is felt that they will fit in they are invited to become a Chelsea Pensioner.

Upon arrival at the Hospital, each Pensioner is measured for their Blues (day-to-day uniform) and Scarlets (the famous uniform that they wear on parade).

They are given their own room, which includes en suite facilities and a writing desk, and are free to enjoy their own club with a bar, lounges and restaurant.

For outdoor activities, there are allotments for those who enjoy gardening and facilities for lawn bowls.

Chelsea Pensioners are free to come and go from the Royal Hospital as they please, and are permitted to wear civilian clothing wherever they travel.

But they are encouraged to wear their blue uniform within the Hospital and the surrounding areas.

When they travel further from the Royal Hospital, they are asked to wear their distinctive scarlet coats, the ones also worn for ceremonial occasions.

How much does it cost?

On entry to the RHC , Chelsea Pensioners surrender their army pension in return for board, lodging, clothing, and full medical care.

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