13 July 2009

First women accepted as Chelsea Pensioners

Dorothy Hughes (left) and Winifred Phillips

The first women were accepted as Chelsea Pensioners - residents at the Royal Hospital Chelsea - in March. ZUI this article from the MOD Defence News:
If you heard the sound of breaking glass emanating from Chelsea's elegant grade-one-listed Royal Hospital, it is because, after 317 years, the glass ceiling has been shattered. For the first time, the Chelsea Pensioners have accepted women into their midst.

The first two women Chelsea Pensioners are Dorothy Hughes, 85, an ex-Gunner and Sergeant, and Winifred Phillips, 82, a former Warrant Officer.


The women wear the pensioners' famous red coats, but theirs have been sensitively altered to accommodate the 'Chelsea chest' (as Dorothy dubs it). Dressed in red and black, they have joined the walking tourist attraction that is the Chelsea Pensioners. Their only gripes are that the coats weigh a hefty 11lbs (5kg), and the waistbands of their trousers reach Simon Cowell proportions.

The women rather like their uniforms, but Winifred suggests some of the men may have been expecting something different.


Winifred originally applied to be a Chelsea Pensioner in 1999. It took ten years for the rules to be changed and for her dream to come true. She was delighted to move from her sheltered accommodation in Deal to her final posting.

The trained nurse joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service on her 22nd birthday in 1948 and enlisted in the Women's Royal Army Corps a year later. During a career she describes as 'wonderful', Winifred served in Egypt, Cyprus, Singapore, Germany, Cyprus and Jakarta. She retired in 1971:

"You get the odd grumpy old man. But I'm not going to go into details and it's not daunting. I'm going to be 83 in August, so I'm too old to be daunted."
"The things I got a chance to do in the Army, I would never have done in civvy street," she said.


Dorothy enlisted in 1941, at the age of 18, much to the disapproval of her strict father:
"I was always a rebel," she said.

Dorothy served with the Royal Artillery in London, manning anti-aircraft guns. After basic training she faced a tricky time. The men on the gun sites knew that the arrival of the trained women meant they would be posted abroad[.]

According to the News page at the Royal Hospital's website,
Winifred Phillips trained and qualified as a nurse before joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1948. She enlisted into the Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC) in 1949 whilst serving in Egypt. She completed 22 years' service with the Colours and retired in 1971 in the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2.

Dorothy Hughes joined the ATS in 1941 and was subsequently posted to 450 Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery in the London Division. In 1945 the Battery was deployed near Dover to defend against V1 rocket attacks. Dorothy later worked with the Army Operational Research Group developing fuses in shells used against V2 rockets and was discharged from the Army in 1946 in the rank of sergeant.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded in 1682 by King Charles II, "for the succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war." The hospital building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was completed in 1692. Residents are former non-commissioned officers or soldiers of the British Army who receive an Army Service or War Disability Pension for Army Service, are 65 years of age or over, and are free of any obligation to support a partner or family. Former officers of the British Army who meet the criteria may also be accepted if they served for at least 12 years as enlisted personnel before obtaining a commission, or if they were awarded a disablement pension while serving as enlisted men. On admission to the Hospital, a Pensioner surrenders his service and/or disability pension in return for board, lodging, clothes and medical care.

ZUI also this article dated 5 Mar 09 from The Telegraph and this article dated 12 Mar 09 from The Guardian.

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