Chelsea Walk – Royal Hospital

Roger Bowdler wrote on the Historic England website in March 2013:

“This obelisk commemorates a victory in the 2nd Sikh War in the Punjab, when forces led by Sir Hugh Gough defeated a much larger army commanded by Shere Singh on 13 January 1849. This is a very early outdoor memorial to list the names of privates alongside those of officers.”

From the website of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea:

“We are now standing outside Chelsea’s most famous institution, the Royal Hospital. This magnificent Grade 1 listed building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Robert Adam and Sir John Soane made later additions.

Charles II, aware of the debt he owed to the army, determined to build an institution similar to the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. His Paymaster General, Stephen Fox, was charged with finding the funds. The site of Chelsea College, a theological college founded by James I, was selected. The King laid the foundation stone in 1682 and it was completed in 1692. The first 479 veterans were admitted in early 1692. The building was arranged around three courtyards with the main one, Figure Court, opening to the south.

The South grounds, laid out by Wren, were swept away during the building of the Embankment. Today they are best known as the site of the Chelsea Flower Show, held here since 1913. The obelisk was erected in 1853 in memory of those who lost their lives at Chillinawalla in 1849 during the Sikh War. The canons were used during the same campaign.

In return for surrendering their army pension, veterans receive board, lodging, clothing and medical care. They sleep in Long Wards and each pensioner has a 9-foot square berth. A mock up can be seen in the Museum. There are plans to modernise the facilities, including provision for women. The famous scarlet ceremonial uniform is a modernised version of the one introduced by the 1st Duke of Marlborough in the early 18th century. The day uniform is blue.

Originally the Great Hall was the dining room with 16 long tables, one for each Ward. It was then used as a recreation room, as shown here, and for ceremonial occasions, including the lying-in-state of the Duke of Wellington. It has now reverted to its original purpose. The walls are covered with fine murals and royal portraits. The flags around the walls are the original colours carried into battle and defended at all cost.”

Lt. Col Muhammad Arslan Qadeer (Rtd) wrote in The Nation of January 08, 2020:

“…On the 11th of January 1849, Gough resolved to attack Sher Singh’s position the centre of which rested a few miles west of Chillianwala. On the 12th of January while carrying out a reconnaissance, he discovered that the Sikh had swung forward. On discovery of the Sikh position so close to Chillianwala, Gough decided to attack the Sikh position on the next day that is 13 Jan 1849.

The British Army was divided into two infantry Divisions (3 rd and 2 nd ) with a Cavalry Brigade each on outer flanks. The 3rd Division commanded by Brigadier General Colin Campbell formed the left or southern Division launched an enthusiastic but reckless attack based on a conventional bayonet charge. Though they did manage to reach the Sikh positions, however in the process the punishment inflicted was too severe.

The Sikh counter attacked and the assailants withdrew in disorder towards Chillianwala. The leading Brigade Commander Brigadier Pennycuick and his son Lieutenant Alexander Pennycuick killed in the bloody engagement.

The 2nd Infantry division commanded by Major General Sir Walter Gilbert formed the right (northern) division. Gilbert’s leading Brigades aptly supported by artillery successfully cleared all Sikh positions in front and drove the Sikhs close to the River Jehlum. While Gilbert was reorganizing for the final assault, he was suddenly counter attacked by the Sikhs in force from his rear. This happened due to the fact that his integral cavalry brigade which was commanded by Brigadier Pope and was responsible to guard the right (northern) flank and rear of Gilbert’s Division, completely overrun by the ferocious cavalry charge of the Sikhs leaving the right and rear flank vulnerable to counter attack.

Sher Singh Attariwala immediately ordered a counter attack and Sikh infantry and cavalry located on the north-west hills immediately advanced down from the heights through the open gap created by the absence of Brigadier Pope’s cavalry and encircled Gilbert’s division from the rear followed by a ruthless massacre. The damage done at Chillianwala to the prestige of British might was enormous and played a major role in changing the attitude of native states towards British leading directly to the ‘Great Sepoy Rebellion’ (The war of independence 1857) in which the British almost lost their Indian Empire and the English East India Company whose private Bengal Army had fought Chillianwala lost India to the British Crown.”

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